Upon their inception in the 19th century postcards were simply meant to be a cheap, fast way for people to exchange short messages. However as the decades rolled onward this invention of convenience was transformed into medium of social commentary and an essential aspect of vacationing. From the hills of Hollywood to the beaches in Brighton tourists scrawl “Wish you were here!” on the back left hand side of images taken from the world’s most visited destinations.
The earliest postcards had an undivided back which was entirely reserved for address information forcing the sender to fit their text in the white space on the front next to the image. It took until 1907, nearly 50 years, for the “divided back” card that we see today to come into use in the United States, but when it did the popularity of postcards exploded.
This period from the development of the divided back until the outbreak of World War One has been called The Golden Age of Postcards; and is considered one of the main defining eras. The next era was called the Linen Era and lasted from about 1930 to the early 50s; cards were printed on textured paper similar to linen cloth, which allowed the increased use of bright colours in the designs. Finally by the 1950s the modern “chrome” postcards, which usually contain photos on glossy paper, began to dominate the market and have done ever since.
Throughout these three main eras many smaller and more localized fads ensued. America’s “White Border Era” resulted after World War One and the devastation of Germany’s high end printing industry (which had dominated the Golden Age) as well as high production costs and increased competition in America; the result was the implementation of a thick white border around the picture of American cards to save on ink costs. There were also the French Erotic postcards of the early 1900s, the French and Belgian Hand Tinted cards and the English Seaside or Saucy postcards which were first popularized in the 1930s.
Deltiologists, as postcard collectors are called, collect for a variety of reasons. Some are attracted to a particular era or style of postcard, and for some it is a certain region or topic of interest. A baseball collector might collect postcards related to the sport as a way to augment their interest in the game, or a historian might collect cards from a city or neighbourhood to show how it has changed over the years.
While these factors can affect the value and collectability of cards, sometimes the most dramatic increases can be attributed to what is written on the back of a postcard rather than what was printed on the front. The personal messages and signatures on a postcard from celebrity personalities like Mark Twain or William Burroughs (seen below) can be a final personal touch that book collectors or fans of celebrities seek out as their collections crown jewel; items like these can command thousands of dollars for a single card.
If you are interested you can see the Top 10 most expensive postcards sold on AbeBooks