Chicago and the Souvenir Postcard

Hello, everyone! Thank you for viewing the fourth post in my five-part series about the effects on travel and tourism induced by the World’s Columbian Exposition, entitled “Echoes of the Exposition.” My first three posts are in regards to the Wellington Hotel, the Ferris wheel, and the ‘L’ transit system, in case anyone is interested. The postcard is the focus of the post at hand, and its utilization as a souvenir since the time of Chicago’s World Fair in 1893 specifically. I used to collect postcards, and still do search for them in gift shops at times; thus, after I viewed some images a few weeks ago of postcards from the World’s Columbian Exposition, I knew that a search for more information regarding the significance of their use as souvenirs was imminent. Therefore, this post now exists.

First, a distinction must be made between the terms for the different types of cards described in this post, as according to Merriam-Webster, a postcard is “a card on which a message may be written for mailing without an envelope and to which the sender must affix a stamp,” while a postal card is “a card officially stamped and issued by the government for use in the mail,” but is also considered a synonym for a postcard (1 & 2).

As per usual, I hope you all enjoy what is the culmination of a week’s worth of researching and writing, and maybe even offer me feedback before I complete the final installment of this series. If anyone is interested in locating where I found the information scattered throughout this post, the sources are labeled by number in parentheses, which have a corresponding citation under “Sources” at the bottom of the post. Once again, please enjoy!


“To what curious, fantastic, and ridiculous ends the souvenir post-card craze carries some people is very hard to appreciate.”

As published on May 12, 1907, an officer of the Dead Letter Office made this assertion in response to the “unmailable” postcards people had attempted to send, regardless of a 1898 law forbidding the mailing of such cards (3).

Approximately 14 years earlier, in 1893, the catalyst for such a craze would take place: the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Postal cards had already become somewhat ubiquitous, as demonstrated by the Chicago Daily Tribune on September 1, 1892; an excerpt of this issue of the newspaper states that the number of postal cards needed on a daily basis throughout the United States at the time exceeded two million (4). Similarly, throughout the entire year of 1892, the mail business in Chicago had risen by 15 percent; within the executive division, the sale of postal cards reached $200,000, while the mailing division saw 167,714,300 “letters, postal cards, and sealed packages” (5). With people such as economist Emile de Laveleye writing on postcards in order to retain half of a penny, it is clear that postcards had already established themselves as useful (6). Even then, people did use portions of sheets of paper craftily in order to keep messages private, while taking advantage of the “convenience of a postcard” (7).

The postal card, an entity sans pictures (but offering a stamp) and first distributed in 1873 for one cent, would soon change, nevertheless, as Chicago World’s Fair brought about some of the first one-cent souvenir postcards (8) and picture postcards (50). In mid-1892, promotional postal cards were sent to noteworthy people ahead of the fair’s dedication on October 21 of that year and opening on May 1, 1893; commercially-produced postal cards already providing the one-cent postage would then be available to the public once the fair opened on May 21, 1893 (9). It has been said that cards were made for the 1873 Interstate Industrial Exposition in Chicago for advertising, and that the Paris Exposition of 1889 offered a souvenir card of Eiffel tower that caught the attention of attendees, but the World’s Columbian Exposition would be the one to bring about large sales within the United States. In fact, 120 kinds of postal cards depicting different scenes of the fair were privately produced on governmental cards, necessitating two cents postage (10).

An entire Postoffice Department of 15,082 square feet was prepared for the World’s Columbian Exposition, which would offer exhibits displaying the historic and emerging elements of postal service. In the February 11, 1893 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, it is said that some of the notable aspects expected of the department were “the collection of postage stamps, including the latest Columbian issue, stamped envelopes and postal cards of the present and past” (11).

The success of the special offerings associated with the fair soon became tangible, as on April 2, 1893, an announcement was made, stating that the stock of the “more useful sized” Columbian stamped envelopes had been exhausted, with new arrivals not expected for a few days. The corresponding article states the following, thus showing the potential for postage cards as advertising tools and souvenirs (12):

Footings for last month of the sales of stamps, stamped envelopes, and postal cards show a large increase over the corresponding period of last year. For March, 1892, the sales reached $378,317, and for March, 1893, $475,354, a gain of nearly 26 per cent.

Mail itself had become a topic of interest in Chicago, as the Chicago Daily Tribune revealed some specifics regarding distributors of mail throughout the city in June 1893; a total of 2,000,000 pieces of mail were handled each day by 928 letter-carriers, including 1,400,000 letters for the then-1,500,000 residents (13). Postal cards traveled beyond Chicago too, of course, as displayed by an article published on June 25, 1893 entitled “FOR VACATION TIME.” This piece lists the many items to pack in one’s “trunks,” and postal cards are one of the items recommended to have at hand (14). Continuing the worldwide perspective, the Chicago Daily Tribune published a small piece of information about postal cards on August 9, 1893, stating, “Over 8,000 varieties of postal cards have been issued in the world within 35 years” (15).

