History of Postmodern Postcards 1977-2017
> History   Home   Glossary   Guides   Publishers   Artists   Techniques   Topicals   Warfare   Blog   Contact

1848-1872  1873-1897  1898-1906  1907-1913  1914-1945  1946-1976

Post Modern Postcards


Change may be constant, but the 1970’s was largely a time of stagnation. The promise of the counterculture a decade earlier now seemed too impotent to bring about any serious change and the movement itself was further weakened as it was absorbed into mainstream culture. As forces of power began to reassert themselves in an attempt to maintain the status quo, true innovation was stifled. This facade began to crack in the late 1970’s and had fallen apart by the 1980’s when large segments of society just refused to cooperate any longer and went their own way. While many of these movements were limited in scope and had nothing to do with one another, they all demonstrated a true restless spirit that was kept in check for too long. Most new trends that popped up to challenge the established order were so quickly assimilated into the culture at large that they lost their power to effect change almost as fast as they gained an audience. Despite these failed efforts to effect change, those attempting to reinstate order fared no better, as no single idea in politics or culture would gain supremacy again. While intolerance certainly continues to exist, we have come to accept seeing ourselves as a pluralistic nation. This however has caused postcards to lose much of their power to reinforce a now very unsingular national identity. Without a single ideal to adhere to, postcards could again follow a more natural course that breathed new life back into their content and the way they are used, but they also face new challenges.

Alongside this new pluralistic paradigm is the growth in digital technology. While some only debated whether the standard sized photochrome or the larger continental would dominate the postcard market, they were missing the revolution under their noses. The world has not been the same since computers entered into everyday use and the Internet has changed the way we communicate forever. In the drive to ever reduce business costs many firms are forsaking paper products altogether in favor of nonphysical electromagnetic means. Technology has not only affected the way we do things but the way we think and perceive. New generations of children are growing up with their brains wired differently than their predecessors to meet the digital challenge. Many of the traditional reasons for producing postcards are now being answered though other devices. Many more of the traditional institutions that once supported the postcard industry are fast disappearing or evolving into something completely new. While postcards continue to be produced in great number, they lie in the shadow of their former glory. Technology is now creating new routes to take us to new places that we cannot seem to keep pace with. The question that cannot be accurately answered is, where is this all going?

What we know for sure is that digital technology has the potential for completely replacing printed images. Images captured through digital means can now be disseminated electronically and viewed on a whole range of devices without ever having physical substance. Even the production of paper postcards no longer requires the use of film or printing plates. As the traditional supports to postcards disappear it is easy to predict their demise, but this only addresses half the story. While some things fade into obscurity others become highly prized relics of another age. New technologies may destroy old traditions but they also create new paradigms, which we are not yet able to comprehend. The sheer number of cards that have been carefully saved for over a century attests to the value placed on them whether we can accurately attribute the reasoning for this or not. Perhaps this factor alone provides more insight to the future of postcards than any current trends.

Unlike the other sections in this history, many of the subjects here raise more questions than can possibly be answered as events continue to swirl around us. The questions asked by any generation must also be considered a part of history for they help define who we are. While some of these points may prove inconsequential, others may revitalize or even kill the postcard industry and interest in collecting entirely. Only time will tell. As a consequence this section will have to be continuously reevaluated and updated.




By the mid 1970’s the seeds of Punk Rock began to grow in New York’s downtown neighborhoods in rebellion to the comfortable mainstreaming of Rock & Roll. The subculture that emerged was aggressive, raw, antiestablishment, and most of all about fun. A very distinctive style emerged that was both inventive and offensive, valuing honesty over slick production skills. Its major influence was on music and fashion but a new graphic style emerged that mimicked its values. While this new style did little to change mainstream graphic design on postcards, much crude cut and paste high contrast graphics were used on cards that conscripted simple production means available to anyone. Although many of these cards promote nightclubs and bands, general anti-commercial attitudes prevented much of this material from being collected. While Punk began as a true popular movement that was clearly individualistic and anti-commercial, it was already commercialized and parts of it mainstreamed by the early 1980’s. As post Punk apocalyptic visions became the backdrops to movies and fashion layouts, it became clear that the trappings of rebellion were now reduced to a cultural cliché. As with the counterculture of the 1960’s, most images on postcards depicting the Punk scene were produced after it faded away. Though tamed, its original spirit continues to inspire new artists.


As the Punk Rock scene faded, the Goth element within it began to grow. While it has remained a subculture lacking a singular message, it has assumed some recognizable if not mainstream forms. Its look tends to embrace the darker side of the human condition that harkens back to the morbid gothic romanticism of the 19th century as in the likes of Poe and Shelly. While a long standing component within Western culture, Punk gave these elements a new face. It has managed to resist being assimilated into popular culture largely due to our current emphasis on seeing the world in lighter one-dimensional forms. Even so, Goth subjects have found their way onto postcards produced by small presses, as its adherents seem to be very drawn to the visual aspects tied to this lifestyle.



Scratch and sniff products are created through the placement of odor producing chemicals within microcapsules onto an objects surface. These bubbles are small enough to lay flat and go unnoticed until broken through friction, which then releases the smell. In the late 1970&esquo;s, scratch and sniff technology had risen to the point where it could be cheaply and efficiently be placed on printed material. While it was regularly employed in perfume ads to promote a variety of fragrances, it could also be found on a number of novelties where producing a pleasant odor was not always the goal. The use of scratch and sniff on postcards remained popular until the mid-1980’s, though the ability of these cards to produce a smell can last many years. These types of cards are still made today.



Television, movies, and music did not just become major influences on public taste by the 1980’s, they were in the hands of fewer companies leading to the cross promotion of products on a scale never before seen. A popular TV series could suddenly generate interest in a subject that few had ever paid attention to and generate a whole series of spin off products. While many of these products were ultimately controlled by one single conglomerate there was usually plenty of room for others looking for a quick profit to jump onto the band wagon. Even though a good deal of trash was promoted in this manner, it also allowed for works of artistic, literary, and historical merit to reach the broader public and further open up the world of ideas. This process sometimes even filtered down to postcard publishing where a specific genre of cards would suddenly be produced for a newfound audience. Often the audience for such cards was over estimated as the public’s attention could be quickly refocused.


While some of these modern limited edition cards are printed for the benefit of postcard club members, they are mostly produced with the collector in mind. They are an offshoot of the limited edition collectables market for such items as painted plates, dolls and figurines that grew popular in the 1980’s, but have little to do with the tradition of postcards. They are not created to be mailed but carefully saved as investments. Normally such paper items would be marketed as prints except these are made postcard size to specifically target postcard collectors. The term Limited Edition is mostly used today as a marketing ploy to denote an objects rarity and implied value. In reality the term in this context has little meaning as no collectable can be produced in infinite numbers though some seem to try. In the Fine Art print market, editions of more than one hundred copies are usually considered to be an abuse of the term.


