Picture Postcard Conventions



Having chosen a postcard format to present research I have become interested to find out more about the origins and conventions of the picture postcard with a view to this potentially informing style and content.

First research led to the history of postcards on a series of websites (http://postcard.co.uk; www.collectorsweekly.com/postcards/overview; http://www.oldpostcards4sale.co.uk).  These sites identified that postcards were first issued by the Post Office with a pre-printed stamp and plain front and back in 1870’s.  In the 1890’s a picture was printed on one side and the message was written around this picture!  By 1900 the divided back had been introduced so that the message and address were on one side and the picture on the other.    Postcards began to be bought as souvenirs and became the standard way to send messages to friends.  They were cheap and reliable with up to seven deliveries of post each day!  Messages were short and factual as is was considered unseemly to include personal messages which were open for all to see.  Postcards documented everything from national events to village fetes – anything and everything that was part of a community was a like subject for publishers to use on postcards!

The majority of photographic postcards were created in black and white with some being hand colored after printing.  Postcards were produced with printed messages, mottos or rhymes instead of an image.  These message cards included individual letters, names of places and people or language specific to a a category such as plants or flowers. Experimental postcard formats included:  hold-to-light postcards (which were made with tissue paper surrounded by a frame of standard paper to enable light to shine through), fold-out postcards (which had multiple postcards attached in a long strip),  linen postcards (which were printed images onto brightly coloured papers to look like linen fabric), and silk postcards (which  were constructed to include stitched sections combined with a printed image).   The silk card was either a design printed on silk fabric attached to a postcard back, or a card with silk fabric attached as a border or decoration.

photo 7photo 12


Postcards found in Oxford which may be used to represent characters on my section of the walk.  I’m also drawn to the idea of applying heightened colour onto a black and white image.




  1. It seems obvious now that you have stated it, but I had never really considered that writing personal messages on a postcard could have been considered unseemly. I have purchased several old Stamford postcards as part of my research and the messages range from pleasantries about the weather, to one that talks about returning a corset to it’s lender! I have also purchased portrait photographs which have often been printed as postcards too… perhaps sent to loved ones, especially during wartime. In the Socks for the Boys! blog that I referenced earlier… one person likened the short diary entries to being like tweets… short, limited information capturing a moment in time (snapshot), again, not dissimilar to the postcard message.


    1. Really like the links to diaries and tweets – capturing a moment really sums it up. Can you upload the written messages on the postcards – they sound fantastic!


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