Even just within the City of Chicago, souvenir postal cards made an impact throughout the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition. On August 12, 1893, an announcement in the Chicago Daily Tribune entitled “No More Souvenir Postal Cards” told readers that 1,000 souvenir postal cards could not be mailed due to their illegal size and rate of sale. Consequently, a proposal for the paused sale of two cards of “elaborate design” for a nickel, as found at machines around the fair, was necessitated (16). In the next day’s issue of the same newspaper, a solution to the problem is illustrated; the corresponding section describes the unofficial, “imitation” cards that required a two-cent stamp in order to be mailed, how those would be prosecuted, and the official government-supported and convenient souvenir cards that would continue sales on the grounds (which were sold for 25 cents in packs of ten through vending machines; 17). The following quotation tells of the design, and subsequent exclusivity and appeal, of these cards (18):

The card contains on the back handsome lithographs of the different World’s Fair buildings, and each card is signed by H. N. Higinbotham, President, and H. O. Edmonds, Secretary of the Exposition company. Postmaster Sexton says the official cards can be mailed without extra postage to any point in the United States or Canada.

If the fact that imitation souvenir postal cards were created does not display the ever-apparent notion that these cards would become ubiquitous in the realm of tourism, the attention devoted to the use of the mail associated with the World’s Columbian Exposition aptly accomplishes the task. On October 22, 2893, an article entitled “DELIVERING LETTERS AT THE FAIR” was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, displaying the gargantuan success and business of the fair’s Postoffice Department. The office, which had grown to employ 75 people over its six months of existence, handled an amount of mail equivalent to that of a 75,000-person city, and had even broken records. The sending of of mail in a variety of forms had increased since the fair began; in September 1893, 844,509 items were collected for delivery, including postal cards and letters. The main reason for this large amount, as explained in the article, was the apparent desire of attendees to “write a letter, a postal card, or to send a paper to half a dozen friends somewhere in the United States or Europe direct from the the World’s Fair grounds,” though the use of unofficial and misleading cards was also a component; these wishes of attendees demonstrate the value of the postal card as a souvenir and entire entity (19).

Following the conclusion of the World’s Columbian Exposition, the trend of acknowledging the relevance of postal cards continued, as a small section of the December 10, 1893 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune states that 721 tons of cardboard were needed per year in the United States to create the cards (20).

At least a small fraction of these tons of material required likely were due to the souvenir cards of the World’s Columbian Exposition, as on July 15, 1894, it was announced that $3,543,612 had been profited from concessions at the fair. Included in the list of “Miscellaneous” items sold are the postal cards vended by C.W. Goldsmith, who profited $6,968, more than what was garnered by flower and pen companies; thus, the impact of the postal card was felt, even if it was just one of the many exciting items sold at the fair (21). Likewise, it has been stated that “hundreds of thousands” of the privately printed cards were sold throughout the World’s Fair (even though they required postage of two cents), one popular variety being Charles W. Goldsmith’s chromolithographs, as mentioned before. These cards went as far as inspiring those of future expositions, though on a smaller scale of production, such as San Francisco’s California Mid-Winter Exposition of 1894, Atlanta’s Cotton States, Nashville’s Tennessee Centennial, and Omaha’s Trans-Mississippi (10).

All the while, postcards themselves went along with the ride that was rapid human advancement. For instance, a piece in the December 30, 1895 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune declares that the fastest period of time during which a postcard message traveled around the world had been achieved: 70 days (22).

The worldwide impact of postal cards became palpable in Chicago, as on September 30, 1898, surprising statistics from the Austrian Postoffice were published for Chicagoans to view. The increase seen in stamps sold is described within the corresponding article, due to the “setting in of the craze for pictoral postcards.” In 1896, when the cards were not yet popular, 64,300,3000 two-kreuzer stamps were sold, while in 1897, 80,000,000 were purchased, showing an increase of over 15,000,000; an additional 1,000,000 stamps were expected in sales for the year of 1898 (23).

The public’s interest in cards continued to spread, and even be exploited. For instance, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported on March 1, 1899 that Don Carlos ordered the printing of postcards with images of himself and his wife, with space underneath for messages; the article states that such an action was a way by which he had “taken a curious and striking advantage of the foreign ‘postcard craze'” (24). Such fascination continued into November of the same year, the latter being specifically with dinner bills in Liverpool that included space dedicated to mailing information, such as lines upon which one’s address could be written and an area for a penny stamp. The notion that cards could be sent a quick souvenir for those back home and the fact that shops adopted them as a form of inexpensive advertising are stated within the Chicago Daily Tribune article; in fact, is said that Berlin shops even had rooms dedicated to preparing these items for delivery. In regards to the dinner bills, the following is stated, thus succinctly demonstrating the potential of postcards in the United States (25):

It struck me as being a particularly good idea, and one that could be advantageously adopted at hotels and restaurants almost everywhere.

