|The Ingenious Postcards|
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.
Postcards widen the conversation by adding a third element: the image itself, whether tacky or beautiful, generic or informative.
They’re also, in a way, more real. “It’s the actual physical feel of something,” says Nancy Pope, head curator of the History Department at the National Postal Museum, and “still one of those” who sends postcards. “When you’re able to actually hold something in your hand, that trumps reading something electronically any day.” The U.S. Postal Service processed 770 million stamped postcards in fiscal 2014.
Locally, postcards have disappeared from newsstands, which are also in the process of vanishing. Many hotel gift shops and souvenir stores carry them. The store shared by the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum carries individual cards, The gallery’s chief of retail operations, David Krol, reports by e-mail: “Our postcard sales remain steady, with additional bursts due to special exhibitions. There has been no unusual drop in activity.”