Postcards and History

Picture postcards may seem a commonplace means of communication, but, when they first came into use, they caused a revolution in people’s writing habits. T.J. Brady writes how they led to the creation of a considerable industry and became the subject of a collecting craze almost unparallelled.

On October 1st, 1869 the first official postcard was issued by the Austrian Post Office Authorities. The Austrian claim to be first in the field has not, however, gone unchallenged. In the United States in 1861 a copyright for a private postcard was granted to John Charlton of Philadelphia, and in the same year a law passed by Congress fixed a postal rate for cards.

Charlton’s copyright was transferred to H. Lipman, also of Philadelphia, who printed and sold a plain message card with the inscription ‘Lipman’s Postal Card’. The earliest recorded date for the postal use of one of these cards is October 25th, 1870, but the Postal Act and copyright of 1861 gave the United States an early start.

In 1865 proposals for the use of an ‘open post sheet’ (offenes Postblatt) were drawn up by Dr. Heinrich von Stephan, a prominent German postal official. It was not adopted officially at that time, but some cards were printed privately in Germany shortly afterwards and sent, for commercial purposes, through the post.

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