Later that November, information related to the second Vienna postcard exhibition was documented, including the fact that 10,000 “picture postals” were being displayed there, 100 of which were of Vienna itself. Consequently, it is clear that regardless of the fact that exhibitions (as opposed to public expositions) are typically private showcases, the ability of postcards to display areas of interest to people around the world had become appealing (26).

The following December demonstrated the worldwide impact–and unique business opportunities–of the use of cards as well. In an article published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, the many postal cards sent to the Chicago Postoffice by those departments of nations around the world are described and showcased, along with the fact that this exchange of well-wishes for the new year had been occurring for years among the postmasters. To readers, the fact that the large scale of 600 stations (one of the largest inventories) Chicago included within the exchange was much different than the kinds of cards businesses distributed with the intention of advertising is also explained (27).

Other sorts of postal cards were sent to Chicago in the years following. For instance, on August 31, 1903, the Chicago Daily Tribune published images of cards, and explained, “These souvenir postal cards are being sent out in great numbers from the Zionist conference at Basel, Switzerland.” The ability of the city’s newspaper to showcase such cards and the meaning of their designs demonstrates the worldwide appeal of the postal card, and how Chicago made itself part of the long-lasting exchange (28). Within the United States, the significance of the exclusivity and lure of postal cards was also apparent in New York City, as the New York Times highlighted certain items in shops on July 5, 1904, including gowns, orange peelers, and none other than a souvenir postcard. This specific postcard design was for the Fourth of July service, cost five cents for two of them, included illustrations of the stars and stripes, and read the words “Long May It Wave” along with bars of “Yankee Doodle” (29).

The craze of the picture postal card seemed to hit peak recognition in 1905, the year the Chicago Daily Tribune published an article entitled “Millions in Postal Fad for Makers of Cards,” referencing this current fad and the succeeding ones of bicycles and buttons that had captured the minds of Americans. Compared to those crazes, the article argues that the one at hand acquires more potential, as this form of mail has the ability to reach more people around the world. Prior to mentioning how stores had become full of profitable postal cards, even around 1,000 per establishment in stock (the post popular ones charging a rate of five cents in exchange for two of them), the beginning of the picture postal card narrative in Europe is stated. The appeal of sending cards with sayings and other images to loved ones, aside from ones of hotels, is also stated as a reason why the cards became such a fad, but the emergence of such cards is aptly described by the following quotation (30):

Then came the World’s expositions, with their demand for souvenirs to mail to the loved ones at home, and what could be so suitable as a picture postal card? And now it is a poor city or a poor summer resort that hasn’t its souvenir postal cards for sale to visitors. Still, so long as the picture was only a souvenir, made and for sale at different points of interest, its circulation was never of national importance.

Chicagoans in particular embraced what made postal cards so useful in the tourism industry (and increased the popularity of the cards themselves), as exemplified in an article of the Chicago Daily Tribune from September 10, 1905 that details the return of people from their respective vacations. Within the article, the experiences of certain baggage owners, who had spent time in Europe and a week shopping in New York, are highlighted; “They had sent hundreds of souvenir postcards to their friends back in the states” is one of the descriptions of their experiences (31).

Interestingly, postcards seemed to possess different sorts of usefulness. In regards to the March 16th 1906 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, Police Inspector Patrick J. Lavin recommended that the title of an article about his work be “Tracked by a Souvenir Postal Card, or the Hot Pursuit of a Pair of Trunks.” This idea of his did offer rationale, since the ringleader of a group of forgers was found thanks to a postal card (decorated with alligators and the Everglades, nonetheless) he sent from Jacksonville, Florida (32). Clearly, these souvenirs held value of various natures, whether intentional or incidental.

Furthermore, an interesting application of these cards was explained on July 8, 1906, the date on which the story of two girls and their ability to enjoy a vacation was provided to readers. Familial expenses are said in the article to have impacted the girls’ ability to enjoy a month at a summer resort, but one of them realized that she could utilize her camera (and other materials) to cover some of the cost. Following her creation of a picture postal card of a summer home for a friend, the same person ordered 12 more as souvenirs, and soon enough, those in the neighborhood wanted some of their homes as well; thus, the aforementioned expenses were covered within two months (33).

Aside from vacations, summer homes, hotels, and expositions, sports were also subjects of souvenirs, and specifically, the pastime of baseball, as highlighted in the September 9, 1906 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune. The sport had become massively popular in Chicago by this point, and under a section entitled “Baseball Souvenirs and Postcards” of the overlying article, the extensive options of items to purchase in regards to both the White Sox and the Cubs are described, while stating that the souvenir cards of the teams had been bought and sent in large quantities from newsstands (34).

