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Dating the past with postcards
Above is an example of a divided back postcard, showing the Central Hotel in the Springfield, circa 1910. - photo by Photo submitted

Deltiology, the collecting of postcards, is the third largest hobby in the world. It is surpassed only by coin, stamp and baseball collectibles in the U.S.

Cards are a popular souvenir of travelers. There is a broad range of appeal due to the many kinds of postcards. Types of cards include: view, greeting, historical, art and photographic. They even range into the naughty “girlie” art cards from Paris, etc. that were popular in war and other times. They range from paper to leather and even silk in composition.  

Sometimes the only view of a long gone building or historical event is recorded on a postcard. View cards (scenic views, town views, etc.) are the main ones in the collected field. They offer reference to buildings, streets and towns. The early ones tell of the modes of travel and communications including telegraph, telephone and power lines along with streetcars, buggies, ships and early automobiles.  

Greeting cards were sent to greet others on holidays and special occasions. These are very collectible and usually a collector focuses on a particular maker of the cards, artist or a subject such as Valentine, Christmas or Easter cards. Many have intricate embossing, artwork of high caliber and expensive lithographic processes with novelty additions like glitter, ribbon or lace.

Historical cards were done to commemorate an occasion such as an earthquake, World’s Fair or war. Disaster cards are often collected for their messages sent at the time.

Art cards were the expensive category produced in antique postcards.  They were expensive to produce, rare and the skills of the artist garner much higher prices. Some German publishers created a splendid series of “Old Master” art reproductions that spared no expense in depth, color and intensity.

Photographic cards were real photo art studies of beautiful women, children and lovers. They were often tinted or hand colored with great detail. It was also common for photographers to take real photographs at events. We have many local family real photo postcards taken at Sunday school convention around 1910. Often a photographer took your picture when shopping on Broughton Street in Savannah and sold you the card during the ’30s and ’40s.  

By looking at a postcard on the front and back, you can date the card by era according to some guidelines published in books on collecting postcards. J. L. Mashburn identifies the following classifications in his series of books:

Pioneer era (1893-1898) — postcards were placed on sale at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. All had undivided backs.  None show the “Authorized by Act of Congress” byline. They have the Grant or Jefferson head stamp. Most but not all are multiple view cards.   They may have the words: “Souvenir,” “Mail Card” or “Greetings.”

Private mailing card era (1898-1901) — The government gave private printers permission to issue, print and sell cards with the transcription “Private Mailing Card.” They are identifiable by this inscription.  

Undivided back era (1901-1907) — In 1901, permission was given for “Post Card” to be printed on the backs of the privately printed cards. The undivided back was only for printing the mailing address and messages had to be written on the face or picture side of the card.

Divided back era (1907-1915) — The back of these cards had a divided back allowing the message and address to be written on the back of the card. Normally there were no white borders and the picture filled the front of the card.

White border era (1915-1930) — This was the end of the “Golden Age” of postcards when German and foreign cards ceased to be imported. U.S. publishers tried to print the cards and many were of a poorer quality.  Some were reprints of the divided back era cards and were distinguished by a white border. Some hand painted and tinted cards were made during this time.

Linen era (1930-1945) — Card quality improved in the United States and a textured paper with high rag content known as linen was common.  Very cheap ink was used in the process. At the time they were considered cheap, drab and dull. Now they are popular with collectors in the areas of views, Black Americana, aerial views, comics and advertising.

Photochrome era (1939 – present) — These have a slick finish with beautiful chrome colors.  Modern Chromes are very highly sought by postcard dealers who specialize only in chromes.

Real photo postcards (1900 – present) — Often these are hard to date unless postally used or hand dated. Some are marked “Photo” or “Real Photo.” The stamp box usually shows the process by which it was printed,  Kodak, Velox, EKC, etc.

Collecting picture or scenic view postcards is my hobby. I was fortunate to inherit collections from my great-grandmother Campbell in Atlanta, my grandmother Annie Mae Reisser Exley, my mother Ellen Hinely Exley and others. These tell a story of the history of our country and world. I am quite fond of the local ones. You will see some local examples in the accompanying photographs. Web sites on the Internet are a great source for purchasing postcards. On Sept. 24, there were over 53,000 postcards for sale just on

Many of you may have postcards among your keepsakes. Don’t throw them away. They are a priceless record of our past. I hope that you will come to know and appreciate their history and value and pass them on to future generations. 

This article was written by Susan Exley. If you have questions, photographs or comments to contribute, please contact her at 754-6681 or email