The works of many artists have been reproduced on either gallery cards or museum cards over the decades but as conceptualism began to change what we perceive as art, it created a strange paradox. Much of this work based on concept rather than the properties of its physical presence still used actual objects or images to manifest its existence before the art viewing public. While not necessarily sellable it was still tangible and thus could be commodified by becoming a subject for postcards. While this new type of art was radically different from that offered over years past, it was presented on postcards in the same traditional manner as many works of public sculpture had been represented on view-cards for almost a century. In the modern climate of collectors seeking a hot new item, many of these otherwise ordinary postcards were autographed. It is difficult to say if this adds much appeal for todayÕs postcard collector or if it only finds a larger audience with those who collect autographs. It has however added a very commercial side to conceptualism that was initially envisioned as an anti-commercial art form.



During postcard’s golden age, cards were produced by a plethora of printers both large and small. There was stiff competition between them to produce ever more desirable cards to capture a larger share of the market. This led to the use of a wide variety of printing techniques, graphic styles, and innovative new forms, not to mention subject matter. As the demand for postcards began to decline, many printers were forced to close and those who managed to survive sometimes merged with other troubled firms just to sustain profitability. This trend continued so that even the few remaining large American printers producing linens and chromes in the 1950’s and 60’s have now disappeared, replaced by even larger multinational corporations. The results have largely been an outpouring of blandness. As individual cards are produced in increasing quantity, their subject matter has become more generic to insure greater distribution and longer shelf life. Corporate management of these multinationals may have little to no personal connection to any of the regions they produce views of. This often causes business decisions to be made solely on the basis of marketing reports and the bottom line. Few corporations now take an interest in the actual product they turn out as they totally focus on shareholders and short term profit margins.


This limiting environment began to open up in the 1980&esquo;s with changes in printing technology that makes small press runs economically feasible. Coupled with more capital available for small businesses, a number of new small publishers emerged. While these new firms could not compete with the large multinationals, they didn’t have to. Most chose a new business model to follow, producing cards that only need appeal to a more limited niche audience, and that could be sold from the growing number of independent shops that were also springing up at the same time. The quality of these cards tends to be higher in both printing and subject than their massed produced cousins, which may be directly attributable to the low numbers printed. These attributes also made them competitive with greeting cards. A limited amount of customers were willing to pay more for a postcard if it satisfied their personal needs.

Postcards produced by small publishers tend to represent a wide range of subjects from reproductions of classic photographs to illustrated fantasy and works by fine contemporary artists. This mirrors a general trend in the arts at this time that broke free of the forces that once controlled them. Artists that were once held in the margins or who had no voice at all now began finding a market for their work. People long unsatisfied with limited stale choices began to seek out alternatives once they were offered. No attempts to form the next big movement that could be managed by a select few took hold. Diversity of interests has continued to inspire a wider range of subjects on postcards. This trend might have ushered in a new golden age for postcards, but we no longer exist at a time when visual media is rare. We are now over saturated with images in many forms that only dilutes the impact and significance of even the best made cards.


Reproductions of old photographs are another staple of small publishers. These images might date from the heyday of postcards but they were never placed on them. There were always many great photographers in decades past who were too ahead of public taste to provide images for mass distribution. Such imagery has since an important part of the contemporary market place as tastes have change. While now more readily accepted, the style of many of these photographs still remains outside of mainstream perceptions. As with many postcards produced by small publishers, their popularity is confined to an audience that will always remain limited in size.

Real Photo Postcard


For all of postcard history, cards have been largely used to reinforce mainstream values. Some publishers may have had specific agendas, but most just went along blindly doing nothing that might threaten sales. While the ways in which women were depicted changed often over the years, these presentations rarely captured a true sense of reality. For the most part depictions of women were limited to being objects of desire from portrayals of pure innocence to erotic nudes. There was however a strong undercurrent that attempted to reveal a change in social values through the representation of the New Woman. This was often done in subtle ways but there were always the odd exception such as the preponderance of cowgirls on Western cards, well out of proportion to their true numbers. While often viewed from a lesbian perspective through modern eyes, cowgirls became an acceptable female role back then because it was an aberration that reinforced the American ideal of rugged individualism. The millions of women who labored in factories would barely receive notice for they were the reality that did not fit into the American mindset. As women received the right to vote and made ever increasing demands on society, they were depicted less and less in a romanticized manner, taking the form of pinups and becoming the butt of dumb blond jokes. This type of imagery dramatically decreased as the WomenÕs Movement gained momentum, and by the 1980’s it was rarely seen. Socially unacceptable ideas do not sell postcards, though sexuality still does and it continues to be widely used.


Gays were one of the few non-socially accepted groups not often targeted for degradation by postcards, and cards clearly defining them are rare. This is for the most part due to their invisible presence within society. Where they do appear is usually through some coded form that would not be decipherable to all in the era they were made. Depictions of lesbians are far more common because they could be employed to engage male fantasies on risqué cards while shielded from public outrage by the classical tradition found in the arts. Encouraged by the civil rights movement many gays and lesbians began fighting for equality in numbers and their presence among us has become clearer. Since the 1980’s gay content began to be openly shown on postcards, but because their lifestyle remains controversial within mainstream society, the number of cards depicting gay themes remains limited. Since such subjects can engender a hostel response if displayed in the wrong environment, the distribution of these cards is sporadic and they only tend to sell from niché outlets.


Being gay did not always have great stigma attached to it. While never wholly embraced by society, its existence was often just quietly acknowledged but not discussed, which prevented it from becoming a socially consuming issue. At other times the slightest innuendo could end careers and family relationships, and even land one in prison. Many pansy clubs that operated openly in the 1920’s would have feared to do so in the decade before and after. Without knowing the mindset of the publisher it is impossible to tell if certain cards are being subtly subversive to the prevalent values of the day or they just represent a simple playful naivety. Many old postcards showing men or women intimately engaged are now characterized as having gay content but these claims make more assumptions than can be proven. In the age when proper behavior between different sexes was of paramount importance and carefully controlled, members of the same gender acted more freely with one another for they were largely ignorant that anything scandalous could be implied.


The turn of the 20th century was also a time when gender roles were being redefined and many images pressed definitions in ways that are now difficult to interpret. It is common to find cross dressers on early cards but this seems to be more a playful rebellion against strict societal expectations than anything concerning sexual preference. With so much surrounding sexuality being taboo for so long, it is not only difficult to find accurate information on past attitudes; ignorance still colors our interpretations today. Many old cards whose content is difficult to define continue to only be classified through a gay or lesbian perspective, completely ignoring the transgender community. Postcards can never reveal the complete story behind the person portrayed, but we can assume that the truth is often far more complex than our desires to stereotype wish to allow.