The large popularity of the souvenir postal card as a whole was described on March 9, 1907; after illustrating the crowds of people admiring such cards at stores, the millions of them produced and subsequently sold, and their availability in all hospitality-related sectors (such as restaurants and hotels) for advertising or collecting, regulations that had been made in response are stated. The likely high revenues of postoffices and the corresponding introduction of stamp books that had begun are also outlined, and in response to the craze itself, the following is predicted (35):

How long the fad may last is uncertain but chances are that it will be popular for a long time, notably in connection with the better class of cards which show pictures of famous places, persons, or scenes. Many travelers have taken pleasure in sending a word of greeting to distant friends through the medium of a postal card who would not attempt the more tedious task of writing letters to all whom they might wish to remember.

Believe it or not, Easter brought about much use of postal cards, as a March 31, 1907 New York Times article entitled “BIG EASTER MAIL OVERTAXES CLERKS” depicts. The thousands of Easter postcards and letters from throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe had reached a point in numerical value higher than past instances of the holiday, the Superintendent of the city delivery claimed, as published in the article; in fact, the General Post Office reported the sale of 500,000 one-cent stamps “for souvenir cards” by the afternoon of the previous day, not including the amounts from other stations (36). As such, the increasing popularity of mail services, including postal cards, was evident in urban areas at the time.

The same newspaper delved deeper into the postal card craze on May 12, 1907, resulting in the article previously referenced regarding the Dead Letter Office. As mentioned before, an 1898 law forbade “unmailable” post and postal cards (such as ones with indecent language), which went into action around the start of the fad. Within the piece, it is also noted that cards of the souvenir sort brought about a unique problem, recently declared as causing them to be “unmailable” on February 16, 1907: the decoration of cards by their senders, including the use sand and glass. Within March 1907, nonetheless, over 470,000 items arrived at the Dead Letter Office (3).

By Summer 1907, the fad of postal cards remained strong, which was particularly evident with wealthy Chicagoans. For instance, in the May 26 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, images of postcards displaying the summer homes of socialites are showcased, including those of Dr. Coolidge in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Mr. John J. Mitchell on Lake Geneva. By taking part in this action seen as a “much more delicate fad” than the sending of one’s photograph that was seen as “vogue” no less than a couple of years before, these people hoped to notify their friends of their arrival and boast the charm of their homes; brides even sent photographs of their new abodes following the conclusion of their honeymoons (37). Throughout this summer, when gambling by way of slot machines was restricted from Chicago, and thus took place on lake excursion steam boats, the postal card trend also incarnated itself onboard. In a critical article about these businesses, it is indicated that souvenir picture postcards were available for sale quite near the slot machines (38).

The fear of “objectionable” postcards continued into 1907, as explained by an article entitled “MUST HIDE BAD POSTCARDS” published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on September 12. Within the piece, the fact that the police department would visit every store selling souvenir cards and ensure the removal of every “bad” one from store windows is threatened, along with the declaration of prioritized areas: stores around schools (39). The Tribune looked down upon such cards once again on the following day, while also scorning the defiance against the warnings given to card sellers; although some stores also carried postcards of paintings and biblical scenes, these shops and others in hotels, newsstands, and drug stores are pointed out negatively within the corresponding article (40). Evidently, the postal card craze had gone to lengths some found questionable at the time.

The souvenir postal cards of the World’s Columbian Exposition still proved their long-lasting influence, all the while. For example, in the October 5, 1907 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, the Corn Exposition is highlighted, and in particular, its postal cards designed by local newspaper artists. The article states the following of these designs (41):

The promoters of the exposition wanted something especially artistic in a series of six postal cards, something that would be a fitting souvenir of the great show and that would be broadcast over the world by the thousands of visitors. So they offered a prize of $150 for the best half dozen.

While the preceding quotation demonstrates the intended impact on interest in travel and tourism offerings, a small reflection published on January 15, 1908 exemplifies the actual results of such tailored items. The excerpt essentially demonstrates the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side” that is well known today, by stating that those who are envious when they receive souvenir postcards from those golfing in areas such as Pinehurst are not always alone in their jealousy, as those golfing then envy the people sending cards from Nice and Cannes. In short, the notion that “Happiness is merely a matter of comparison” is argued, thus attempting to improve the outlook of those affected by the ramifications of the souvenir postal cards that had become so popular (42).

Those involved with Chicago government could not resist the appeal of postcards either. In the July 9, 1908 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, the visits of aldermen Mike Kenna and John Coughlin of Chicago’s First Ward to Colorado Springs and Denver, Colorado are detailed. Within this write-up, not only is the factoid of Ald. Jawn’s ownership of both an amusement park similar to those in Chicago and a ranch mentioned, but the attention Kenna and Coughlin received while “looking in the shop windows and buying souvenir postcards” is also referenced (43).

