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The weather vane found a welcome home in the expanding America of the 18th and 19th centuries. It served an important function, but also had humorous and homespun motifs, bold and vigorous design, and spirited air of American individualism and independence.
                                   
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Wish You Were Here?
by Bob Brooke

 


“Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.” Before Email and Facebook, this brief message scribbled on the back of a postcard said it all. It told the folks back home that a traveler was okay and enjoying his or her vacation. The picture on the front of the card showed the folks where the person was and the postmark confirmed this.

Sending picture post cards to the folks back home became a great American pastime. When choosing cards to send, travelers also bought many for themselves to save as souvenirs of their trips. Now many millions of these vacation mementos lie in attics, waiting to be rediscovered. Travelers usually took good care of the postcards they gathered on their trips, preserving lovingly in albums to share with friends. Many people collected postcards instead of lugging along a camera to take their own pictures.

Today, these postcards of a bygone age are coming out of attics as older people downsize. They can be found at garage sales, flea markets, antique shops, and stamp shows.

The Origin of the Postcard
Historians recognize Baron Raphael Tuck, an English book printer, as the inventor of the picture postcard in 1884. One day, it occurred to Tuck that a postcard, provided with a view of a landscape or a foreign town would say much more to the recipient than lengthy writing. Travelers came to consider these early view cards as attractive souvenirs. People sent picture postcards from various trips, whether domestic or foreign, pleasure or business, indeed from every outing, walking, bicycling or whatever.

The British produced the first picture postcard in 1870, and the excitement was so great that the police had to be called out to control the crowds at the London General Post Office. Two million picture postcards sold in the first week, each costing a half penny. That same year, postcards came to Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, and by 1874 were available in most of the rest of the world. Cards showing the Eiffel Tower in 1889 & 1890 gave impetus to the postcard craze a decade later. Collectors consider a Heligoland card of 1889 the first multi-colored card ever printed.

But it wasn’t until the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 that the first souvenir postcard appeared. Colored artwork associated with the fair appeared on the backs, then the non-address side, of government-printed cards. These postcards, commonly known as “souvenir” cards, became immensely popular. People who attended the fair sent thousands of souvenir cards to friends back home. But when the Columbian Exposition closed, the U.S. Government stopped issuing illustrated postcards. Private publishers continued printing scenic views of tourist locations, so these cards became known as “view” cards.

Picture postcards hit their peak of popularity from 1900 to 1918. They became a form of entertainment, almost a mania, and a social phenomenon. By that time, the total of postcards in the U.S. had reached over 968,000,000. People put them into albums and set collections out to be admired. In doctors offices, they became prestige symbols.

It was a fashion in high society for a family to assemble an exhibition album, where they placed their best picture postcards on view in their parlor. People also exchanged picture postcards which they purchased at tobacco shops, stationers, and railroad stations.

World War I signaled the end of the golden age of postcards because of the shortage of paper materials and because most of the picture postcards in the U.S. at that time came from Germany.

Postcard Finishes
Most of the early view cards had good detail, deep colors, and no border. Postcards with white borders appeared in 1919 and ran to 1932. These cards have low contrast, pale colors since makers printed them on coated stock with a flat non-glossy surface.

In 1933, coinciding with the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair, the linen-textured card appeared, lasting until the early 1950's. Colors on these cards are highly saturated, even a bit garish, making the scenes appear unrealistic even though makers used photographs to produce the cards.

Postcard publishers produced linen cards in great quantity from 1931 to 1959. Despite the name, makers didn’t print these cards on linen fabric, but used newer printing processes that used an inexpensive card stock with a high rag content the front side of which they finished with a pattern that resembled linen. The back side of the card, however, is smooth. The rag content in the card stock allowed a much more colorful and vibrant image to be printed than the earlier "white border" style. Due to the inexpensive production and brighter images they became popular.

One of the better known linen era postcard manufacturers was Curt Teich and Company, who first produced the immensely popular "large letter linen" postcards. The card design featured a large letter spelling of a state or place with smaller photos inside the letters. The design can still be found in many places today, often as the cover on a souvenir postcard packet. Other manufacturers include Tichnor and Company, Haynes, Stanley Piltz, E.C Kropp, and the Asheville Postcard Company.

Chrome cards, made from color photographs, have a glossy surface and appeared as early as 1939 but weren’t common until the mid-1950s. Until the mid-1970s, most U.S. cards were the "standard" size, approximately 3½ x 5½ inches.

To the postcard collector, many features count, including design, lettering, and the picture itself, postal markings, artistic merit, materials used, the publisher, and how and when the cards were made, and of course, condition.


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How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

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