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Get Pumped Up for Postcards!

by Jacob Smit on 2023-11-07T13:24:00-08:00 | 0 Comments

Want a postcard?

Visit the Lemieux Library’s iDesk (floor 2) or the Circulation Desk (floor 3) and ask for one! Also, keep your eyes out for the Library’s quarterly Postcard PopUp where you can write a postcard and have us send it anywhere for you for free! 

If you want to explore more historic postcard collections that are part of Lemieux Library Special Collections & Archives, Request an Appointment to see the Sam Green poetry postcard collection (or some of the other great finds in there)! Green was a Writer in Residence at Seattle University and was the first Washington State Poet Laureate 

The images seen here are part of a collection of historic postcards showing Seattle U campus sites. These postcards were once sold at the campus bookstore - an opportunity for students to hand-write a quick note home or to a friend, yes this was before email and text. Do you recognize these locations around campus?


A bit about the beginning of postcards  

Until the 1840s, sending letters of any kind in the UK was expensive, making the act of sending or receiving letters very precious and costly. In Britain in 1840, however, the penny post was introduced, declaring that any letter weighing under half an ounce could be sent for one penny. This encouraged a far wider audience of people to start sending cards to friends and family, especially holiday or Christmas cards. This led to the interest and development of postcards in 1869, and then postcards really took off in the 1880s in the UK.  

Within the US, one issue was the regulations. In 1898, the US congress allowed private printing of postcards, with the statement “Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress of May 19, 1898” on the card. If the front of the postcard did not contain an image, it had space for a message. If the front did have an image, then a small space was left on the front for a message. This didn’t leave a lot of room though, and in 1907, the regulations were finally changed to allow a message on half the address side of the postcards. This enabled the front of the postcard to be filled completely with an image, with room for a message on half the back, with room for the address and a stamp. The traditional postcard style was born!  

By then, sending postcards was a huge craze, with a wide variety of publishers selling postcards off all kinds, with everything from scenic landscapes, portraits, exhibitions, humorous scenes, or even current events printed quickly shortly after the events occurred. Photo postcards emerged next, known as “real photo postcards”, first produced using the Kodak Postcard camera. The camera could take a picture and then print a postcard-sized negative of the picture, complete with a divided back and space for postage. By this point, billions of postcards were being mailed each day, with printers creatively coming up with new designs all the time, especially around tourist attractions and landmarks.   

There were also a great many odd, unusual, weird, a bit unsettling, or confusing ones made as well! To name a few: marching group a potatoes, platter of dead robins, monocled man with a hairy turnip for a body, or a rat riding a lobster––yeah it was weird––the postcard has come a long way since the 1840s!   

Reference List:  

Postcard History. (n.d.). Smithsonian Libraries and Archives.  

Alexander, J. (2022, November 25). A Brief History of Creepy Victorian Christmas Cards. Mental Floss. 


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