As mentioned before, postal cards were prevalent in terms of personal use, though still evocative of the same kind of desire to make positive impressions upon others that souvenirs often boast. Such a concept remained clear on August 16, 1908, when it was reported in the Chicago Daily Tribune that in June of said year, $4,567,320 had been spent in association with “wedding journeys, music, rice, liquors, souvenir postcards, tips, etc.” throughout the United States, such components of these events’ expenses being a portion of the total of $50,000,000 dissipated (44).

During the next month, though, concern with the endurance of the postal card fad began to rise, at least in France. An article published on September 20, 1908 in the New York Times in regards to France states that Postmaster General Mr. Simyan had been recommended to lower the postage rate to one cent (from two cents), since their sales had decreased, and thus concerned those employing thousands of people to manufacture them. The following quotation aptly demonstrates this concern, regardless of if the ominous indications would spread throughout the world in due time or not (45):

For years now it has been the custom not only for foreigners but for French people to buy large quantities of cards to send to their friends when away from home. As a result many manufactories have been built, where thousands of workmen are in the publication of the cards. Many of these men have been thrown out of work now that the cards have become a drug on the market.

The signs of a slight downfall of the postal card rose to the surface within the United States on October 28, 1908, when an article subtitled “Albums Containing Postcards Pay High Rate of Duty–Other Decisions” was presented to New York Times readers. The Board of United States General Appraisers had asserted that the tax referenced within the title would be at “8 cents per pound,” in association with what pieces created from a lithographic process faced under the Dingley tariff. In regards to the items at hand, which could be “drawn out in a long strip and then folded back in the cover,” General Appraiser Fischer stood strong against the importers of the cards due to the held belief that the booklets are, in fact, souvenir albums, and should be handled as such by the duty (46).

Germany also felt the effects of the “slump in the postcard craze,” while assuming that the culprit for the downfall to be the United States. The concern of German souvenir postcard manufacturers was published in the New York Times on December 27, 1908, and the article states that thousands of orders for cards from the United States had become the new peak, as compared to the millions produced in years past. Hope had almost completely been lost for postcards, as it was believed that the trade “had seen its best days,”; therefore, the search for the next profitable fad had begun (47).

All the while, postal cards were still prevalent culturally in Chicago; for instance, an article published on Valentine’s Day of 1909 discusses the expanding consumerism of the holiday, with store owner Mr. Hale claiming that postcards (both “humorous and sentimental”) were displacing comic valentines. Miss Richie, an owner of a separate store, further comments on this trend, indicating approval of the cards that were not as easily damaged as their dainty antecedents (48). In addition, the classifieds of February 14, 1909 include an entry from publishers Gartner & Bender of Chicago, entitled “BIG MONEY MAKING SIDE LINE,” in regards to their souvenir post cards (49). Chicago’s status as home of postcard manufacturers throughout this era is quite notable as a whole; as explained by the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the Curt Teich Company, “the world’s largest-volume printer of view and advertising postcards” that existed from 1898 to 1978, was based in the city, along with a picture postcard company largely focused on images of Chicago, entitled C.R. Childs (50).

Before long, though, the United States as a whole further foreshadowed a falling off in the fad of postal cards. On March 19, 1909, the New York Times announced a petition in bankruptcy toward Horowitz & Co. of New York, known as “jobbers in souvenir postcards” (51).

Within a month, utilization of postal cards similar to that of the World’s Columbian Exposition was planned for, perhaps indicating that souvenir postal cards would outlast those of other intentions. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration committee had acquired a million dollars to spend on the event commemorating the discovery of the Hudson River by Henry Hudson, and on April 15, 1909, the direction of such finances was presented to readers of the New York Times; $2,000 had been allotted for souvenir postcards, twice as much money as that of souvenir books (52).

By the summer, vacations were once again on the minds of Chicagoans. The column entitled “Household Hints,” as published on July 16, 1909, presents advice in regards to vacations, including a warning to not overspend while away, as people desire “more than a depleted bank account and a few souvenir postcards” from their trips. This piece of advice shows both the commonality of postal cards and an increasing sense of caution in Chicagoans who were lucky enough to travel at the time (53).

Another exemplification of the decreasing fascination with postal cards (and simultaneous eagerness to put materials to good use) is the article entitled “Some Novel Uses for Post Cards” by Hellen O’Connor, as published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on August 8, 1909. Some of the applications explained are candle shades, sewing bags, and games; what binds all of these ideas together is the following observation regarding the lost novelty, yet general convenience and agility, of the cards (54):

The postal card habit is still strong with many people. Where every member of the family keeps one or more postal albums they tend toward what we generally call a nuisance. Friends and visitors no longer slowly turn page after page with the kindling eye of curiosity, but rather turn them quickly with a sense of boredom. The fact is, picture postals have come to have a practical use aside from their sentimental purpose.

