Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The World's Oldest Postcard

The story about the origins of the popular QSL card is very interesting. In the beginning, a QSL card was a postcard that was modified for use as a "Reception Report Card" or a "Verification of Reception" postcard. However, it becomes evident that the introduction of QSL cards was totally dependent upon the fact that postcards, or postal cards, were already in vogue. So, let's go back, and take a look at the early history of postcards.

Postcard historians tell us that the world's first postcard was a humorous painting on a piece of thin cardboard that was sent through the postal system.

The year was 1840, the country was England, and the stamp was the famous Penny Black.

Seven years later, professional groups in Switzerland began to send notifications about important professional events and meetings on pre-printed postcards to their members. The first known advertising postcard in the United States is postmarked in December, 1848.
The first postal card, that is a postcard that is pre-printed with the postage stamp already printed upon it, was issued in the United States in 1861; and the first officially printed postal cards were issued simultaneously in both Switzerland and Austria in 1869. So popular was this official Post Office postal card in Austria that 2¼ million were sold in the first three months.

As the processes of printing developed, so did the styles of postcards, and the first multicolored postcard was issued in the year 1889 in Heligoland, a German tourist island off the coast of Germany in the corner of the Jutland Peninsula in the North Sea. The first colored postcard in the United States was issued four years later to commemorate the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Interestingly, this card was printed with a colored picture on both sides.

Now, initially, when postcards were approved for transmission through the postal systems, only the name and address could appear on the same side as the postage stamp. A picture, and/or a written message could be placed on the reverse side, but no other writing was permitted on the postage side. Cards of this design are designated these days as "undivided back".

However, in the year 1902, England became the first country to approve the usage of what is now described as the postcard with the "divided back"; that is, the name and address and the postage stamp would be on the right hand side, and on the left hand side was space for writing a message. A vertical line separated the two sides, the message side and the address side. Seven years later, the United States Post Office gave approval for the usage of the postcard with the "divided back".

In the era around the early 1900s, the collecting of picture postcards became the top collecting hobby the world has ever known. In the year 1908 for example, the United States Post Office stated that 678 million postcards were posted in the United States. Remembering that the total population of the United States at the time was less than 90 million, this means then, that on a population ratio, more than 7 postcards were posted for every person in the entire country; men, women and children.

During this era of unparalleled popularity, the greatest volume of postcards worldwide came from Germany; and even in the United States picture postcards showing local American scenes were printed in Germany and shipped over in massive numbers. However, the tragic scenes of the Great War put an end to the German superiority in the postcard arena.

The year 1915 saw the introduction of what is now called the "white border" postcard; that is a thin white border surrounds the color picture. Even though there is an attractiveness to this presentation, yet the real motive behind this style was the economy of ink in the printing process.

Beginning in the 1930s, the postcard world introduced what is now known as the "linen era"; that is, the surface of the color picture is textured, making another attractive style of presentation. In 1939, the full color glossy style of postcard was introduced, and this era is now known as the "chrome era".

These days, it is considered that postcard collecting is the world's third largest collecting hobby, surpassed only by stamp collecting and coin collecting. And of course, the collecting of QSL cards is a major sub-section in the overall picture of postcard collecting.
More about these things another time!
(NWS17/Adrian Peterson)
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