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December 30, 2019

From Postblatt to Fieldpost - part 2 of 5
By Alan Petrulis


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A much more common type of card made for soldiers is the Gruss aus dem Bivouak. Many of these cards depict simple ordinary snippets of camp life but just as many like the German postcard from 1906 above show festive scenes. While camp life was undoubtedly never as full of good food and happy times as depicted on these cards, they fulfilled their purpose of conveying a sense of well being to family back home.

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Even though generic themes could appeal to a larger card buying audience, those depicting specific places were always more popular when there was a personal connection. These could also sell in numbers large enough to make publication profitable if attached to large troop concentrations. The German training camp established in Bitscher, Lorraine was one of these, and is depicted on the postcard above from 1911. While site specific, the depiction is rather generic filled with symbols and troops hard at work. Such cards must be viewed suspiciously as they may be true generics with the same image printed with another camp’s name. cards.

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Even though Gruss aus cards were largely the product of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires, their format was more far reaching. This American made postcard from 1905 depicting National Guard troops called up for training at Camp Pattison in Pennsylvania utilizes the familiar vignette design found on European cards.

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Men designated as being in the reserves were only expected to serve when their nation was threatened, but they were occasionally called up to practice their skills and learn about changes in weaponry. This also gave the military a chance to better evaluate its current capabilities. These maneuvers also forced men to be away from home for extended periods, which created a demand for correspondence. Publishers were more than happy to produce postcards that directly targeted this audience. The earliest of these were introduced as generic Gruss aus cards or Gruss aus Reservekneipe cards. Most of these cards were light hearted emphasizing camaraderie and an almost party atmosphere over the burden of being called up for duty. Beer often flows in abundance on these cards.

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Early cards published by Max Vogel could be used by either reservists or those on garrison duty. The narrative on this card is meant to be humorous but it concerns that which interests soldiers the most, contact with home. Here is shown three happy soldiers after receiving a letter, a food parcel and a postal remittance through the mail. The purpose of the card however is to convey news. Its style is a precursor of the check off card that requires little writing by the sender.

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The card above is very similar in style to the many Gruss aus Musterung cards produced except this one was designed for reservists. It shows the typical celebratory send of, but instead of catching the eye of adoring young women, these older and most likely married men are shown taking part in an emotional farewell scene at a train station with their spouses. If young men found military service an adventure, it was more burdensome for older men in the reserves who had to leave careers and family behind. These types of cards produced before the Great War were always upbeat to help ease the separation.

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There are a number of cards that present soldiers in such abstract ways that there is no doubt that this imagery is a product of an artistic imagination. Most however look so realistic that they are probably based on first hand observation of maneuvers even when there is no reference to them on the card. Many cards however do mention it as the early German Gruss aus Manoverfelde card above. This is a very common type depicting troops deployed in the field as if ready for combat.

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Also common were montaged Gruss aus Manover cards depicting scenes in vignette. The Swiss Soldatengruss card above from 1902 is a variation. An interesting feature is its use of the phrase, Souvenir Militaire. Military themed postcards are no longer being marketed for the sole purpose of soldiers writing home. They can be purchased as a souvenir of service like a view-card from a trip or an actual souvenir by tourists or family that traveled to witness the maneuvers. Even though the Swiss Confederation was officially neutral, this status could only be maintained through military power and a large number of military themed cards followed.

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Another common type of Gruss aus Manover card depicts troops being billeted. While most troops bivouacked in tents when away from their barracks, some took shelter in barns when available. This theme is usually presented through humor, which can also have a sexual edge when half-dressed men are confronted in the morning by the farmer’s daughter ready to milk the cows. Sometimes a soldier is shown kissing a young woman goodbye as the rest of his unit rushes off.

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Another comic variation of the billet card were those that show troops frantically trying to fall onto line as on this German Alarm-Karte from 1904 above. While these cards depict training exercises and never actual scenes of war, they are a chance for the illustrator to show off by drawing action. Soldiers on these cards are rarely shown in their best form to evoke humor. Such cards are fairly common, at least in peacetime when incompetence can be viewed as humorous.

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Soldiers out on maneuver inevitably crossed paths with local civilians who were mostly farmers. The most common way of presenting these chance meetings was with sexual innuendo, which was meant to attract buyers for these cards. Most are still innocent enough, doing little more than showing soldiers gawking at women working in their fields like this German card from 1903; a bit of wishful thinking in an otherwise all male world.

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Maneuvers did not just involve holding mock battles, there was a lot of marching that often passed through nearby villages. Here we find more friendly confrontations with civilians, though some are friendlier than others. Many, as this card from 1904, show women handing out food or water to passing troops while others entertain with outright flirtation. This became a common trope and was often used on World War One propaganda cards to demonstrate the friendly response German troops received in occupied lands. Postcards in general are meant to reinforce rationalizations.

