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December 30, 2019

From Postblatt to Fieldpost - part 2 of 4
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 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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Even though men designated as being in the reserves were only expected to serve when their nation was threatened, 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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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 farmerŐs 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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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 KaiserŐs 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.

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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Perhaps nowhere did regimental cards become more popular than in Italy. The two are often synonymous in the eyes of modern collectors because of their great artistry and their prolific production. Italy produced postcards of all its regiments. So who were their publishers? It is not so easy to say. Many of the finest cards were produced by Doyen di L. Simondetti of Torino and G. Ricordi & Co. of Milan, but it is doubtful that these expensive chromolithographs were marketed to young recruits. Then again, the longevity of regiments meant that there were former member who might have become men of means. Even if these types of cards were commissioned by the regiment itself on behalf of its members, their quality should be in direct proportion to the regiment’s wealth. Since regiments are segregated by geography, those whose members come from cities often had more money than those raised from rural areas. In the absence of contractual details it is impossible to know if a regiment commissioned a card or if these cards originated with large publishers. It is also difficult to tell if their customers were mostly soldiers or civilian collectors. While many regimental cards remain in mint condition, others have military postmarks.

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Although Italian regimental cards come in a wide variety of designs they tend to be based around a much more limited set of themes. One of these is the regimental flag. Battle flags had been used since ancient times to designate the location of commanders, and they were later adapted to help identify each regiment as armies grew larger. In an age when there were no rapid means of communication between units, this at least gave generals some idea of what was happening on the battlefield. While battle flags that designate which empire a unit fights for tend to be uniform, regimental flags needed to be unique. Their square designs were often based on the coat of arms of their commander or national and even local symbols that resonated with the troops. Awarded to regiments through ritualistic ceremonies, these flags held special meaning. They represented the units history and sometimes had the names of battles fought emblazoned on them. The pennant shape of the flag on this 1905 card indicates that it is a guidon for a cavalry unit.

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Regiments were usually recruited from the same city or province so reservists could mobilize quickly when necessity called. This also helped to create a higher level of cohesiveness by playing up pride in one’s hometown. Many regimental cards emphasize the location where the unit was raised, sometimes in words but also through depicting views of well known landmarks. Even though this regiment from Verona has its number printed on the card, A regimental hand-stamp has been added to show that this card came directly from the regiment and not a store in town. Such stamps were very common.

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Some depictions of locations on regimental cards do not represent where the unit comes from but rather where it achieved it greatest victories on the battlefield. The card above does so by displaying maps of Libya and Eritrea. Many cards make reference to African locations that Italy tried to conquer. In contrast to this imperialist bravado, there is also a scene of Messina being destroyed by an earthquake in 1908. The Italian army was dispatched to Sicily in its aftermath to help with relief efforts.

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Specific battles the regiment took part in are also displayed on regimental cards. While many of these capture scenes from military campaigns in North Africa, the most common are the mid-19th century battles fought against Austria for Italian unification. While many of these battles ended in Italian defeats, what is shown are the heroic efforts performed by the regiment in which they can still take pride.

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Connecting a regiment to a historic past was a very important function of these cards. By doing so, soldiers could develop a sense of pride over events their regiment once took part in even when they never participated in these events themselves. This of course is a formula widely employed in propaganda because people have a natural tendency to attach themselves to anything that might increase self-esteem. We can easily see this today in the way people’s moods are attached to the fortune of sports teams they root for even when they have no real connection to them. While most of these types of regimental cards do so by representing particular battles, more general references were made to broader military traditions. In the case of Italian cards, Roman legionnaires were often incorporated into designs to symbolize the continuity of greatness through military action. This message was sometimes enhanced by juxtaposing ancient warriors with their modern counterparts.

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Some cards take this relationship with the past a bit further. In the case of the regimental card above, a map of the Roman Empire takes center stage. By connecting the modern Kingdom of Italy to the ancient Roman Empire, this card implies that there is a continuum of greatness from the ancient Romans to the present time. It projects the idea that Italy is not only a formidable force to recon with, it would become a powerful empire again. It very much acts as a propaganda card in its rationalization of Italy’s imperialistic quest for empire.

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Most regimental cards that try to inspire patriotic zeal simply use traditional national symbols like the national flag or Italia turrita the personification of Italy. On this card her usual turreted crown is replaced by the Star of Italy (Stella dŐItalia). All are ancient references, the young woman from the primordial myth of the Great Mediterranean Mother, the crown as a representation of Roman cities, and the evening star having represented Italy since the time of ancient Greece. She also holds an oak and olive branch symbolizing strength and peace. Having been used for centuries, such symbols were very potent and sure to evoke an emotional response. Just like greeting cards that quickly conveyed their message through sentimentality, the use of the correct symbols could easily inspire a patriotic response.

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There is one symbol often found on regimental cards that makes no immediate reference to national identity. She is the angel of victory based on the goddess Nike. In one hand she holds the laurel wreath of victory, and in the other a palm leaf signifying peace. While it may seem totally appropriate to place such an allegorical figure amidst charging troops, its symbolism is not always as obvious as it seems. While it can be assumed that peace will follow victory, a dogmatic posture was established by nearly every nation during World War One in which peace was judged only attainable through military victory, not negotiation. The angel of victory can be found on many types of propaganda cards.

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With so many regiments to represent, it is easy to understand why publishers often fell back on producing generics. While this might do for lower end cards, those customers willing to pay a premium became increasingly demanding. Illustrators had to be very clever to keep turning out unique images. Differentiation between infantry, cavalry and artillery units provided some variation but this obviously had limitations. Units organized around a specialty were an opportunity too good for illustrators to pass up, and are usually represented in unique ways. This card for a regiment of Alpini not only shows them deployed on skis, their specialized equipment is incorporated into the cards decorative design.

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Sometimes it takes a variety of elements to make a card unique. The one above for a coastal defense unit displays a large coastal gun, a regimental flag, and a bit of architecture from the location of the battery. The most unusual thing about it is the absence of soldiers in uniform.

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If the content of regimental cards were only based on a limited number of themes, further variation could always be found through artistic style. These cards were produced during years that saw great change in what the public considered fashionable. Art Nouveau made great inroads on more academic forms of drawing, which eventually succumbed to growing modernist trends. While publishers tended to be conservative in their choices, some were always willing to push the limits of public taste, which led to an interesting variety of postcards on nearly every subject. This Italian duotone card from 1904 is a hybrid as it adds silver ink and Art Nouveau flourishes to a traditionally rendered battle scene.

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A cousin to the regimental cards are those representing specific military schools as the college at Naples above. While many nations produced photo-based view-cards of schools there was a type of artist drawn card from in Italy that is very similar to the typical montaged graphic style of their regimental cards. It is no coincidence that this card issued by Doyen was also a major publisher of regimental cards.

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Not all postcards depicting soldiers of a particular regiment are regimental cards. Many were produced solely with the military collector in mind. This is especially true for cards like the early one above originating in Great Britain & Ireland. British publishers would continually issue postcards that honored their military traditions for use by the general public.

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While French publishers produced a wide variety of artist drawn and photo-based postcards depicting troops on maneuvers, these were rarely issued for the exclusive use by soldiers. Some of the most popular sets, like those published by the French apéritif maker, Byrrh served commercial interests. Any themes that became popular with collectors could easily be appropriated for advertising. Tying a product to patriotic themes was also advantageous to sales even when there was no real relationship between the two. This marketing ploy became more difficult to sustain during wartime for there was always the danger of appearing exploitative of the sacrifice made by soldiers for the sake of sales.


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



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