I began collecting postcards in fourth grade when my mother, finally, allowed me to participate in a chain letter. The invitation chain letter promised that I would receive hundreds of postcards but would only have to mail four letters. Over the following weeks, I received a mere dozen cards from around the world. As disappointing as that number seemed, I became interested in postcards.
Postcards originated in the late 1800s and were known as trade cards. They were used to advertise businesses and were probably delivered, door to door, by company representatives. These cards were a novelty, and recipients cherished them, gluing them into scrapbooks or pinning them on walls. By the 1900s, it was common to collect souvenir postcards from great exhibitions or while travelling.
Postcards have a complex history. It is believed that the first postcard ever mailed was hand-painted and the artist sent it to himself. It is also rumoured that one man tried to patent the idea of postcards, hoping to dominate the market. In America, in the late 1800s, postcards bore the inscription Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress, May 19, 1898. Writing messages on postcards was all but prohibited. The back of a postcard had to be clean and open for an address and stamp.
Collections of postcards in antique stores or museums attest to the wide variety of materials, images, and styles developed over the decades. Creative publishers pushed the boundaries of postcard production. Designs included lithographs, photographs, fancy edges, white borders, embossed and textured cardboard, film stock paper, leather, and wood. In 1907, the US Postal Service banned leather postcards, because they jammed the postage-cancelling machines. However, in that same year, it became legal to publish a divided back on postcards, half for the address and half for a message. Postcard mania ensued, ushering in what is known as the Golden Age of Postcards.
I find the history of postcards interesting, but I am more intrigued by the messages people wrote decades ago. I own two leather postcards, one manufactured in 1906 and one made by W. S. Neal in 1907. I was attracted to the W.S. Neal postcard because it holds a printed proposal of marriage. Miss Myrtle Stewart, of Box 364, Saskatoon, SK received this leather card on October 21st, 1907. A young man, JW or JA, mailed it for 2 cents on October 10th from Ontario. I am amazed that the paper stamps adhered to the leather and remain in place, today, well over 100 years later. Having this little piece of history, sitting by my desk, has been a constant source of entertainment. Sometimes, I fictionalize the love story, but, at other times, I am tempted to research Myrtle’s past.
I have decided that Myrtle will let me discover the story when she is ready. I came to this conclusion while shopping in an antique store. I felt privileged to find a second postcard, addressed to her and mailed the summer before the proposal. The back is undivided, as it would have been in 1906, and it is addressed to Saskatoon, with no box number. Perhaps Myrtle was new to Saskatoon at the time and didn’t yet have a postbox. This card promises a July visit and is postmarked, June 2, 1906.
I look forward to finding another postcard, a monogrammed hanky, or even an old book containing an inscription to Ms Myrtle Stewart, of Saskatoon. I am patient. I have discovered that the hunt is half the fun.
The tiny holes around the edges of some leather postcards were common in 1906. This made it easy to sew the leather cards together, to create cushion tops or purses.
My grandmother, Ethel Goddard, sent the above card on September 12, 1907, to her past employer, in Bournemouth. Grandma wrote this card on her first day of work in Farnham. I do wonder how it came back to her though. It is clearly signed EG.
Above is a Christmas postcard with a divided back. I suspect this postcard was sold in the 1930s.
Souvenir folders were very popular during the Golden Age of Postcards. This folder weighs 3/4 of an ounce while the leather card weighs only 1/8 of an ounce.
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