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Postcards were far more serious when depicting the annual Imperial maneuver in the presence of the Emperor. The Kaiser Maneuver as it was sometimes called was a multi-day event consisting of parades and field maneuvers, usually by the largest German army corps. The earliest of these cards, like the one above from 1898 usually have a number of vignettes displaying the army out in the field and sometimes in bivouac. Whenever possible, the Imperial Navy also participated in these events with their own fleet parade and fleet maneuvers.

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Not all postcards depicting the Kaiser Maneuver were explicit. This card is only labeled Gruss aus, but it shows Kaiser Wilhelm sharing his critique of the display with his generals. While it is impossible to determine motive, speculation can be given to the idea that the lack of clarity was a marketing ploy. Cards made more generic could appeal to a wider audience.

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There is a clear distinction between troops practicing the art of war during maneuvers and marching in dress uniform on parade, but this is not always made evident on postcards. The titles on postcards cannot always be taken so literally because their primary purpose is to sell, not document. It does not matter that the title on this postcard from 1900, Gruss aus Parade, shows soldiers running into a mock battle; it only needs to show a military display before the Kaiser to function as a good souvenir.

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As the montage style grew less popular, single images began to dominate the front of these postcards. This represents a general trend to move away from the decorative and purely symbolic in favor of images that better represent the subject. While this change in style allowed the production of photo-based cards to increase, it also allowed artists to better show off their talent. Anonymous illustrators began being replaced by named artists.

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While preformed ostensibly for training and assessment, the Kaiser Maneuver usually took on too much pomp for the Kaiser’s sake to be of military relevance. While these postcards are designed to project military might, there is a certain grandiosity about them that wants to reflect the power inherent in the emperor. There is no hiding this on cards of the Kaiserparade that combine large displays of soldiers neatly marching in line accompanied by symbols of empire. The cards themselves may take on the look of fancy greetings, issued with gold ink and embossing.

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Wherever imperial maneuvers took place, they attracted a large spectator audience, which in turn boosted the local economy. The high volume of postcard sales encouraged publishers to increase production of military cards though not all followed traditional themes. Although humor had long been added to these cards, there seemed to be an ever growing audience for them. Themes most often revolved around naive soldiers, maladjustment to a regimented life, and confrontations with civilians during maneuvers. One of the earliest stars of this genre was the self-taught Austrian artist Fritz Schonpflug who produced many scenes of fumbling troops and their commanders while on maneuvers in 1909 for the publisher Bruder Kohn. While many soldiers bought these types of cards, this trend actually represents a break with those designed exclusively for soldiers.

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The growing popularity of postcards at the turn of the 20th century continued to influence the way military themed cards were produced. Publishers naturally sought out the widest audience possible to maximize profits, and this meant tapping into those who only had an interest in the military rather than being a member of it. Postcard collecting was also initially seen as a woman’s hobby following the tradition of assembling paper scraps into books. To entice men to collect, a number of published began introducing more varied subject matter, which included manly military themes. As the audience for these cards became more ambiguous, the artwork on them became larger and bolder. Fine illustrations became the selling point for many of these cards as on the card above from a set published by Henri Schlumpf depicting men called up for maneuvers.

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This early French postcard depicts troops out in the field. Are they soldiers on maneuver or does this scene capture a vignette from the Franco-Prussian War? We are left to guess. It is the generic nature of this card that made it appeal to soldiers and collectors alike. Its duel nature also marks a new reality ushered in by the growing demand for picture postcards in which the majority of cards with military themes are no longer being exclusively produced for a military audience. They have become just one of many collectable subjects sought after by the public.

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The growing postcard craze created a great demand for imagery, and many fine artists began to see this as a new revenue stream. History painters like Eugene Chaperon began contributing illustrations for prints and postcards at this time. This trend improved the quality of artwork as on this French Postcard, and in turn it increased the demand for military cards by collectors. When depicting subjects like military reviews, the audience for the review and the card might be one in the same.

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Illustrations by some artists became so popular that they were able to find an audience for multiple card sets. A good example is Anton Hoffmann whose energetic depictions of German troops out on maneuvers were widely reproduced on postcards. He served in the Bavarian army before studying art and his work shows this first-hand knowledge. He would go on to become an important war artist during the First World War, and his drawings appear on many fieldpost cards.

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Carl Ludwig Friedrich Becker was a German academic painter who made a number of fine illustrations for postcards depicting field maneuvers. By this time, only a single image usually took up an entire side of the card, making them difficult to discern from military cards of battle scenes that would come to be produced during the First World War. One clue is that soldiers and especially officers on maneuver took little cover, which shows they are not under enemy fire.

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Becker also used line and wash in 1903 to illustrate a large series of vignettes depicting troops out on maneuvers. While these are more in line with the simple fieldpost cards made for soldiers in the 19th century, these too were probably marketed to the general collector. A good indication can be found in the large numbers that remain in mint condition. These types of cards would evolve into historical uniform cards that depicted various types of solders from different nations and periods.

