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Artist Signed Postcards
An artist signed card contains a reproduction of an illustration designed specifically for that postcard, which distinctly displays the artist’s name. The postcard itself is not actually signed; the original art work is signed and the signature is reproduced along with the picture. The signature allows collectors to identify and seek out cards drawn by specific artists. These cards are not considered art reproductions and should not be confused with them even though they may look very much alike. Some stretch the definition by considering any postcard containing an illustration made for postcard use to be artist signed whether there is an actual signature is on the card or not.
Determining what is an artist signed postcard can be a difficult to impossible task. The difference between them and art reproductions lay in the intent of the artist who created the image, which may no longer be easy to decipher. When we find images of famous paintings on postcards we know they are reproductions, but in the case of lesser known artists whose names we do not recognize it becomes hard to say. In the early years of postcard production the distinction between fine and the applied arts was not as great as it is today. A number of well known artists not only had paintings reproduced on cards but also designed original work to be placed on postcards. Paintings were routinely used to illustrate magazine covers, and they were then placed on postcards if their popularity create a public demand for them. Book illustrations often followed a similar scenario. Many of these cards that have become classics have since been made into modern reproductions, which now adds to the confusion.
There are also postcards that lay between two worlds and there proper designation will ultimately reside with the collector. A great many artists created paintings that they meant to sell but they allowed to be copied onto postcards for extra revenue. This was usually done with artists that created the type of images that had high public demand. While they were not illustrators per-say, these cards are not what would be considered a true art reproduction for the image does not originate with a cultural institution. Some publishers also saw the cards they produced as works of art in themselves, and the artist’s intent regarding how it should be viewed was of no consequence.
While many artists signed their work, or at least most of it many others did not. Sometimes this policy was promoted by a publisher who was fearful of creating a rising star that could demand more money from them for their work. Today many of these artists have faded into obscurity and we have know way of telling who created the postcard image. A recognizable style is also no guarantee of identification for many of the best selling styles were copied by other artists. When the name of the illustrator is known there may be no surviving records detailing their life. This can even hold true for artists who created hundreds of very popular postcards. Even the original artwork of many of these commercial artists were discarded once the postcard was manufactured. Once it served its purpose, the space it took up was more valuable to a publisher than the artwork itself.
Artwork had been copied for centuries and usually reproduced as engravings. For some artists it was not their painting but the printed reproductions of them that proved most lucrative. Reproduction however is not a science, early prints were never very accurate and they often capture the style of the engraver more than the original artist. This all changed with the introduction of photography, which could accurately capture details and subtleties that could never be rendered by hand. This was true even when artwork started being reproduced in print by photomechanical means. Art reproductions had traditionally been reserved for the wealthy due to their cost, but postcards provided an inexpensive way to disseminate these images in both printed and real photo form. Coming out of an age where few people had access to imagery, these postcards whether reproducing famous paintings of just the drawings of unknown contemporary illustrators had wide appeal. The great numbers in which they were printed clearly demonstrates the public’s hunger for them, and many artists of all sorts found work in producing them.
To sum up, there are primarily three kinds of Artists listed here. There are those who designed postcards from scratch or based on their earlier work. There are those who created illustrations knowing that they could be used with a variety of mediums such as magazine covers, posters, calendars, and postcards. Then there are those artists contemporaneous with the postcard age who did not create artwork for postcards, but whose work was used by publishers because of their popularity. While these cards can be considered reproductions, they were not distributed in the same fashion as those art reproductions from collections of cultural institutions.
Many of the images reproduced on real photo postcards were just very matter of fact, but there were also photographers who took great care to add artistic qualities. While many of these photographers were true artists, their names will not appear in this section but are listed instead in the publishers section as they often produced their own cards.
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