Real Photo Postcard


In the 1930’s the production of postcards containing overt sexual innuendoes like saucy seaside comic cards from England, were widely distributed. While some backlash against their sexual content arose by the 1950’s, they regained their popularity in the decade that followed. With the end of the 1960’s however social attitudes began to change again and interest in this type of imagery began to dwindle. Previous outcries had always been directed against the sexual nature of these cards but now the criticism largely came from those in the womenÕs movement who characterized them as degrading. As other underrepresented groups began to speak up regarding the same degrading ways in which they were commonly represented, a larger questioning of the prevalent use of stereotypes followed. While many real abuses came to be seen for what they were and the public’s attitude began to change toward them, the concept of limiting all language that may be offensive to help implement positive social change took hold in political correctness. In the 1980’s many publishers became self-censoring in reaction to zealots pushing this agenda forward and began to remove any sort of imagery or language from their postcards that might inspire litigation, boycotts, or public protest. As efforts were made to turn what should pass for good manners into actual law, political correctness itself came under fierce criticism by free speech advocates. Now largely seen as an effort to protect narrow self-interests, the term has expanded to have pejorative associations.


At the same time that some were pressing for a more widespread use of political correctness, there was also a growing tendency among artists to embrace an irreverent attitude toward society’s values. It can be argued that the primary purpose of art is to challenge set ways of thinking, but from the 1970’s onward this approach increasingly found its way into popular culture. As interest in traditional view-cards began to wane, some publishers found a new audience with those attracted to images with a more biting edge. Most of these cards dealt with relevant issues of the day presented through satire. They were often produced by the growing number of small presses unconcerned with pleasing the wider consumer base that large publishers were afraid to offend. Up to this point there was little transgression of public taste on political satire. There were always exceptions as when the enemy was degraded in times of war, but even these cards proved controversial. Images of sexual transgression on cards also have a long history, but these were largely produced for an underground audience. Now no one was untouchable and no representation taboo except those that went beyond the limits of the written law.


The woman’s movement that grew more vocal in the 1960’s and began having a noticeable effect by the 70’s, was largely ignored by postcard publishers. In fact very little concerning women’s rights had made it onto cards since the success of the suffrage movement in 1920, and even then the majority of postcards made fun of them. To be fair, postcard publishers in general took little notice of all social movements because taking sides might create a backlash that would hurt sales. It was far easier to ignore controversy completely, especially since so little was now expected from cards. While a great deal of political correctness involved making the English language more gender neutral to promote equality between the sexes, feminism itself was no longer presenting a solid front by the 1980’s. With some victories under their belts and a larger female presence in the workforce, woman began to define themselves outside of political agendas and thus came to espouse more divergent views. Much of this manifested in expressions that opposed any attempts to pigeonhole them. Cards issued by small publishers often took up this perspective by producing cards dealing with social issues in unconventional ways.



There has been a growing trend in recent times for the U.S. Congress to put aside days, weeks, and even whole months to commemorate various special interests. So many have petitioned for legislation to have their own particular passions recognized that we have run out of dates on the calendar and many honored occasions now overlap. Since 1984 National Postcard Week has been added to this endless list and is celebrated the first full week in May in both the United States and the United Kingdom. During this time collectors and postcard clubs often release their own published postcards to mark the event. This has inspired the creation of many clever cards that reference postcards, but the trend is for these cards to become a venue for personal expression. Although created to bring attention to postcard collecting and promoted by many energized people, it has largely remained an insular event lost among many other named weeks.



Punch cards were first developed in the 1830’s to direct the path of threads on looms so patterns could automatically be made, a process still used today in the manufacture of fine lace. Herman Hollerith inspired by this idea began using punch cards to aid his statistical analysis while working with the N.Y. Board of Health and the 1890 Census. As his tabulating machines grew ever more advanced he named his company International Business Machines (IBM). This digital based technology eventually evolved into the computers we know today. Computers had started to talk to one another back in 1969 before most of us had any idea what they were. In 1983 these network lines were divided into two separate systems for both military and private use. By 1985 there were up to 2000 users on line, and in 1988 the network was finally made available for commercial use. On August 6th of 1991 the World Wide Web was created as a means of aiding interpersonal exchange over the Internet, and within two years this service was made free. The introduction and widespread use of the Internet has affected postcard collecting beyond expectations. Online auctions and sales have greatly extended the reach of both collectors and dealers. Individual collectors have created web sites to show off their cards. Local postcard clubs can now share information beyond their geographical communities. Ideas and knowledge concerning postcards can now be shared on a scale never before achieved. There are now over one billion people online.



Punch cards were first developed in the 1830’s to direct the path of threads on looms so patterns could automatically be made, a process still used today in the manufacture of fine lace. Herman Hollerith inspired by this idea began using punch cards to aid his statistical analysis while working with the N.Y. Board of Health and the 1890 Census. As his tabulating machines grew ever more advanced he named his company International Business Machines (IBM). This digital based technology eventually evolved into the computers we know today. Computers had started to talk to one another back in 1969 before most of us had any idea what they were. In 1983 these network lines were divided into two separate systems for both military and private use. By 1985 there were up to 2000 users on line, and in 1988 the network was finally made available for commercial use. On August 6th of 1991 the World Wide Web was created as a means of aiding interpersonal exchange over the Internet, and within two years this service was made free. The introduction and widespread use of the Internet has affected postcard collecting beyond expectations. Online auctions and sales have greatly extended the reach of both collectors and dealers. Individual collectors have created web sites to show off their cards. Local postcard clubs can now share information beyond their geographical communities. Ideas and knowledge concerning postcards can now be shared on a scale never before achieved. There are now over one billion people online.



So when was the first eCard sent? It’s hard to say. Does email comprise the new version of the postcard or is it something more? Email has certainly become the predominant way of sending quick cheap notes, which was the original purpose of the traditional paper card. At some point in the 1990’s images with notes attached that resemble paper postcards started being sent over the Internet lines, and by 1996 it became a popular practice. Ever since then there has been a number of online companies that offer copies of antique postcards alongside original modern designs that can be sent out through email. Designers have taken advantage of this new medium to create cards that talk and some that are even animated. These eCards have no physical reality other than their magnetic energy floating out in cyberspace. This has created an entirely new set of concerns and opportunities for the eCard collector in regard to storage and display. It also raises new worries concerning privacy as third party eCard stores can save the addresses on these cards and sell them to mailing list firms. As this once free service becomes more commercialized, users can expect ever higher fees. Despite that no postage is required to send these cards, and that they can be made at home, eCards have not replaced analog snail-mail postcards, at least not yet. This however is not a question of technology but of what we are comfortable with. The ease of sending notes and images over the Internet has already replaced the postcard in many ways even when not sent in an eCard format.

