French Postcards: An Album of Vintage Erotica

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.

T.E.V. Princess Patricia postcard

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 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.

The ten most expensive postcards ever sold on AbeBooks:


Postcard reproducing an image from the Chapel at Vence from Henri Matisse - $1250
Henri Matisse Signed on the back “Avec mes meilleures. VoeuxH. Matisse,” was included with the envelope which seemingly held it.


Autograph Postcard from Wallace Stevens - $1250
Wallace Stevens Postcard from a fan and dated October 4th, 1954 asking for the Pulitzer Prize winning poet to write out his favourite poem and include an autograph. His response was thus, "I have no favourite poem. Wallace Stevens."


Picture postcard of Fraunce's Tavern in New York City from horror writer H.P. Lovecraft - $895
H.P. Lovecraft Sent to Arthur Leeds in 1932, signed by American poet Samuel Loveman as well as "HPL".


Unsigned postcard from Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) - $802
Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) One of the unpublished letters between Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, and the young Mabel Amy Burton, from 1880.


Autographed postcard from George Bernard Shaw - $710
George Bernard Shaw Addressed to "Mr. Neither Holroyd nor Laurence,“ from the only person to ever win both the Nobel Literature prize and an Oscar (for Pygmalion, on which My Fair Lady was later based)


Signed Photographic postcard from George Bernard Shaw - $550
George Bernard Shaw Addressed to Gwen Lally "My dear Lally, By all means go to America and teach them how to make first rate pageants. You are a pageant in yourself: a George Washington pageant. They cannot fail to make the resemblance. G. Bernard Shaw.”


Autograph Postcard from Edward Elgar - $395
Edward Elgar The English orchestral composer sent this card on August 9th 1898.


Postcard from English painter Stanley Spencer - $383
Stanley Spencer A handwritten signed postcard to Ronald Spencer (no relation). "Have done a portrait-I have nearly finished a landscape-I can only do this sort of thing away from home. I now have a portrait commission to do. I wish wealthy people would commission me to do figure paintings which I love doing." Written on the reverse of a reproduction of one of Stanley’s paintings.


Postcard from Nikos Kazantzakis - $318
Nikos Kazantzakis Written to Jonathan Griffin, translator of two of the Greek author’s novels Christ Re-crucified (1954) and Freedom and Death (1956). Written in French and posted from Holland to France in 1952, this card addresses Griffin amiably, thanks him for a previous letter, stresses Kazantzakis’s engaged interest in Griffin’s work on his behalf.


Photo postcard of Albert Schweitzer wearing a white suite and sitting on a riverbank from Albert Schweitzer - $300
Albert Schweitzer This card was posted to Joseph Lippmann from the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in French Equatorial Africa. It was for founding this hospital that Schweitzer was awarded the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, and where he worked on three volumes of his Kulturphilosophie; card includes inscription and signature.