Professional Stamp Experts

Postcards - In the Beginning

Lloyd Shaw - May 28, 1999

In Austria on October 1, 1869 a young professor named Dr. Emmanuel Herrmann was the first to use what was to become what we now know as a post card. Dr. Herrmann theorized that by using a small card, the size and amount of mail could be reduced, causing lower cost for the postal service and lower cost for the postal patron in the form of reduced postage. The idea caught on, causing increased sales and validating Dr. Herrmann's theory to such an extent that over 3 million cards were sold in the first three months.

The card was issued with a fancy black border and a stamp-like image of Emperor Franz Joseph in the upper left corner. "Correspondence Card" was printed in German in an arc, with an imprint of the Imperial Eagle beneath. The denomination was two kreuzer, the equivalent of about one cent in U.S. coinage.

These cards were so popular and issued in such quantity that today they are still quite available to the collector at a very reasonable price, mint or used! The same basic design and denomination were used in Austria until the 1880's, with many reprints of the original and minor design changes making them very interesting for the collector.

This still was not the picture post card we know today. Most collectors refer to this as a postal card or government postal card. Post cards with a message, picture or view are referred to as simply post cards or picture postcards.

The first U.S. Postal Card was issued in May 1873 after much uproar over printing contracts. This card proved as popular in the United Sates as it was in Europe and the rest of the world.

It is almost impossible to determine which picture post card appeared first and where and when it was used. Arguments exist placing the first picture post card as an illustration on the first Austrian postal card. It is certain that by the 1880's picture post cards were being widely used in much of Europe and around the world. However, it wasn't until 1893 that the official first picture post card appeared in the United States.

Post cards sold in vending machines at the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois starting January 1, 1893 are considered the first U.S. picture post cards. The images were imprinted on the large government cards with a Ulysses S. Grant image in one-cent denomination. The cards were sold in sets of 10 cards; several different sets were available over the course of the exposition. Towards the end of the exposition, cards were available without the government postage imprint, thus beginning the start of our picture post cards as we know them today.

Interestingly enough, the size of these cards is very close to what we have today in the modern "chrome" cards which are slightly larger than the standard size card most collectors are familiar with today. In 1898 the government regulations were changed, regulating size, postage rate and other rules of use. This allowed the European style of post card to be used through United States mails and began the start of what we know as the "Post Card Craze".

Lloyd W. Shaw has been in the Stamp, Cover, Coin, Postcard and collectibles business since 1972 and full time since 1987. Currently the owner of Highland Stamp Shop, founded in 1964 in Salt Lake City Utah, and a partner in Commemorative Design Cachets founded in 1993, he is the past President of Utah Philatelic Society and current board member, past President of the Utah Post Card Collectors Club, member of the Utah Statehood Centennial Commission Stamp Advisory Committee. Lloyd is the author of Utah Post Offices, and has several other books on postal history and collecting in the works.

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