Do you ever write postcards?
I’ve always loved finding a postcard in the mail as a child, because it’s like receiving a little exotic part of the world, even though it is just a simple piece of paper. I still write them to my friends and family from most of my trips, although I sometimes bring them home unsent if I forget to actually post them.
Since postcards come with pretty pictures, they make for great, inexpensive and not-useless-clutter souvenirs, so I’m building my own travel wall as a way to hold on to the memories from my travels (you can see it here). They’re a wonderful gift for people who collect stamps and can also provide a glimpse into the past if you reread an old stack of them – I’ve recently had that opportunity when my grandmother passed away and we found a bunch of postcards I’d sent her when I was younger, so it was all very nostalgic. Additionally, a Russian guy once told me they could be used to post threats as well, so they’re very versatile indeed. However, the other day I realised I didn’t know anything about the history of postcards, so I thought I’d share what I learned with you.
The history of postcards
The official dry definition of a postcard is that it is a message card that can be mailed without an envelope. Apparently the concept of postcards appeared quite soon after the printing press became the norm and various cards with illustrations and engravings have been around since the 18th century. However, in the beginning people were vary of strangers reading their messages, so the greeting cards meant to be sent by post that were first presented in Paris didn’t take.
The era of postcards really began with the invention of pre-paid adhesive stamps and standard postal stationary. In 1861 an American, John P. Charlton, filed a patent for a postal card, a light privately printed card that could be sent by mail. He later sold it to the company that invented the lead pencil and eraser, but after the US Civil war broke out, the idea was largely forgotten. It wasn’t until 1869 in the Austro-Hungarian empire that the real postcard was born, when an economics professor pointed out that the effort of writing a whole letter is not always proportional to the size of the message you want to send and that there should be an easier way.
So the Austrian Post invented the Correspondenz-Karte, a brown rectangular card with the address in the front and space for a short message in the back that costed about half less than a regular letter. Postcards became increasingly prettier and were fast to gain popularity after that, particularly once the Eiffel tower and photography became involved after the 1880s, but let that be enough for now. If you want to know more, you can read a detailed full history here.
Funnily enough, unlike postcards I never write letters anymore, even though it’s a wonderful thing to sit down and have a conversation with someone on paper. However, if you’re keen on receiving a piece of the world in the form of a letter every month, check out this project I found online – Letters from afar. They’re written and illustrated by a woman travelling the globe and she sends out one every month, which I imagine could also be a fun learning opportunity for kids. It looks great, but I haven’t signed up yet, so if you know about it, let me know your thoughts in the comments. You can also check out Postcrossing, an international postcard exchange programme, where you can swap postcards with strangers allover the world.