Trading Card


A new type of trading card was introduced in the 1990’s; that combined the passions of collecting with that of role playing. While card games had been around for centuries, these new trading cards were oriented toward children and were acquired by the direct purchase of a game. Additional and often more rare cards could often be added through various promotions and by attending special events. In this way card decks can be customized to play out specific strategies while providing publishers with multiple ways to cross market their products. Wizards of the Coast was the first to try to patent trading card games in 1997 but a number of other firms have already placed a number of these types of games on the market, with Pokémon probably being the best known. While these cannot be considered postcards for they are not meant to be mailed, they do demonstrate the continual popularity of collecting cards even among the young with no end in sight.


In 1995 Pierre Omidyar started a company called Auction Web to auction off collectable items between users of the Internet. It has since grown into the giant known today as eBay that sells everything under the sun. These types of auctions have not only put many more postcards into the marketplace that might have not otherwise ever seen the light of day, it has also created opportunities for many people with little access to postcard clubs or shows to buy cards and begin collecting. The auction process however contains inherent flaws in which a small handful of bidders can greatly influence prices, and not always by legal means. When dealing with a product like postcards, with few pricing catalogs available and little history of recorded worth, there is often too little information to go by to make an educated bid. Too many bids are determined by personal obsession with an object rather than anything resembling true market value. While it may seem that these pitfalls can be avoided simply by not shopping on line, the growth in participation in online auctions has begun to destabilize postcard pricing as a whole. The pricing of postcards has always been more of an art than a science but the varying opinions as to what a card is really worth have never been greater. While these auctions have greatly contributed to the rising value of postcards, its full effects still remain to be seen.



The area in which the use of postcards seems to be the healthiest today is in advertising. Every American with a mailing address probably receives advertising postcards in numbers they only wished their receipt of picture postcards would equal. With the creation of bulk rate postage, advertising through the mail remains a viable option for most businesses. These mass produced cards however are not usually considered collectables unless you include those gathering them in the Sanitation Department. If our predecessors viewed the advertising postcards of their own day as we view the junk mail of ours, we can better understand their rarity. While some antique advertising cards fetch high prices today, we must also remember that it is the best that survived while most that once dominated 19th century production were discarded.


While it is doubtful that most modern advertising cards will ever appeal to collectors they are not all of the same quality as some may capture unique characteristics of our time through their graphics or subjects. Most however are simply made to convey a message without concerns of good design. Design work is too often seen as an extra unnecessary expense when anyone with basic computer skills and simple software can now layout a card. Many layouts are now prepackaged in software or are available through downloads. While this is a great convenience and opens opportunities for those who would otherwise be unable to create a postcard, it has also given many a more generic look. Many of the images on these cards are in fact pure generics with only specific advertising related to the sender on back.



Rack cards, usually continental sized photochromes, started to be given away as free advertising in the early to mid-1990’s. It is the revenue from the advertising on them that provides the publisher with profit, not the sale. As advertising rates are determined by circulation, giving cards away for free provides for the widest possible distribution. Unlike advertising cards that are mailed in mass to every door, rack cards need to attract the attention of those passing by display racks in order to get circulated. Some cards are very attractive or clever having being designed by artists or prominent ad houses; others are not. As great as the images they carry may be, they are rarely exclusive to postcards but are available on everything from magazines to billboards. They can be considered a carryover of the giveaway postcards that began being made freely available at service stations and motels in the 1940’s. Despite similarities, rack cards are much more a child of recent mass marketing advertising campaigns than anything else. The sudden appearance of free rack cards contributed greatly to the demise of many small independent publishers who could not compete with them even though their content was very different. Though extremely popular with some collectors today, as is most things that are free, their monetary value as collectables is dubious in this age of media saturation. Despite this some are already being sold as such. They can however provide a cheap alternative to those unable to afford ever-pricier antique cards, especially if investment is of no concern. Since collecting primarily fulfills a personal need, there is no right or wrong way to collect.



With problems plaguing the recording industry and new outlets making music more widely available through the growth in digital technology, many musicians stopped seeking that illusionary record deal that would make their career and began promoting themselves. In some cases this led to producing, distributing, and publicizing their own music as well. Visual artists had often used leftover gallery cards that advertised a specific exposition of art work for their own general promotion and now musicians have followed suit. They developed a new type of hybrid postcard based on the earlier exposition card and the modern rack card, unattached to any particular event and given away free for publicity. These cards are now in wide circulation are some have even been designed to be folded and inserted within the compact disk case that hold the recording. While this type of card is most often associated with independent recording artists, larger labels have also begun to incorporate this idea into their own packaging.


Before the Second World War, portraits of movie stars had been one of the most popular subjects to be placed on postcards. Although this practice has continued, there has since been a growing reemphasis to promote old movies themselves. Either stills from classic films or the movie posters that once promoted them have been reproduced on countless continental sized cards. Many of these cards seem as much a tribute to good design as to films. While this sort of retro focus is now very marketable, filmmakers have begun using the model of the publicity card to promote their work. Some of these are presented as rack cards, but most are products of independent filmmakers who provide these free cards to theaters where their work is being shown. They have become an important mode of publicity at a time when the cost of more traditional media is prohibitive. The habit of giving out cards at events has grown so strong that many have forsaken the postcard format to produce cards that are not designed for mailing.


Although most forms of activism have been absent from postcards for decades, the introduction of rack cards and give away promotions produced by small publishers have inspired a new look at their possibilities. This not only due to their lower printing costs but to the more varied ways that postcards are now distributed. These cards do not tend to advocate for beliefs as much as publicize various events from marches to exhibitions revolving around a specific cause. In this way they are very similar to other types of publicity cards that publicize artists and films, and are often distributed alongside them. Since these cards are given away as announcements and are generally not sold to be mailed, they do not all have traditional postcard backs.



Discover America, Inc. was founded in 1965 with government support to help revive the domestic tourist industry that died out in the 1940’s due to gasoline shortages. It was based on the old ideals of national tourism but post war America was a different country by then and their large scale promotions largely fell on deaf ears. Tourism had long ago created a cultural platform from which postcards of historic battlefields or a scenic wonder could be purchased as souvenirs. Since the 1950Õs vacation time has become steadily more centered on hedonistic activities and spectacle, from simply shopping and dining to the mountain biking and kayaking of action vacations. Small amusement and theme parks are ever increasing size and activities. They have grown from being the destination of a local day trip to a long family vacation. The ability or even the desire to find the unique has steadily decreased as the American landscape rushes to become more comfortably homogenized. Postcards are a visual medium, about capturing a view that helps solidify ones connection to a place. As vacationers become more self-involved with what they do rather than connect with what they see, will the desire to accumulate pictorial souvenirs continue? Will tourists lose interest in the natural world depicted on postcards as they are exposed to more and more visual fantasy that can provide spectacle beyond anything thatÕs real? With all the new technology available to record and share images, will the simplicity of the picture postcard be able to hold anyone’s interest?



