Finepaper is making old ways of enjoying print into new ways of celebrating communication by throwing a party for the 150th anniversary of a great idea: The postcard.
I am always happy to learn about innovations in printing—past and present. It turns out that we are celebrating the 150th birthday of…the postcard. Created to be an efficient and inexpensive answer to letter writing, we now know that postcards can be worth, well, 1,000 words. Just as printed books are not going away, people’s love of receiving actual mail is not going away either. So it feels good to take a moment to sing the praises of the humble and brilliant postcard.
Picture postcards played a part in my teenage years. My parents had a habit of buying the best postcard—in terms of image—to record the places we visited, both abroad and in Portugal. My father loved photography and took his own pictures but always liked to go looking for another photographic point of view as well. Whenever friends took a trip abroad, we asked them to send us a postcard from the place to which they traveled. My parents worked in the hospitality sector and, therefore, had many foreign friends. So we collected postcards until we stuffed a suitcase full. We used to travel around the world by going through our postcards. From time to time, at night (the offerings on the TV were not the same as today,) we would get out this suitcase as if we were going on a trip.
“We used to travel around the world by going through our postcards.”
But sending postcards is not just a thing of the past. If you like to send and receive postcards, Postcrossing is a great way of doing it. Paulo Magalhães grasped a small idea—that people want a platform to help them find postcard penpals—and, almost 54 million postcards later, he continues to grow this project.
It was through Postcrossing that we learned about the postcard’s origin story. I’m sharing a portion of their interesting web page, 150 Years of Postcards, about how these printed objects came to be. It’s a story of economics and design…and, the way I’m telling it here, it ends with a brand new chapter: Finepaper’s own postcard project. A celebration of 150 years of postcard printing.
Without further ado, and brought to you with their permission, here is an excerpt from a timeline, originally published at www.150yearsofpostcards.com. It will keep you on the edge of your seat wondering how this very good idea finally found its way into being.
A History of Postcards *
Tracing the origins of the picture postcard is difficult because postcards were not simply invented—instead, they evolved. Their history is inevitably linked with the development of the postal service, but also features innovations in printing and photography, daring proposals…and even a 300-meter tower!
We try to chronicle the history of postcards through a timeline of relevant events, going back a few centuries to provide the context that culminated in postcards being officially issued and recognized by a postal operator on October 1st, 1869.
Following the popularization of printing presses, visiting cards, bill heads, writing paper and other types of paper ephemera started to have illustrations on them, often with delicate engravings and tasteful designs.
Already in 1777, French engraver Demaison published in Paris a sheet of cards with greetings on them, meant to be cut and sent through the local post, but people were wary of servants reading their messages…so the idea was not very well received.
A postal reform in the UK unified the cost of domestic mail delivery to one penny per envelope, to be prepaid by the sender. The proposals of Sir Rowland Hill also included that the pre-payment was to be made by issuing printed sheets of adhesive stamps. The Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive postage stamp, made its debut in May 1840.
Simultaneously, decorated prepaid letter sheets (similar to today’s aerograms) were also put on sale by the post office. These were designed by William Mulready and showed Britannia with a lion at her feet, sending mail messengers to all parts of the world. Though this particular design turned out to be unpopular and often ridiculed, this was the first postal stationery item issued by the post office that had decorations on the outside. They were replaced the following year by plain pink envelopes, with a printed one-penny stamp on the corner.
Already that year, Theodore Hook Esq., a British writer, mailed himself a caricature of post office workers shown to be writing mail in order to sell more stamps. Most likely mailed as a joke (and delivered against the post office regulations of the time,) this could probably be the earliest record of a postcard being sent through the mail.
A few years later, in 1843, Sir Henry Cole produced the first Christmas greeting card, a drawing of himself and his family. This was the year in which Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published.
In late February, the US Congress passed an act that allowed privately printed cards, weighing one ounce or less, to be sent in the mail.
Later that year, John P. Charlton from Philadelphia patented a postal card and sold the rights to Hymen Lipman (founder of the first envelope company in the US and inventor of the lead pencil and eraser.) However, with the start of the Civil War a month later, these Lipman Cards, as they became known, were forgotten and not used until almost a decade later.
At the Karlsruhe postal conference, Heinrich von Stephan proposed the creation of offenes Postblatt (or, open post-sheets.)
“The goal was to simplify the etiquette of the letter format, but also to reduce the work, paper and costs involved in the sending of a short message.”
He suggested the introduction of a rigid card, roughly the size of an envelope, which could be written on and mailed without the need for an envelope, having the postage pre-printed.
The idea was not so well received in Germany: The post office feared the complexity and cost of implementing the scheme in all the different states, each issuing their own stamps.
October 1st, 1869
In Austria-Hungary, Dr. Emanuel Herrmann (a professor of economics from Vienna) wrote an article in the Neue Freie Presse pointing out that the time and effort involved in writing a letter was out of proportion to the size of the message sent. He suggested that a more practical and cheaper method should be implemented for shorter, more efficient communications.
His recommendations impressed the Austrian Post, who put them into practice on October 1st 1869, resulting in the Correspondenz-Karte, a light-brown 8.5x12cm rectangle with space for the address on the front, and room for a short message on the back. The postcard featured an imprinted two-Kreuzer stamp on top right corner, costing half the price of a normal letter.
The postcard was born!
This excerpt of the history of the postcard gets us to its true inception. If you want to know more details about this subject, you can read the rest of this article here.
But, as I mentioned before, I have one more chapter to add to the story that I’d like to share with you.
October 1, 2019
We produced and sent out a replica postcard to some of our friends and partners. Printed to pay homage to the original Correspondenz-Karte, we are happy to share something people can stow in their very own postcard suitcases, as my family did, or on their refrigerators or wherever they like to keep beautiful things.
“Finepaper celebrated the 150th anniversary of the postcard and our love of all things print.”
If you’d like one of these replica postcards, contact me or someone else from Finepaper.
And don’t forget to subscribe to our blog. We will make sure that you are the first to receive all our exciting news, information and, perhaps, something celebratory in your mailbox once in a while.
* Bibliographical references
- Willoughby, Martin, A History of Postcards (1992), Bracken Books, ISBN 1858911621
- Staff, Frank, The Picture Postcard & Its Origins (1979), Lutterworth Press, ISBN 0718806336
- Hill, C. W., Picture Postcards (1991), Shire Publications Ltd, ISBN 0747803986
- Atkins, Guy, Come Home at Once (2014), Bantam Press, ISBN 9780593074145
- Gruß aus Berlin (1987), Kohler & Amelang, ISBN 3733800087
- Daltozo, José Carlos, Cartão-Postal, Arte e Magia (2006)
- MetroPostcard History of Postcards
- Kosmopolit – Gut Fern Gruss