The paper industry as a whole was threatened once more, as described by an article entitled “TARIFF ON PAPER FELT BY EVERYONE” on August 14, 1909. Picture postal cards are specifically addressed within the article, under the subtitle “Protection on Picture Postals”; the start of the cards in Europe 40 years prior, and the 500,000,000 of them valued at $5,000,000 processed per year in British postoffices are detailed within the section. Additionally, the facts that the cards became a fad in the United States fifteen years prior (in 1894) and became the area that used these largely German-produced goods the most, resulting in over 700,000,000 imported in 1907 to be showcased in 80,000 stores, are all explained. Due to all of this business, Congress provided a protection for the picture postal industry; under the Dingley law, the tax was approximately 20.67%, as compared to the new 23.43% tariff, which Congress decided on (55).

Updates and announcements regarding the aforementioned Hudson-Fulton Celebration were directed toward New Yorkers by way of an advertisement in the September 19, 1909 issue of the New York Times, about six days before events for the general public started taking place. One section of the advertisement is entitled “Official Publications of the Commission,” and within it, information regarding the official programs, envelopes, and postal cards are presented, including the reminder, “Official Postcards of the Commission are published exclusively by Redfield Bros., Inc.” (56).

Another aspect of souvenir postal cards that reappeared with due time was the idea of covering vacation expenses by creating cards with pictures taken by those clever individuals. On March 19, 1911, the Chicago Daily Tribune described how a number of girls had taken photographs of appealing resorts, and subsequently created the postal cards “from the various pictures which they have taken and sell them to the tourists after first having put them up in some attractive and original form”; ideas as to how these cards could be made more novel as gifts, such as the inclusion of a small calendar, are also presented within the article (57). As shown, the potential of these cards to sell and be appealing was still evident at the time. Even further, Jim Hackler, County Chairman, wrote a piece published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on June 18, 1912 about the “Big Convention” (likely the 1912 Republican National Convention), which hints at the prevalence of postal cards as souvenirs and modes of communication. For instance, while discussing the rooms for the state headquarters, Hackler makes the observation that the spaces include “a pitcher of water and a desk suitable for the addressing of souvenir postcards” (58).

“The Golden Age of the Postcard”: Lasting from 1893-1918, the time frame is seen as the peak of the entity by postcard collectors, with nearly a billion cards sent in the supposed high point of the area, 1913 (8). Consequently, comparing this time period to the current state of society can reveal much insight into where the industry has gone.

First, though, on August 19, 1919, a particularly fascinating article that now showcases the worldwide industry of souvenir postcards and the kinds of trials it has dealt with over time was presented to readers of Women’s Wear, entitled “GERMANS ARE MAKING EFFORT TO REGAIN SOUVENIR BUSINESS.” This particular event was talked about greatly among those in business and the Chamber of Commerce, as it was the first instance since World War I in which German manufactures attempted to regain their presence, this time in Niagara Falls, New York. The Fagard-Crowell Co. that had received the letter asking if they would resume their purchasing of German-made souvenir postcards (most of the souvenir cards sold at Niagara Falls were produced in said country) refused to do so, and went as far as encouraging other firms in the area to deny such requests. In fact, card buyers asserted that American-made products were large enough in both quality and quantity to prevent the necessitation of purchasing those manufactured in Germany (59).

As previously indicated, regardless of the tribulations of the postcard industry, collectors of postcards have appeared over time, even just within the Chicagoland area. For instance, on February 13, 1992, the death of collector Grant B. Schmalgemeier was recognized; his over 20,000-item 1933-34 Century of Progress Exposition collection is referenced within the article dedicated to him, in addition to his thousands of postcards, most of which were then donated to the Teich Postcard Archives of Wauconda’s Lake County Museum (60). Further explanation of this museum can be found in the August 28, 1992 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, as it offers an article entitled “A million ways to say wish you were here,” referencing the million postcards waiting to be among the 380,000 already catalogued at the Lake County Museum. This piece not only describes the past importance of postcards as a way to inexpensively share information and update others (as mail was delivered twice per day at the start of the 20th century), but also discloses interesting facts, such as the existence of the Windy City Postcard Club and the V.O. Hammon Co. that printed cards from 1900 to 1925. Steve Toloken’s description of such postcards represents the appeal of the overall entity well, stating that they are “snapshots of history, a kaleidoscope of things important and inane” (61).

Now, in the twenty-first century, the value and presence of the postcard is being debated and reflected upon. On June 12, 2007, an article about these cards was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, asserting that the total postcards sent (including both advertisements and “single-piece” cards of souvenir and political/business intentions) reached almost six billion in 2006–nearly six times the amount sent in 1913, the aforementioned high point of the “Golden Age of the Postcard.” Furthermore, the piece indicates through interviews and analyses that the use of cards in the souvenir sense has likely dwindled off, though they are still perceived as beneficial pieces of advertising. For instance, Susan Brown Nicholson, an postcard author and dealer, claims in an interview for the article that postcards will remain prevalent, since they remain “cheap to produce, cheap to send,” and thus, companies such as Max Custom Media and GoCARDS continue creating them to advertise subjects ranging from movies to American Express. The ability of a postcard to represent an area effectively and display the activities and thoughts of others are also qualities described by other experts interviewed; in terms of tourism, a Chicago creator of postcards, Karina Wang, states that “people still want tourist postcards, though the outlets to sell them are shrinking” (8).