Although the United States has always been a diverse multicultural society, this was not traditionally expressed in the imagery placed on postcards. Where Blacks, Chinese, Native Americans, and other people of color were depicted, they were done so as objects of interest rather than as members of the general society. The Civil Rights Movement not only brought Blacks up to the forefront, it inspired many other groups and peoples to assert themselves and demand visibility. While this long struggle has provided us with many more paradigms in which to view our own history, it has also helped to fracture the traditional mythology that creates national identity. This loss of a singular perspective has caused the usual backlash as some look to hold on to the familiar to ward off the anxiety of change. There is now a growing trend to re-embrace the symbols of national identity that were often frowned upon by many as meaningless or outdated just decades earlier. The pictures held by postcards over the years have created very potent images in the American psyche for people to draw on. We often still represent ourselves in the same romantic and sometimes even racist manner as we did on cards a hundred years ago, a perspective which may have been obsolete even then. At this time many formally misrepresented communities are at least bringing their true histories to light. Even if this new perspective is not accepted by all or firmly integrated into the picture of who we are as a nation, they cannot be pictured as one-dimensional again.


The first settlements in what is now the territorial confines of the United States was made by Spain nearly a century before the founding of Jamestown or Plymouth. After the expansionist policies of the U.S. led to the incorporation of many of these communities into our nation, many aspects of their Spanish heritage was eventually blended into our own to create the American Myth. The acceptance of this can easily be seen in the way many old missions of the Southwest were made into important tourist destinations and how they provided the subject matter for numerous postcards. The Spanish Mission Style would also become an important force within American architecture. While the Spanish culture we absorbed was used to bolster the status of our newer Nation and promote tourism, the people who embraced this culture are mostly absent from older postcards. When Spanish-Americans were previously depicted it was mostly in some exotic form that would be pleasing to tourists. While postcards today still capture the uniqueness of this culture, it is now possible to portray these people as a part of mainstream society. As debates over our Immigration problems have recently grown to a national level, some overlook our country’s Spanish heritage amidst the heated rhetoric. Large mainstream publishing firms will no doubt do their best to avoid taking sides, but as long as this topic remains highly controversial it will provide the potential for smaller publishers to push the imagery placed on postcards in many directions.



Americans have long defined themselves through their relationship with the vast wilderness set out before them, even after it was long gone. The Hudson River School is our first native art movement, and Jack Kerouac’s adventures on the open road further enhanced our pioneer spirit. For much of their history, postcards have responded to the tourists and motorists traversing this country by capturing a great deal of roadside Americana. In more recent times the focus has shifted away from small roadside attractions to more pristine wilderness or places designed to offer great spectacle. As expectations have been heightened, the more ordinary has been largely ignored. Leftover oddities that still inhabit our byways and small towns may no longer draw crowds but images of them have newfound collectors with growing interest in the vernacular. We rarely notice what is commonplace until it begins to disappear. Postcards remain one of the best resources for studying this fast disappearing part of our cultural heritage.


For most of postcard history there has been a competition between those reproducing artist rendered images and those struggling to achieve a fair representation of natural color. Though early attempts at printing in natural color produced images that were far off the mark, it still attracted followers who were intrigued by the science behind the process. Most however the more mannered colors of chromolithography. When photo-chromolithography was introduced at the turn of the 20th century, more natural looking images could be printed but it was most often employed to produce the heightened colors that met public taste. This history makes it understandable why the publishers of linen cards with their exaggerated colors thought the introduction of chrome cards was just a fad. Although this idea has long looked foolish in the face of the chrome cardÕs dominance, only the timing may have been wrong. Now that color can finally be reproduced on a postcard with higher fidelity, the public seems to have grown board with it. Most images that now capture the American landscape have to be produced with heightened colors to appeal to a modern audience. This unfortunately has skewed perceptions of reality and many travelers are disappointed to see our natural landmarks in the common light of day.


Even though concern over environmental issues began to grow in the 1960’s, the subject received very little coverage on postcards at that time. As the environmental movement grew to form all sorts of organizations fighting to protect small tracks of land from developers to those fighting manmade climate change on a global scale, the lack of attention by postcard publishers continued. This was part of a trend to avoid activism in general as there was little interest for it on postcards. Environmental issues however remained in the news and had become part of the public consciousness by the 1980Õs. When such subjects like pollution began to appear on postcards, its form often followed the same format afforded to Cold War issues. While there were real fears generated by the possibility of nuclear warfare, the prospect was so overwhelming that it was hard to comprehend. Even as American children went through the motions of air raid drills, few believed that there was anything they could do to ensure survival. Rather than accept an apocalyptical viewpoint, atomic warfare was often presented through satire. Postcards dealing with toxic waste now often take a similar approach by diverting our fears with irony. Environmental disasters can be presented with artistic beauty.


While garbage is as old as civilization itself, the scarcity of materials usually led to everything that could be reused being reused for as long as possible. It is only in prosperous consumer societies that the disposal of trash has become a problem. As land fills are now filling up to capacity, greater efforts are being put into recycling. One of the prime materials for recycling is paper, which can be reduced back into pulp and then remolded into a new paper product. This has no doubt been the fate of many unwanted postcards, especially of the junk mail variety. Efforts to protect the environment have also inspired a new type of plantable seed paper. Seeds are combined with the paper pulp during manufacture, and once the postcard is used it can then be buried and watered and flowers will sprout. Postcards made from seed paper have not expanded beyond novelties. Since they follow a philosophy of impermanence, these cards are not ideal for collectors.


News and social related imagery had been declining from the face of postcards ever since the end of the golden age. By the end of World War Two this type of commentary had just about disappeared as cards were now almost exclusively focused on tourism. Much of this change was simply due to the public’s growing interest in more exciting forms of visual media. Where once the real photo postcards of a local photographer might have been the only way to disseminate pictures of an event, it had been first been supplanted by newspapers, pictorial magazines, newsreels, then television, and now the Internet to the point of irrelevance. While the changes spurred by technology initially helped to create thousands of new media outlets, the trend over that last few decades has been to consolidate the distribution of pictures and news into the control of fewer and fewer hands. Now that mainstream media has abandoned their responsibility to provide the public with real news in favor of promoting their own narrow self interests it has given new impetus to those unsatisfied with the promotion of the status quo.

Many have since turned to the Internet for information where the possibilities of reaching a wide audience with limited funds is almost unlimited. Blogs (website logs) have been set up to convey everything from personal stories to news not covered elsewhere. Information on subjects such as postcards that publishers may see no profit in printing can now be accessed on the Internet and is usually free of charge. While the free exchange of images may hurt the market for printed matter, the free exchange of ideas has only helped the collecting community.

