Social history is the study of people and society over time. It is a way to look at people and their relations and how society organizes itself over time. Social history focuses on the behaviors of people and social patterns, such as values, and attitudes, of certain ethnic groups or areas of land. A postcard is a card sent through the mail at a lesser postage rate than a sealed envelope, which usually has a side with a picture and a side for a written message.
Many postcards were, and still are, made from photographs. Photographs can depict social history without words. They can show change over time in a certain area. Aerial views can be used to show the urbanization of a town into a city, or any other type of developmental, or demographic change. Photographs can also show the change in the styles of buildings, clothing, and transportation in different societies. Postcards can be an outstanding source of social history, because they show what was popular or seen as important in the area in which the postcard depicts. The photographs on the postcards themselves can show the changes of an area over time. Postcards are a good source of local history and can tell a story of a specific area. The postcards of Beverly reveal the social history of the city over time. The collection of postcards includes those of landscapes, buildings, street scenes, people, beaches, and other important scenes of Beverly. With this collection, one will be able to see a glimpse into the life in Beverly, past and present.
The picture postcard was not invented as much as it evolved from other sorts of cards. Playing cards were used as visiting cards during the 18th century in Europe. They were usually the size of a playing card and had pictures printed on them. Also, there was a space for the name to be printed on the front. Occasionally, messages were written on the back. In 1777, a suggestion was made by a French engraver to publish and send engraved cards through the post for a penny. However, this idea was not well-liked because servants or those who handled the card could read the message. Trade cards were also used in order to advertise a business.
Towards the end of the century and into the 19th century, the style of visiting cards changed. They became smaller, no longer had pictures, and had the names boldly engraved on them. As visiting cards went out of style, more and more people began decorating their writing paper and envelopes. The picture engraved as a heading for the letter would depict the area from where the author was writing. These pictures, which were extremely realistic, evolved into the first postcard.
The German government in 1865 initiated the thought of the first postcard. However the first postcard wasn’t sent until Dr. Emanuel Herrmann wrote and published an article about the use of postcards. The Austrian Post Office was impressed enough to issue the first postcard on October 1, 1869. It was yellow and on the front had a two-kreuzer stamp on the upper right hand corner. Also on the card were three lines printed for the address. The message was written on the backside of the card. The postcards became extremely popular, as close to three million cards were sold in the first three months of sale in Austria-Hungary. The use of the post card spread to Belgium and Holland in January of 1871, and then onto Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Then the postcard appeared in Canada, followed by Russia in 1872, and France in 1873.
The first postcard was issued by the United States Post Office Department on May 13, 1873. The marks for mailing on the card depicted the bust of Liberty and a circle with the postage amount of one cent. Most cards were used widely as advertisement in the U.S., until they were in general use after the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. Colored cards of the Exposition went on sale and they became extremely popular. On May 19, 1898, an Act of Congress was passed so that privately published postcards were given the same message privileges and rates as government issued cards. All those privately published had to be labeled as such. This marked the start of the Golden Age of postcards in the U. S., which lasted until about 1920, when popular use of the telephone began.
The reason why postcards became so popular is because of the price. Postcards cost less to send in the mail than a sealed envelope. When first issued and all through the Golden Age, postcards could be sent for one cent. Post cards were also popular because they were an easy way to keep in touch while someone was away from home or on vacation. Many postcards took the place of family albums with pictures of families on vacations.
While, postcards show the interesting areas of a certain place, they are also interesting themselves. Pictures can be sent from all over the world to those who have never actually been there. During the Golden Age, postcards were popular because people send a quick “hello” or show a friend or relative where they were staying for a small amount of money. Today postcards are still sent and collected for the same reasons. Beverly postcards are interesting to view because they show the social history of the town. They represent what were standing during the time period, what is no longer there and the changes overtime.
“A Brief History of the Postcard,” <http://geocities.com/Athens/2088/history.htm> (Sept. 02)
Anderson, Richard, “A Small History of Postcards,” Internet,
Burdick, J.R. Pioneer Postcards. New York: [self published], 1957.
Christopher R Mathias and others. Salem: In Vintage Postcards. South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 1999.
Collector’s News, “A Brief History of Postcards,” Shiloh Postcards, <http://www.library.vcu.edu> (Sept. 02)
Staff, Frank. The Picture Postcard and It’s Origin. New York: Fredrick A Praeger Publishers, 1966.
Next chapter: Landscapes in Postcards