Penny Postcards

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Penny Postcards in the Early 1900s    

Sending a postcard through the mail for a penny was an affordable link with the outside world for farm families in the early 1900s. Whether country residents lived in areas served by a rural mail carrier with a horse and wagon, or needed to come into town to collect their mail at the local post office, a postcard was as popular a means of communication, as in urban areas.

The U.S. government had issued plain, penny postal cards since 1873. One complete side of the card was reserved for the address. Privately produced cards, sent through the mail at the time, required a two-cent stamp.

During 1898, private mailing cards were authorized and allowed to use one-cent postage, instead of the previous two-cent rate. In 1901, private printing firms were allowed to use the words postcard or post card, instead of printing the previous authorization on a card. One complete side was still kept for the address alone.

When Rural Free Delivery became permanent in 1902, areas petitioning for the service needed to show that accessible roads existed for the delivery of mail. The increasing demand for better rural roads and mail service created closer links between town and country.


    A significant event in postal history took place in 1907 when U.S. Post Office regulations changed to allow privately produced postcards to have a divided back side, with the left half reserved for a message and the right half for the name and address. The front side could be completely used for a photograph, artwork, advertising or design.

    Collecting and sending picture postcards grew into a popular hobby, as a variety of selections, using high quality German printing techniques, were produced for the American market. The development of inexpensive cameras for use by the public also increased the demand for photographic postcards. Amateur photographers were able to take black and white images that could be printed and sent through the mail as postcards.

Personal collections of postcards were often proudly displayed in decorative albums. The years 1907 to 1915 became known as the Golden Age of postcards, ending with the years of World War I. During and after the war, the production of postcards used in the United States changed to American and English printers.

Postcards enabled people to economically keep in touch with each other through a message, a scene, a photograph, birthday wishes or holiday greetings. Throughout the United States, people mailed them to friends and families for basic communication, as well as on special occasions, while traveling, or even when they went to a city for the day.

Popular local postcard scenes included railroad stations, monuments, courthouses, post offices, schools, libraries, streets, rivers, bridges, hotels, stores, county fairs, parades and community events. Companies used postcards to advertise their products and store locations. Images of new inventions, such as airplanes and automobiles, became popular designs in the greetings. Postcards were transported through the mail routes of railroads, along with freight and passengers.

Collecting postcards is a hobby that continues to this day. Vintage postcards from the early years of the 1900s provide insight into everyday life of the time. In addition to a picture or photograph, a divided back postcard that was mailed then will show an address and usually a handwritten message. The original one-cent stamp might still remain on the card, along with a legible cancellation, indicating the location from which it was mailed, the date and time.

Currently it costs 23 cents to send a postcard through the mail. Plain, postal service-issued, stamped cards are available at post offices for 25 cents each. The stamp is already printed on this type of postcard, so the two cents difference in price is for the card stock provided to the customer.

Sending postcards to family and friends as special greetings, or while on a trip, remains a popular means of correspondence.