Lincoln Penny


There has been a debate for some time about the usefulness of the Penny as currency. While many have tried to hasten its demise, the public’s sentimental attachment to it has kept it in circulation, if only by gathering dust in jars. As of 2006 the cost of making a Penny has risen to 1.3 cents, even though there is hardly any copper left in it. This has created a loss to the U.S. Mint of over 70 million dollars a year. The demise of the one-cent piece may finally be on the horizon in an age of growing government deficits. Although postcards have been highly priced for many a year, the term Penny Post Card is still in use to describe antique cards. If the word Penny falls out of common usage with the demise of the coin, will the term Penny Post Card also fall out of circulation?

Real Photo Postcard


On top of the threat from email, the drop of literacy rates does not bode well for postcards. Ever since the golden age literacy has been in steady decline to about 18% of world population. These figures however are rather skewed as the ability to read varies greatly from one country to the next, and the definition of literacy has not remained constant over time. Although the worst literacy rates tend to be in developing nations, the United States is not well positioned with a world ranking of only 49th place. According to the U.S. Department of Education 14% of Americans were functionally illiterate in 2003, but the problems may run much deeper as even larger numbers are reading impaired. Some studies have shown that 60% of adult Americans have never read a book of any kind, and only 6% read one book or more a year.

Postcard back

There seems to be a long tradition of older generations criticizing the handwriting of those younger than they. This reasoning behind this argument becomes dubious when actually examining the back of postcards issued over the last hundred years as there seems to be little difference in handwriting other than that attributable to the writing tool employed. This however may finally be on the verge of actual change as more and more schools become dependent on using computers. Cursive handwriting has already been dropped from many school curriculums being deemed unnecessary for a modern world. The messages on the back of postcards may one day become as cryptic as a dead language even if one can be found where the handwriting is legible.



The first filmless camera was developed in 1972 based on the videotape technology of the 1950’s, but a number of other advancements needed to fall into place before the first commercial digital camera finally became available in 1981. Since then the digital format has transformed photography faster and more completely than anyone would have thought. Many famous brand camera manufacturers are now leaving the film camera business entirely. Even Eastman Kodak has retired Kodachrome, the world renowned film that helped to bring us photochrome postcards. Color separation by copy camera in the production of printed materials has now been replaced by digital scanners. Despite these dramatic changes the real revolution is yet to come, with all its consequences still unseen.

Even though photography has slowly integrated itself within the Art World, there remains an ever present dichotomy between the two that has been present since inception. Art tends to be seen as coming out of the imagination thus presenting a biased view of the world at best. Photographs have been manipulated to distort reality from the very start but the overwhelming response to them is that they are a slice of life. These long standing paradigms are now growing confused, as the ease and occurrence of manipulating photos have expanded beyond previous ability. As the differences between photography and hand drawn art are blurred, much confusion will abound in the ways we interpret and value them until a consensus forms new paradigms. What this shift will be is anyoneÕs guess but it will greatly change the way we perceive the world around us. These changing ideas will not only determine whether postcards will continue to be made, but whether we will have the insight to value those made in the past.


Postcard formatting has undergone a number changes throughout its history with authorities issuing different requirements regarding their size and labeling. Even so they have remained nothing more than printed ink on paper, novelties aside, which require no special apparatus to access their written and visual content. Today digital technology has given us Compact Discs that are set up alongside postcard racks in many stores that can offer a wider and more numerous collection of views than the totality of all the cards out on display. This phenomenon has been growing slowly but steadily, eliminating postcards as they both compete for limited shelf space. If most contemporary cards are now purchased for saving rather than sending, will CDs eventually replace them, especially in the hearts of the new computer literate generation? Older traditions are now fading out of public memory at an ever increasing rate, but as technology races forward, the formats we view our media in are also constantly shifting and developing. The small Floppy Disks that were commonly used in the 1990’s for portable data were down sized from larger discs that were actually floppy just a few years earlier. New computers with CD readers and writers will no longer read either of them. Now that broadband technology is becoming dominant for data transmission, many computers no longer have CD readers and disks are growing obsolete. With all the effort that has been made to record data onto them, will the same effort an expense be made to re-record this information or will much of this knowledge and imagery simply disappear? Much of our analog history has been left to rot where a disinterested marketplace cannot cover digital conversion costs. While millions of postcards have been lost over the decades, millions more have survived the last hundred years as it has taken little more than storage space to save them. Since postcards are low-tech, their age has never been a factor in our ability to enjoy them but as all physical objects they are eventually subject to decay.

The war on terrorism as waged by the United States has initiated new preservation concerns. As the Executive Administration defines all email in the same manner as postcards, it assumes the sender has forfeited any right to privacy. Since 2007 there has been legislation proposed to force Internet providers to save every single email in perpetuity for possible government surveillance. The eCards we send may be stored in government archives long after we, and all paper cards have turned to dust. This of coarse is of no benefit to historians who do not have access to officially classified documents.



The Fair Use Doctrine has traditionally limited the amount of control copyright holders have over their material when a greater social good is created by allowing its use. This policy however is coming into ever greater conflict between the public who is creating a proliferation of imagery throughout the world due to digital communication and the corporations who have now amassed most copyrights and fear a loss of profits. Corporations have been pressuring Congress on this issue and legislation is now proposed to turn copyright laws into guarantied revenue. Copyrights have already been extended to ensure that large media giants can continue to reap profits from images that should rightly have fallen into the public domain. An increasing number of lawyers have gone after artists and photographers who have depicted logos, buildings, or manufactured goods within their work without corporate permission. In many cases legal threats will be issued as an act of intimidation where no actual case can be made under the law. Publishers now fearing lawsuits have dramatically curtailed certain types of photographic work that have been printed for decades. Many of the images traditionally found on postcards can no longer be used in today’s climate. Current efforts to eliminate Fair Use, often under the guise of trade deals, now pose the greatest risk to the sharing of images.



We are now seeing a growing trend among businesses to deny ownership to the customers that buy their products. What is rising in its place is licensing. It is most familiar to us through the computer software we can buy but never really own and has become increasingly difficult if not impossible to share. While we have long appreciate the value of libraries as a society, their efforts to put their entire content on line for greater public access is seen as a nightmare by others who feel this will cut into their profit share. Sharing has become such a fowl word amongst many of those attempting to maximize profit that more and more proposals for one time use of products are being developed. The move toward licensing over ownership will only increase as fast as consumer resistance allows. Will postcard dealers be required to pay royalties on every card they sell or will there come a day when paper postcards are no longer available to us because there is no way of enforcing one time use?

Countering this trend toward licensing is a rapidly changing public attitude that embraces sharing. As digital technology increases by leaps and bounds, the fidelity of all reproduction is not only growing extremely accurate but also becoming cheaper and easier to transmit. As more reproductive means finds itself in the hands of common folk, the more it is used to bypass traditional means of intellectual property distribution. In the face of this shifting paradigm, many corporations continue to tout the line that this is stealing, but will the new digitally immersed generations now emerging ever really believe that? Will our future laws reflect the prevailing beliefs of our populace or be controlled by the dinosaurs that run too many of our corporations? The old models concerning intellectual property are dying. In the meantime all consumers are becoming to be viewed as potential criminals to be monitored, but this policy that greatly alienates customers is also proving not to be good for business.



