Postcard Backs-Clues for Dating

I’m planning a series of articles on postcard collecting and last week’s article on real photo postcards was the first of the series.  Today, I want to show you how to take the clues from the back of the postcard to help you determine approximate dates.

Postcard Back

Postcard Back

  • Card has  printed stamped government postals with space on one side for the address only — This is likely from 1861 (when postcards were first authorized) to 1898.  Privately printed post cards were not allowed, though in 1893 full color postcards were printed on the reverse side of the US government printed side.
  • Card has  printed logo on one side “Private Mailing Card”  —  This is likely from the period 1898 to 1901.  Only the address was allowed on the address side, but the card was printed privately.  Often the image side was printed to allow space for senders to write a message.  Messages were not allowed on the address side.
  • Card has the words “Post Card” or “Postcard” on the address side with no divider —  This is likely from 1901 – 1907.   Only the address was allowed on the address side and space was still frequently left on the image side for messages.
  • Back has a divider —  1907 or later.  The address, and the message were now on the same side, allowing for the image to take up the entire front.  Most cards were printed in Germany, and the lithography processes there were so advanced that most cards from this period are spectacular.  Postcard sending and collecting became a mania, and this collecting frenzy was only slowed by WWI which cut off the supply of the quality produced cards from Germany.  Every home had its postcard albums, and communication by postcard was “the norm.
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