Maldon Archive
Keeping the Past Alive

A Brief History of the Picture Postcard  

More boring bits, postcards with messages had been sporadically created and posted by individuals since the creation of postal services. The earliest known picture postcard was a hand-painted design on card, posted in London to the writer Theodore Hook in 1840 bearing a penny black stamp. He probably created and posted the card to himself as a practical joke on the postal service, since the image is a caricature of workers in the post office. In the United States, a picture or blank card stock that held a message and sent through the mail at letter rate first began when a card postmarked in December 1848 contained printed advertising on it The first commercially produced card was created in 1861 by John P. Charlton of Philadelphia, who patented a postal card, selling the rights to Hymen Lipman, whose postcards, complete with a decorated border, were labeled "Lipman's postal card." These cards had no images. In Britain postcards without images were issued by the General Post Office (GPO) in 1870, and were printed with a stamp as part of the design, which was included in the price of purchase. At first these plain cards were only for use in Britain. It was not until 1875 that Britain issued a postcard for use abroad and in 1894 the Post Office allowed others to publish postcards. In 1902 Britain was the first to introduce divided back postcards.

This allowed senders to put the address and the message on the same side of         the card. Previously only the address and postal information was allowed on the address side, and any illustration had to share space with the message on the other side. The first known printed picture postcard, with an image on one side, was created in France in 1870 at Camp Conlie by Léon Besnardeau (1829–1914).  Conlie was a training camp for soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war. They had a        lithographed design printed on them containing emblematic images of piles of armaments on either side of a scroll topped by the arms of the Duchy of Brittany and the inscription "War of 1870. Camp Conlie. Souvenir of the National Defence. Army of Brittany". While these are certainly the first known picture postcards, there was no space for stamps and no evidence that they were ever posted without envelopes. In the following year the first known picture postcard in which the image functioned as a souvenir was sent from Vienna. The first advertising card appeared in 1872 in Great Britain and the first German card appeared in 1874.  Cards showing images increased in number during the 1880s. Images of the newly built Eiffel Tower in 1889 and 1890 gave impetus to the postcard. Between 1902 and 1914 was probably the Golden Age for the postcard, a time before televisions, computers, telephones and IPads were in nearly every ones home and before cameras were commonplace, a postcard with a professionally taken photograph or an artistic illustration could be sent around the world with a "wish you were here" message for the cost of a postage stamp.