The scale of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, caught the world’s attention but while these events were given extensive news coverage they had little affect postcard production. The most noticeable exception to this was in New York City, which bore the brunt of these attacks. Downtown Manhattan was initially cordoned off and slowly reopened bit by bit to the public over the months that followed. Much of the normal economic activity of the area had come to a grinding halt and most of those walking the near empty streets were made up of the curious and those wishing to pay homage. The byways around Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center had collapsed began to quickly fill with venders whose livelihoods had been disrupted. Instead of selling their usual wares to the lunch hour crowds that no longer existed, they began hawking WTC souvenirs that included as many postcards of the Twin Towers as they could find. While some criticized their profiteering they were filling a real public hunger for something more than mementoes. As more people began to visit Ground Zero publishers began producing new postcards depicting the World Trade Center, only this time they were usually combined with patriotic themes. This extraordinary event created an unprecedented demand for postcards and publishers were quick to act. While postcards have long relinquished their power to convey visual news to other media, cards are still greatly valued as tokens that helped many people find a connection to both this place and the surrounding events. While there was some backlash to the exploitive nature of souvenirs; these postcards serve as remembrances of a temporal world that can be physically embraced, which was always part of their appeal.



The availability of imagery to be placed on postcards is now facing new challenges despite the increasing technological ease of procuring pictures. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th on New York City, law enforcement agents around the Country have continually harassed photographers taking pictures of everything from infrastructure to ordinary tourist sites. In most cases the laws prohibiting this activity have been vague to nonexistent which hasn’t stopped warnings, arrests, destruction of property, or beatings. Where no constitutional grounds for enforcement exists, a war of intimidation has begun in an attempt to control behavior. In our present climate the Judicial and Legislative oversight needed to protect American’s rights to free speech has been rare as many judges have place allegiance the law beneath their own fears, and politicians maneuver to advance their careers through fear-mongering. Will we reach the point of seeing ordinary view-cards confiscated off of store racks as possible aids to terrorism?

Attempts to curtail photography have not been limited to intimidation. Much legislation has been proposed or passed to restrict photographers throughout the world, but in the United States much of this activity has failed when challenged by First Amendment advocates. At hearings on these issues in New York, strong voices of concern were raised that these types of restrictive laws would put an end to the City’s rich pictorial heritage and impoverish future generations. Unfortunately even where laws officially protect photographerÕs rights there are too often unofficial polices that allow abuse to continue. In countries involved in conflict such as Iraq and Afghanistan photojournalists have been killed in record numbers. While always a dangerous occupation, their traditional perceived neutrality is no longer being widely recognized and they are now often specifically targeted in attempts to control the flow of images. In an age where anyone can post to the Internet, the need for journalists to get a message out has greatly diminished, which puts them in greater danger.

Real Photo Postcard

Fears of pedophiles has also reached hysterical proportions in these times, being constantly fueled by media looking for greater market share through sensationalist stories, and by politicians trying to advance their careers. In some communities photographers have been banned from working in the proximity of schools or playgrounds regardless of their intentions. In some towns it has now become illegal to take snapshots of children in public places even if they are your own. Children, who these laws are supposedly meant to protect, are now being arrested as pornographers for taking pictures of their own bodies. While these rising fears do not seem to extend beyond the borders of the United States, efforts are being made to enforce our moral codes in other nations. The traditional family postcard of your grandfather as a bare bottomed baby posed on a bearskin rug may now pass for child pornography. Ownership of postcards depicting nude children that were once considered beautiful or even just plain ordinary now put dealers and collectors at risk.



Since the end of the war in Vietnam our government and its military have become fearful of a free press, for the dissent it might arouse from a well informed public could force changes to be made in official policies. Ever increasing efforts have since been imposed to limit press access to the battlefield in an attempt to control all of what is seen and thus what people might believe. Even the current practice of embedding reporters within military units is meant to give the impression of unlimited press access while it skew their perception of events as they bond with the troops there with. The idea that modern wars are fought with smart weapons that just kill evildoers with little risk to our own troops has proven to be erroneous, yet the so-called superiority of our weapon systems continues to be glorified in our media while harsh realities are ignored. As in previous wars, American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to use postcards to write home, but you will no longer find images of ground combat, dead bodies or ruins on them as were commonly placed on cards from earlier conflicts. As the media has become concentrated in the hands of fewer corporate giants, they provide us with postcard depictions of the modern battlefield that tend to resemble those sent from exotic vacation spas, only with an added patriotic emphasis. Not all of this is due to political or corporate agendas as the public’s appetite for gruesome images has been steadily declining over the years. Publishers can only secure a profit by providing customers with what they want to see. It is impossible to cast blame as both sides work to reinforce each otherÕs behavior, but it does not bode well for a society when there is no accountability to the truth.


The message on most modern military cards is simple and clear; we are a powerful nation with the best weaponry, our solders are brave heroes who deserve our support, and with this combination we can only achieve victory. Little attention is paid to the actual issues involved in a conflict because they are often too complex to express on a postcard. Symbolism is often employed to evoke a simple patriotic message, one that can easily prey on sentimentality an emotion. This of course can be tricky for when a message is not spelled out, it can convey more than one meaning. There are postcards from wars dating a century ago that show American servicemen being brought home in flag draped coffins. While this was often done to define them as heroes as late as the 1980Õs, the same practice became anathema during the war in Iraq and bodies were hidden from the media on grounds of privacy. A more likely reason for sanitizing traditional presentations of the dead is so not to rouse public concern over mounting casualties in unpopular wars. In a world made up of secrets and spin, truth becomes the enemy.


Even though efforts were made to control the official message coming out of our most recent military incursions, it was not like wars past where strict censorship was imposed. The focus was now on controlling access to information so that most news would support the government’s agenda. The problem with this scenario is that it is difficult to withhold all information in a digital age where modes of communication permeate traditional barriers. Those suspicious of military adventurism can now find information to support their views more easily. This has made it difficult to rally an entire nation behind a conflict; so rather than risk the public turning against an unpopular war, it becomes easier to distract them from it. Dissent however can still grow in this environment, which is sometimes represented on postcards. Rarely were such critical expressions ever allowed during wartime, but the ability to suppress them is hampered by simultaneously propping up the illusion of a free press. As terrorism has come to our own shores, putting far away wars out of our minds has become more difficult. While the public grows weary of overseas’ interventions, it has also grown more appreciative of those who protect them, which has caused more patriotic images to be placed on postcards.



