The ‘Correspondenz-Karte’ used in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, issued on 1 October in 1869, can be considered the first postcard.
The appearance of the picture postcard was only one step from that. Naturally, priority is questionable, because what can you consider a picture? Can you say that an ensign, a coat of arms or a flag printed on a card is a picture? The professional literature says that the inventor of the first real picture postcard was August Schwartz, a merchant from Oldenburg, who printed a stamp-sized image on the upper-left corner on the front side of a postcard in 1870. The picture shows a gunner standing behind a cannon.
In these times, postcards with texts beginning with ‘Gruss aus…’ (Greetings from…) were published, and usually they were made by lithographic methods. The first postcards with landscapes, which were made by photos, and artistic postcards also appeared then. They were typical during the end of the 19th century. They were not made by famous painters; they were engravings and pen sketches created for picture postcards specifically.
The history of the picture postcard can be divided into several large periods:
The golden age: 1901-1914
Modernization of the press techniques and the possibility of multiplying photos also contributed to the quick spreading of picture postcards. Collecting picture postcards was in fashion that time. Numberless picture postcards in the most varied thematic were published at the turning of the 19th and 20th centuries. Literature names mostly city images, means of transport, social and political personalities and events, and greeting cards. The verso of picture postcards had a so-called long addressing. It served only for holding the stamp and the address. The text was to be written on a small place on the front side, which disturbed the view of the image. That is the reason why several propositions were made at the beginning of the 1900s, regarding more space on the addressing side of picture postcards for writings. The great idea of dividing the addressing side into halves – one half for the address and the stamp and the other half for the writing – comes from a German printer.
During World War I (1914-1918)
During WWI, picture postcards played a role mainly in encouraging people to fight. The war propaganda visualized hatred against the enemy or patriotism in illustrations. Picture postcards with battle scenes, farewell of soldiers, cartoons of the enemy and war maps were published.
During World War II (1939-1945)
In the middle of the 20th century, the interest in picture postcards decreased. The enemy-outraging propaganda publications were still there. Postcards usually popularized battle scenes, war technique, generals, pilots and captains of submarines. Many of them alluded to the strange track of the world in funny ways. This Christmas postcard is an example for that: a praying child, a soldier and a decorated Christmas tree introduces the atmosphere of the era.
Today’s picture postcards
After the war, postcards were published with images of ruined settlements, public institutes, bridges, statues and which mobilized people to reconstructions. Postcard collecting was in a boom again worldwide in the 1950s. Collector clubs were formed, but the postcard publication was imprisoned by schematic. Topics were rather boring, typically confined to the most popular buildings. There were several versions of them for collectors and senders, in which the same popular buildings were photographed from different directions and times of day.
Greeting card topics were idealess similarly. Christmas cards celebrated ‘Merry Christmas’ with branches of fir-trees and a few red decorating balls.
Just like the inevitable accessory of Easter cards: the egg. And do you remember the funny or erotic postcards sent and received from Lake Balaton? Although picture postcards cannot regain their earlier popularity, they still guard slices of our past, so we hope they will never disappear.
Translated by Zita Aknai