Thursday, February 9, 2017


Lake Cumberland in the snow
How long has it been since someone sent you a postcard other than the water bill? The little note on a colorful card from a far away placc saying the writer wished you were there and informing you they were enjoying their vacation 
   Maybe you found a cigar box of cards tucked away on a closet shelf when cleaning out the home of a deceased family member.
   The thick paper cards were an answer to a faster and cheaper way to communicate for the citizens of the 19th & 20th century. There was a distinction between cards - postcards required a two-cent stamp and postal cards used a pre-printed stamp of one-cent.
   The penny cards were printed by the United States Postal Service until Congress in 1898 passed the Private Mailing Act that permitted private publishers to manufacture cards. The private cards carried a label and had a space for a message below the illustration, with the reverse side reserved for the address and stamp. The earliest cards did not have an image. 'Lipman Postal Cards' appeared when Hymen Lipman purchased John P. Charlton's patent for the little cards around 1878. 

   "It was not until 1907 that private citizens were given permission to write on the address side of the card." This opened the Golden Age of Postcards and millions traveled through the US mail much like the flyers we are all familiar with.
   Today those cards are highly sought after collectibles; postcard collecting ranks third behind coins and stamps in popularity.
   Souvenir cards in America appeared in 1893 with the World's Fair in Chicago and still appear on a limited basis near resort check-ins and tourist centers. The souvenir cards were followed rapidly by advertising and comic cards too numerous to name.
   Early colored cards were hand painted on an assembly line system by women. Each worked with a separate color of paint passing them on to the next artist. This process didn't last long due to a familiar habit of water colorists of putting the tip of the brush in their mouth when it became too dry. The lead content of the paint made the workers sick and unable to continue working. New developments in printing technology also made the labor intensive process of hand printing an obsolete practice.
   Instant communication by cell phone has replaced the fun of opening the mailbox and reading a personal note, which everyone was sure has been read by the mailman. My traveling friends specialized in finding cards with a photograph of a library. I have cards from Sidney, Vancouver, New York,  and Kansas City proudly displaying their public library.
   A beloved card is of the Eiffel Tower sent by my grandmother. She had no way of knowing it was the initial souvenir postcard. It was postmarked Paris, France and had my name and address in her distinctive handwriting. It contained no message. We didn't know she'd left home. She forgot to write a message on my card before she mailed them and left her hotel for a tour of the famous landmark.

   The illustration is a current colored photo of Lake Cumberland after a snow. The card has that bluish cast we all get when photographing on a cloudy day with poor light. I played with it and discovered that when I converted it to black & white I have a stronger illustration.
   We wish to thank Russ Hatter and Gene Burch for their 2015 publication, Postcards of Historic Frankfort Kentucky from which much of our information on the historical development of postcards was obtained.
Nash Black, author of Games of Death.   

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