At the time of their origin, postcards were the fastest and cheapest method of communication across distances; in todayÕs world of high technology it is now the slowest. Despite the ability to send quick and cheap messages over the Internet, the greatest competition to the printed postcard is the cell phone. Since the FCC first authorized its use in 1982, the number of cell phones has increased to the point of being a vital part of many lives. Many of the cell phone conversations held today may seem to be as trivial as the messages written on the back of old postcards but this is no coincidence. These phones have become more than just handy communication devices; cell phones are now the newest part of the old ritual of confirming social relationships. This is a role that many postcards held at the turn of the previous century and was no doubt an integral ingredient to the postcard craze. Now with cameras imbedded in every cell phone, it is easy to send a snapshot along with a message, just like a postcard. The majority of contemporary postcards that are bought today are saved as souvenirs. Those that are still mailed are done so more out of a romance with tradition than for any practical reasons. We are no longer dependent on postcards to provide us with a quick means of communication or a view of our world. Movies, television, compact discs, magazines, and video games all create as much visual stimulation as we can handle. Emails and cell phones have now become the primary social means for personal exchange. It might even be suffice to say that the cell phone has become the contemporary postcard.



Advances in technology and science have been proceeding for some time at a rate faster than many of us are comfortable with. This pace seems to be ever increasing causing many to wonder where we are going and others to retreat back into the comfort of traditional beliefs. Public dissatisfaction often leads to a clamoring for the abstract idea of change that is met with great resistance once it actually gets underway. We are currently faced with a dilemma in which we are thrust into new technological, economic, and social orders with neither our consent nor understanding, and with no regard to future consequences that more often than not remain unknown. Our world is now changing so rapidly that much of what was captured on photochrome postcards just thirty or forty years ago has disappeared. This is not just relevant to the replacement of old structures or the filling of vacant lots, but to the manner in which we lived. Change has become such a consistent part of everyday living we often can no longer remember what has passed before us. We still tend to think of the photochrome postcard as modern and contemporaneous when in fact it is rapidly becoming an antique. A century ago the inability to quickly communicate caused many technological discoveries to languish for years or decades before they were able to be commercially applied, but today many innovations still suffer a similar fate because we either isolate ourselves within specific fields of knowledge or cannot comprehend their relevance when our mindset remains set in another time.



Decades worth of collectors have touted all their good reasons for acquiring postcards, and with each comes an assuredly legitimate answer to why they spend good money on basically useless scraps of paper. Economic pundits have also described this process in terms of the usual supply demand rationales for at least a century. It has only been in the most recent of years that researchers have been able to make use of magnetic resonance imagery scanners to map the activity of the brain in minute detail as a person carries out specific tasks or thinks certain thoughts. Its ability to predict irrationality has given us new insights into the way we chose to make purchases that may have little to do with the way we always thought our decisions were made. While there is most likely real value in certain human activities beyond the manipulation of dopamine levels, it has been shown that consumption can be greatly influenced by all sorts of irrational thoughts. Will any of this knowledge have a measurable effect on our everyday lives? Will a greater understanding into our own behavior make us wiser collectors, or will we find ourselves returning home with more postcards than ever before due to skillful dealers now armed with behavioral science?

It has been observed that the steady flux of digital technology added to our everyday lives has altered the way our brains function. The old model of the unchanging adult brain is now obsolete as we see it can repair itself and continue to grow. While noticeable changes coincide most with learning new material, the most pronounced changes have occurred amongst children who have grown up in this digital age and put information together in new ways. Technology is now changing at such a fast pace that generations of children born just four years apart are having very different forms of brain development. It is too early to judge the consequences of this phenomena but it is certain that not only our children but each generation will come to perceive postcards with a different set of criteria and with a very different eye. Will the craving to collect postcards even be understood in the future? There are of course certain parameters of our behavior that are set by simply being human.



When first proposed, there were great doubts that postcards would succeed because it was believed the public would never send open messages that could be read in the mail. This idea was immediately proved wrong when the first cards issued became an overnight success. The lowering of the postage rate by one cent was enough for many to overcome their inhibitions. Today commercial enterprises mine personal data at alarming levels creating huge files on all our habits. It has become nearly impossible to use any service without relinquishing privacy. The war on terror is now used as an excuse to monitor all forms of communication creating new databases on all of us. Cameras watch us on streets and GPS in cars and cell phones keep tract of our every move. In an era when hacking is becoming more prevalent do guaranties of privacy exist even if they are to be believed. Many early postcard buyers also purchased ciphers to hide their messages. Today we see a growing interest in encryption technology, but will the right to privacy become obsolete? Computer chips are already being inserted into the products we buy, so it is no so implausible that publishers will one day know who is sending and receiving their cards. Will all this create a backlash that will turn people away from sending postcards? If the younger generationÕs use of social media is any hint, their preponderance to publicly expose every detail of their lives shows us that the very concept of privacy is fading fast.

Xograph Postcard


The major difference between today’s collector and those of a hundred years past is that we are now capable of putting postcards in a historical perspective. Certain events and topics portrayed on old cards can now add a previously unforeseen value to them. Even many of the postcard histories written just thirty years after the golden age, can now be reexamined in a new light. Only reality is blind to our wishes and bias, as history is an interpretation of facts as weÕve come to know them. Postcards cannot be properly understood without understanding the context in which they were made and we must be careful not to err by distorting the past with contemporary eyes; projecting on them modern values that did not exist when the cards were made. This can even be a problem when examining modern cards, which are too often viewed in the same light as their ancestors without ever considering the very different circumstances in which they are now produced. It is also important not to be too forgiving by explaining away reprehensible behavior as nothing more than the accepted mindset of those times. While prevailing attitudes must be taken into account when evaluating history, it must also be remembered that these generally held beliefs were still personal choices that always drew dissent.

Since no one forces us to buy postcards, choosing the imagery to be placed on them has always been a discerning task if a publisher is to see any profit. While artistic beauty is often used to attract customers, all sorts of emotions and basic behavioral traits have long been played upon to encourage sales. Patriotism, escapism, sentimentality, voyeurism, and sexuality have all been and still are the top ingredients for marketability, though certainly not the only ones employed. Though overtly displayed on some old cards, these qualities were mostly used in such subtle ways that we often do not even recognize them today for having been so well trained not to see them. While history can give us context it is also important to recognize and gain further insights into the constant driving forces that are inherently human within all of us if we are to understand the true meaning of postcards.

The majority of contemporary postcards bought today seem to be saved as souvenirs. Those that are mailed are done so more out of tradition than for any practical reasons. This brings into question a less measurable aspect to postcard collecting; the postcard as memento. While the act of collecting has been characterized as everything from a natural inclination to a mental illness, the truth of the matter is that most of us engage in this behavior if only to save a pebble off a beach. It is a way we hold on to things, places, and memories, and very often nothing less than a physical object will do. This habit of course existed long before the first postcard was ever made, and will continue even if all postcards were to disappear. While newer generations in a fast changing world have a different outlook toward visual media, it is not yet possible to tell what effect this will have on the basic desire to collect.

1946-1976  UP