Another comprehensive overview of the current state of postcards can be found within the Washington Post article entitled “Are postcards obsolete?” from February 26, 2015. Within the piece, author Mark Jenkins claims that he had noticed far less postcards for sale on a recent visit to South Asia than he saw 15 years prior. Relevant statistics regarding the use of postcards are also stated, indicating that 1.2 billion stamped postcards were sent in 2010, as compared to the 770 million of 2014; the distinction between personal and advertising cards is not available, though the latter subset has generally portrayed a more gradual tapering off in terms of use. Meanwhile, a decrease in the sale of postcard stamps is also illustrated (note that most people utilize the more expensive first-class ones anyway), along with the assertion that the printed postcard business has halved itself. Just as with the preceding article, the limited options for both postcards and vendors of such items are described, including drugstores, hotels, and museum gift shops. (One large outlet, the National Gallery of Art, had interestingly reported consistent sales of the cards at the time, all the while.) Sandwiching the piece is the notion argued by the author and other postcard enthusiasts: The sending of postcards creates more intimate connections between places and people than those attempted online. The following quotation is indicative of a major argument pushed by those who support the continuation of the postcard’s legacy (62):

One allure of the medium is that they convey not just an image and message, but also a material bit of another place. The coolest Internet-posted snapshot of Angkor Wat or the Patagonian Andes is not as concrete as a small rectangle of printed cardboard that actually traveled from there to you.

As such, it is understood that the peak of the postcard as an entity has passed (though arguably at a later point than the end of the fad exclaimed in 1908), but those who still see value in these cards are more than willing to make their fondness of them unequivocal. From 1893, when the World’s Columbian Exposition introduced the souvenir postal card at large to those of the United States, to the peak of the “Golden Age of the Postcard” in 1913 and today’s ever-diminishing quantity of cards sent, postcards have arguably overstayed their welcome as a fad. Blame for such endurance can be placed on their innumerable, enduring qualities that have ebbed and flowed in prevalence over time, including their usefulness as inexpensive advertisements, a medium for general communication, and souvenirs. Consequently, while the ubiquitousness of postcards was once “hard to appreciate,” the societal and personal value of the cards historically, even just within Chicago, proves them to now be worthy of gratitude.


This installment’s images of relevance are photographs I took of pieces I purchased at an antique store a couple of weeks ago. I actually intend on creating short posts about each of them in the future, so look forward to more information being revealed at a later date. Meanwhile, I will state that the first photograph is of two postage stamps from 1892 I purchased (these stamps were referenced in this blog post); the second photo set is of both sides of a postcard showcasing the Shoot the Chutes attraction at the White City amusement park in Chicago, IL. (I believe the card went into circulation in 1910; nevertheless, please appreciate the fact that I spent quite a bit of money on it, singularly for this blog of mine). The last image is of a foldout postcard from the 1964 New York World’s Fair; as a Disney Parks geek, this item is particularly exciting and intriguing.

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Images of postcards and postal cards over the years can be found at these locations, among others:

Sources
  1. “Postcard.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
  2. “Postal Card.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
  3. “ESTRADA CABRERA. THE NERO OF MODERN TIMES.” New York Times (1857-1922): 1. May 12 1907. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  4. “Postal Cards.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 6. Sep 01 1892. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  5. “SHOWS AN INCREASE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 7. 1893. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  6. “DEATH OF EMILE DE LAVELEYE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 2. Jan 04 1892. ProQuest. Web. 26 July 2017.
  7. “Half Sheets of Note Paper.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 9. May 16 1892. ProQuest. Web. 26 July 2017.
  8. Elder, Robert K. “The Little Cards that could — — and Still do; the Wish-You-were-here Style has been Technically KO’d by e-Mail and Camera Phones, but the Postcard is Booming as Promotional Vehicle.” Chicago Tribune: 1. Jun 12 2007. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  9. “19th Century Rotunda: 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL.” Chicago Postcard Museum. Chicago Postcard Museum, n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
  10. Petrulis, Alan. “Exposition Cards 1873-1898.” MetroPostcard.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
  11. “MAILS AT THE FAIR.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 9. Feb 11 1893. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  12. “ENTERTAINMENTS BY THE COLLEGIANS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 10. Apr 02 1893. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  13. “CARRY CHICAGO MAIL.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 33. Jun 11 1893. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  14. “FOR VACATION TIME.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 38. Jun 25 1893. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  15. “Postal Cards.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 10. Aug 09 1893. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2017.
  16. “BOHEMIANS CELEBRATE TODAY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 3. Aug 12 1893. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  17. Meikle, Jeffrey L. “Curt Teich and the Early History of Postcards.” Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation, 1931-1950. Austin: U of Texas, 2016. N. pg. Google Books. 20 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 July 2017.
  18. “PLANS TO CARE FOR EXHIBIT GIFTS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 2. Aug 13 1893. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  19. “DELIVERING LETTERS AT THE FAIR.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 35. Oct 22 1893. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  20. “LITERATURE BY WESTERN MEN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 33. Dec 10 1893. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  21. “PROFITS ON THE SIDE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 24. Jul 15 1894. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  22. “BISHOP FALLOWS MAKES A PLEA.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 8. Dec 30 1895. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  23. “NEWS AND NOTES.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 6. Sep 30 1898. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  24. “PERSONALS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 6. Mar 01 1899. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  25. “DINNER BILLS AS, SOUVENIRS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 59. Nov 19 1899. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  26. Hubbard, W. L. “FRANZ JOSEF IS BUSY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 3. Nov 21 1899. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  27. “POSTMASTERS’ GREETINGS UPON THE NEW YEAR.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 41. Dec 30 1900. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  28. “SOUVENIR CARDS FROM THE ZIONIST CONFERENCE AT BASEL, SWITZERLAND.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 2. Aug 31 1903. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  29. “LAST NIGHT’S AMUSEMENTS.” New York Times (1857-1922): 9. Jul 05 1904. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  30. Duffy, Howard. “Millions in Postal Fad for Makers of Cards.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Sep 03 1905. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  31. “CROWDS RETURN FROM VACATIONS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 6. Sep 10 1905. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  32. “GENUINE THING IN DETECTIVE TALES.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Mar 18 1906. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  33. O’Donnell, Margaret. “Two Girls Earned Vacation by Making Souvenir Cards.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Jul 08 1906. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  34. “Nearly Everybody in Chicago is Crazy about Baseball.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Sep 09 1906. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  35. “SOUVENIR POSTAL CARDS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 8. Mar 09 1907. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  36. “BIG EASTER MAIL OVERTAXES CLERKS.” New York Times (1857-1922): 6. Mar 31 1907. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  37. “Summer Homes on Souvenir Postals.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. May 26 1907. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  38. “Women and Children Taught to Gamble.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Aug 18 1907. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  39. “MUST HIDE BAD POSTCARDS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 2. Sep 12 1907. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  40. “FLAUNT VILENESS IN FACE OF POLICE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 5. Sep 13 1907. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  41. “CORN EXPOSITION TO OPEN TONIGHT.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 3. Oct 05 1907. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  42. HEK. “IN THE WAKE OF THE NEWS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 10. Jan 15 1908. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2017.
  43. “FIRST WARD LEADERS ARRIVE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 8. Jul 09 1908. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  44. “THE JUNE WEDDING BILLS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Aug 16 1908. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  45. Special Correspondence THE NEW YORK TIMES. “WILL NOT BUY POSTCARDS.” New York Times (1857-1922): 1. Sep 20 1908. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  46. “LATEST CUSTOMS RULINGS.” New York Times (1857-1922): 9. Oct 28 1908. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  47. Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES. “POSTCARD CRAZE IS DYING.” New York Times (1857-1922): 1. Dec 27 1908. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  48. Morton, Irene. “Valentine Day Promises Return to Old Customs.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Feb 14 1909. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  49. “Classified Ad 6 — no Title.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Feb 14 1909. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  50.  Hamilton-Smith, Katherine. “Postcards.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society, n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
  51. “BUSINESS TROUBLES.” New York Times (1857-1922): 12. Mar 19 1909. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  52. Special to The New,York Times. “FLOWER SUED FOR DIVORCE.” New York Times (1857-1922): 18. Apr 15 1909. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  53. “Household Hints.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 9. Jul 16 1909. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  54. O’Connor, Helen. “Some Novel Uses for Post Cards.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Aug 08 1909. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  55. JOHN, CALLAN O. “TARIFF ON PAPER FELT BY EVERYONE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Aug 14 1909. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  56. “Display Ad 32 — no Title.” New York Times (1857-1922): 1. Sep 19 1909. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  57. “Turning Camera to Good Account.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Mar 19 1911. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  58. Ade, George. “County Chairman Writes to Home Folks His Impressions of Big Convention.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 9. Jun 18 1912. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  59. “Germans are Making Effort to Regain Souvenir Business.” Women’s Wear Aug 29 1919: 46. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  60. Heise, Kenan. “Grant B. Schmalgemeier, Collector.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file): 1. Feb 13 1992. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  61. Toloken, Steve. “A Million Ways to Say Wish You were here.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file): 1. Aug 28 1992. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2017.
  62. Jenkins, Mark. “Are Postcards a Thing of the Past?” The Washington Post. WP Company, 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 July 2017.
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