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This early hand colored card by Becker is typical of the type made for military collectors that depict soldiers in uniform. What is unusual is the corner tag designating the regimental insignia. While uniform cards always depict a very particular type of soldier and sometimes from a specific regiment, the use of insignia tags was a practice usually reserved for regimental cards. Without knowing the particular arrangements of who these cards were sold to they become impossible to definitively classify. If only from the style, I would say this card was designed with the collector in mind, not the soldier.

In the 1890’s, as traditionally military themed postcards began giving way to those targeting all collectors; another tradition was developing to more specifically satisfy the needs of active soldiers and those in the reserve. These are generally referred to as regimental cards because they incorporate the name or number of a particular regiment. While military regiments have been organized since medieval times, these units evolved into the basic building blocks of all armies becoming standardized by the time postcards began being made. They usually consisted of eight-hundred to a thousand men who trained and fought together under the command of a colonel. Regiments came to be permanently maintained as an administrative unit, so even as individual soldiers came and went it could maintain cohesion. This helped to raise morale by creating an esprit de corps, which in turn made troops more effective on the battlefield.

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The earliest cards that make reference to regiments are not regimental cards at all. They follow in the tradition of Gruss aus cards that only display generic images of soldiers. They should just be considered a variation of postcards showing troops on maneuver.

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Another variation is the Gruss vom Bataillon card. Although battalions are defined differently in different armies, they are basically a smaller military unit than a regiment that is still capable of carrying out independent operations under command of an officer. It does not matter that they lack the permanent status of regiments that regimental cards honor because they were also issued as generics. This would change during World War One when the need for battalion sized units gave them more recognition.

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A true regimental card cannot be a generic; it must make reference to a specific regiment. The earliest, like the one from Italy pictured above were designed simply to help reduce production costs and keep them affordable for recruits. They rarely carried more than one or two patriotic or national symbols along with the number of the regiment, all printed in monochrome.

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Pictured above is another simple Austrian correspondence card dating from 1905 that makes reference to a single regiment. When not carrying symbols, these types of cards often depict soldiers involved in military related activities.

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While the design of this early Italian regimental card is remains relatively simple, visible is the growing trend to entwine symbolic decorative elements with scenes of soldiers in action. Some of the same cards were issued in a large range of monochromatic colors.

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Even though there were many simple designs produced for regimental cards, the growing competition to make sales seemed to pull publishers toward more complex images. Cards printed in black & white or monochrome soon found themselves in direct competition with fancy chromolithographs like this Swiss card from 1893. Both cheap and expensive cards would continue to be printed for decades because each filled a particular niche. It is easy to overlook the large number of simple cards produced because the more attractive were more likely to be saved.

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Even as the trend for more elaborate and colorful cards grew, those only carrying symbolic designs persisted. They were drawn with great variation in their complexity, which seems to indicate that their appeal was largely imbedded in tradition. Customers were not only familiar with this format; their symbolic content was just as if not more inspiring than their artistic content. Symbols can be obscure but they can also achieve national recognition giving them great power to evoke emotions.

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German publishers like S. Freund & Co. produced large amounts of finely printed and embossed regimental cards that had many of the same qualities of the finest holiday cards. While they represent different branches of service and present a variety of uniforms, these were generic soldiers. They are only considered regimental cards because of the units number printed on them. Soldiers are usually accompanied by patriotic symbols but other elements like good luck horseshoes were also very popular. This style of card was produced in large numbers.

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The German card above is another generic, probably leftover stock that never received its printed number. Regimental generics functioned the same way as generic view-cards. They could be printed in larger volume if their customers were not specified by content. This in turn reduced their cost to shopkeeper and soldier alike. The same card could then be sold to a number of small shops around the country, where with a small hand press the regimental number could be added. Many German cards were designed to include large blank identification tags to make this additional printing easier.

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In Germany, the public’s taste for high ornamentation seems to have slowly shifted toward more realistic images. While the card above is still a generic with a numbered regimental tag, most of the traditional symbolism has disappeared. Eventually very similar images would be produced as totally generic military cards. As with any trend, there was a constant give and take between styles over the years so no single form ever completely dominated.

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The regimental card above is a good example of inconsistent format that common in Germany in the early 20th century. At first glance it appears to be nothing more than another historic battle depiction from the Franco-Prussian War fought years earlier. The back of the card reveals that this is not just a card made to attract the eye of military card collectors, it was issued to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the 103rd Infantry Regiment. Without a clear format to follow, publishers could always have cards designed for multiple audiences. The tendency to increase market share was always at odds with creating a recognizable format that specifically spoke to a soldier’s needs.


This article consist of four parts; click on the links below to continue reading.

Postblatt to Fieldpost part 1
Postblatt to Fieldpost part 3
Postblatt to Fieldpost part 4
Postblatt to Fieldpost part 5



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