From Rockford with Love: Postcards of the Victorians

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Have you heard? Tinker Swiss Cottage has opened its latest exhibit in the Cottage: From Rockford with Love: Postcards of the Victorians. Between the Red and Yellow rooms, you will find a fun collection of various postcards sent to the Tinkers from around the world and ones of our own Rockford area as well! Before you come to take a look at the beautiful Tinker postcards, here’s some more information on the history of the postcard for you.

 

Postcard 1
Postcard from Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens archives. ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseumandGardens

 

 

The History of Postcards

Postcards were first introduced in Britain in 1870. To begin with, the Post Office issued pre-stamped, plain cards. Because there were no images on the card, one side was used to address it, while the other side was used to write out a message to the receiver. It is believed that the first picture postcards were sent out in 1894. These cards required the sender to add a halfpenny adhesive stamp before mailing. In 1902 the British Post Office officially allowed divided back postcards on which senders could include both the address and message on the back of the postcard, while the face of the card contained an image.

Before postcards became widely available in the United States, during the early- to mid-19th century many envelopes would depict small images on their exteriors. While many displayed holiday images, thousands of patriotic pictures were printed on envelope exteriors during the Civil War. It is believed that these images on the envelopes in some part led to the creation of the postcard.

Records indicate that a copyright on a private postcard was issued as early as 1861. However, these were privately sold, non-pictorial cards. The first governmental postcards issued in the world came in October of 1869 in Austria; whereas, the United States issued the government postal card four years later in 1873. It wasn’t until 1907 that the U.S. Government permitted the use of divided back postcards. This development ushered in what is known as the “Golden Age” of the postcard. This era reigned from 1907-1915 where millions of postcards were printed and sold throughout the United States and Europe. The first “high-speed” photo printers were invented in 1910 and allowed real-photo postcards to be mass produced throughout the world. This invention shifted the emphasis of handmade postcards to large scale commercial printing.

What Purpose Does a Postcard Serve?

Postcards served a variety of purposes in the Victorian era. One of many reasons postcards became popular is due to the fact that it was a cheaper way to send messages; whereas, letters would take more postage to send, especially when they were a few pages long.

The first postcard printed with the intention to be sold as a souvenir debuted in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. During the following years, the private printing of pictorial postcards boomed throughout the United States and Europe. Before 1893, many postcards contained advertisements for various businesses. However, after the Columbian Exposition, many saw the potential for producing other types of souvenir cards for tourists. By 1895, many postcards were printed with images depicting larger cities or famous tourist attractions of both natural and historic interest.

Advertisements on postcards were widely distributed, imploring one to buy this product or another. However, postcards could be used as propaganda as well. During times of war, the government issued postcards depicting images and advertisements convincing civilians to join the military and serve their country. Politically, postcards were used as a means to show who was running for office and who people should vote for.

The surge in souvenir postcards opened a new hobby for many people. Collecting postcards from one’s travels allowed one to revisit locations and bring back memories of their trips. It also allowed many people to see parts of the country, and even the world, that they would not have been able to visit for one reason or another. Collecting postcards also assisted in learning about new locations or the history of various places, such as our very own Tinker Swiss Cottage.

Postcards were used to not only write to family or friends from one’s vacation, but also as a means of showing off various tourist points of interest. By this means, postcard senders became a means of advertisement and propaganda for various industries and cities. These postcards became a means to draw in new and repeat visitors to locations across the world.

Themed postcards became widely popular as well, especially around the holidays. One of the most popular themes was Christmas. These Christmas postcards would be colorful and captured the Christmas spirit. As such, postcards would be used as decorations during the holidays – such as Christmas greeting cards are today. Throughout the year, in order to add colorful decorations throughout their homes, many would place the postcards they received from family and friends on tables, mantels, and shelves.

In the early 1900’s, cameras with the ability to print photographs directly onto the backs of postcards were invented. This development allowed people to photograph and share their images of their families, homes, and surroundings.

Our postcard exhibit will run through mid-January, so hopefully everyone will get a chance to stop by the Cottage to see these exciting pieces on display! After your tour, don’t forget to grab a few postcards from our gift shop as souvenirs of your visit to Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens!

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