The Art of The Postcard

Pile o' PostcardsAh, postcards. Today, they seem kind of cheesy, those little bits of paper depicting some idealized version of a vacation your Aunt Edna’s taking in Germany. But postcards are a far from a dying art, and they have a pretty interesting history. And you too can join in the postcard writing fun, wherever you may roam.

A LITTLE BIT O’ HISTORY

Postcards were first developed in the mid-19th century, as an inexpensive way for people to send correspondence. When uniform penny postage was introduced, mail delivery became affordable for nearly everyone. Believe it or not, previously, postage rates were determined by the distance the parcel had traveled, and postage was due at the time of delivery. Needless to say, a lot of mail went undelivered, and postmen went unpaid. In 1837, that all changed when a British teacher named Rowland Hill suggested that postage be charged based on the weight of the package, not on the distance it was to be delivered, and that the postage be prepaid. That innovation changed mail delivery forever.

Austria was the first country to publish the postcard, though Germany conceived of it several years earlier. The Germans published their first postcard in 1870, and the U.S. joined in the fun in 1873 (even though the U.S. had allowed stamped cards in the mail since 1861).

With advances in printing technologies, the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of printed postcards, many of which were artistic renderings of places and people. Postcards were a great way to send updates to families and friends about ones travels. But postcards were also an inexpensive way to keep others abreast of the goings on of the sender. Today, we mostly use postcards as a way to boast about our travels to family and friends.

LESS SCIENCE, MORE ART

I’m pretty sure that each time I travel somewhere, I avoid the post card rack like the plague. Something about sending post cards seems goofy to me, even though I love receiving them. What is wrong with me?

From a recipient’s perspective, I’d rather get a postcard that has some visually interesting artwork, a well-drawn map, or a piece of local flavor. One of my favorite postcards is shown below; it’s an old aerial photo of a downtown area that looks like a hand painted map. I also love vintage poster style postcards, like the ones of U.S. National Parks.

Postcard from Elizabeth City, NC

LET’S GET PERSONAL

One of the best aspects of postcards is handwriting. It’s great to have a personal touch from the sender, and you can’t get much more personal (in postcard terms) than someone’s handwriting. It can reveal so much about the person’s state of mind, about where they’re visiting, and about how they’re feeling.

My other favorite part of postcard writing is brevity. Space is limited on a postcard, so you must choose your words carefully. A quick hello, a note about the weather, maybe a short recap of an exciting event or place, and bam! you’re on your way. I love it!

U.S. National Park Postcards

SUCH A TOOL

It’s important to have the right tools for postcard writing. I know, what more do you need than a pen? Ok, not much, but the right pen is important. I can’t tell you how many postcards I’ve gotten written with a ball point pen that are illegible because of the nature of the pen. Here’s a tip: The best pens for postcards are gel-rollerball or fountain. Don’t bother with anything else. They leave crisp, dark lines, and write easily on the thick card stock.

Trust me on this, no matter what they tell you, people love getting postcards. Surprise someone on your next trip by giving them the gift of a postcard.

Chris Cavallari

About Chris Cavallari

Chris is a longtime digital content producer based in Maine. Since 1999, he has been an early adopter and active participant in blogging, podcasting, and social media, and has been guiding small and mid-sized businesses in leveraging video, social media, and digital publishing to the fullest. With an avid love of travel and the outdoors, Chris started PartTimeVagabond.com in 2009 to give him a platform to showcase his outdoors and travel adventures, and to help educate others in doing the same.