*** photography and publishing : postcards -- countries

Postcards: Countries

Figure 1.--French postcards made before World War I commonly show rather idealized children in fancy clothes. HBC is unsure of how commonly the fashions shown were actually worn by children. The hand painted colors we know were often imaginative.

Sending and collecting postcards had become popular in Europe during the late 19th centurues. Given the number of surviving cards, postcards were extremely popular after the turn of the 20th century in most major European countries. HBC has collected postcards from many different countries. Readers have also provided scans of the postcards in their collections. We have noted some substantial differences among the postcards from different countries. The differences are apparent in both clothing styles and hair styles. The question arrises in assessing the fashions illustrated on these cards is how refldective they are of actual fashions in the respective countries. One has to be careful here to descriminate between where the card was postally used and where it was actually made. The language incription can also be confusing. The language of the greeting, if any, reflects where the card was to be sold, not where the photograph was taken and the image printed. French cards in particular were marketed throughout Europe. German cards, on the other hand, we believe were more likely to be used inside Germany. We do not have complete information on every country, but we have begun to compile information on some of the more important countries.

Individual Countries

HBC has acquired large numbers of post card images from many different coyntries. They offer a great deal of information about period fashions and social trends. Information on these cards is required to properly assess the images. HBC has compiled the following information on the post card industrries and trends concerning post cards in individual countries. The two most important post card industries before World War I were those of France and Germany. The United Staes had only a small post card industry and imported cards from Europe (Mostly Germany), at least the high-qulity cards with bright colors. The United Sates did, however, through the Eastman Kodak company, initiate the practice of printing post card backs on prpcessed snap shots. This and other information about the post cards helps us assess the commercial images and date the photograohs with post card backs. Many of the commercial cards do not seem to be realistic depictions of popular fashions. Thus readers must know how to interpret the images and this varied frm coutry to country. The actual anateur and studio portraits are, of course, very reliable depictions of popular trends.

America (North)

United States

It is interesting to note that America at this time also had a postcard industry. Post cards began to appear in large numbers during the early 1890s. Imports, especilly imports from Germany, were very important in America--at least until World War I (1914-18). Beautifully dressed children, however, were never as popular on American postcards as on English and French postcards. Actually beginning in the 1900s and continuing in the 1920s, Americans could choose to have their photographs developed with a postcard back. This allowed the photos to be mailed to family and relatives like postcards. Large numbers of these cards exist. In France, however, people appeared to have preferred to purchase ready made postcards like this one. A discerning collector can date many post cards even if they have not been postally used.




Some experts believe that the first picture postcard appeared in Austria about 1869.


We do not know anything about the Belgian postcard industry yet. Many look quite similar to French cards, at least in the fashion portrayed. Both Belgian and French post casrds asppear to use rather fanciful colors to illustrate the fashions. Children were very popular subjects for these cards and might be used for New Years or other special days. This provides us many interesting glimpses of contemprary children's fashions. They were commonly dressed in fancy outfits. Sailor suits were a special favorite in Belgium. Of course people in the Flemish areas of Belgium might buy Dutch postcards. The language used, however, does not always tell us where a card was printed. There have been books published using the cards as historical documents. The books may focus on Belgian tows and cities or on specific topics. Collecting these cards is quite popular in Belgium. There are clubs set up to promte this activity. We notice the company names of Dix and Nor on some of the cards used postally in Belgium. These may be Belgian companies.


We notice a number of postcards mailed from Bulgaria in the early 20th century. The children pictured often wear ledeshosen or other German outfits. We do not think that such gaements were commonly worn by Bulgarian children. Bulgaria had a German monarchy, but we do not believe that most Bulgarian children began waring German-styled clothing. These post cards were probably imported from Bulagria. This is just our initial assessment and would be interested in comments from our Bulgarian readers.


Britain and severl other European countries followed the Austrian approasch of offering postcards through the government post offices. British offered buff and violet cards imprinted with the likeness of a halfpenny stamp (1870). It was hugely popular. Over 75 million were porchased in the first year ythat they were offered. About the sme tim, compnies in Europe begn offering post cards with images on the front. These were fairly basic until litthography technology imprived. By the turn-of-the 20th century beautiful full color imsges could be produvced/.


France in the 1920s was well known for its post card industry. They were commonly used at the time much as greeting cards are today. The French post card industry was well known throughout Europe. These cards were sold throughout Europe. They were quite popular in England. Note that this card is marked "Made in France," imdicated that it was printed for possible sale in England. Some of the cards had a rather risque nature--at least for the standards of the day. Actually in England the term "French post cards" means a risque one. But in fact the French post card industry produced a wide range of cards. Many of them featured children in idealized, sentamentalized scenes. Many of these cards are reproduced in HBC showing boys wearing kneepants or short pants, often with kneesocks and sometimes strap shoes.


HBC has little information on the German postcard industry at tis time. Germany had an important industry and until World War I (1914-18), German companies supplied large numbers of cards to America. HBC does not at this time have details on the Gernman post cards exported to the United States, but HBC does not believe they tended to be the ones with children. Some of the early German cards are easy to spot because before and immediately after World War I the Germans produced cards where the boys had shaved heads. While not unknown in other countries, it was much more common in Germany. Boys in sailor suits were also very common in the German cards. The German postcard industry does not seem to have been as large as tge French industry althiugh it was sizeable. We suspect that the German cards were not as apealing as the French cards in many export markets. We note that while we find many Frebch cards postally used in other countries, this is less common for the German cards. We also note that while there are many Germany cards available from the eraly 20th century before World War I and immediately afterwards during the 1920s, we find few from the 1930s, especially after the NAZI seizure of power in 1933.


Hungary before World War I had a substantial postcard industry. Its leading Figure was K�roly Divald. His sons played an important role in the indutry. They produced 3-4 million postcards annually. He worked as a partner with Gyorgy Monostory. They are best know for scenes of Hungarian towns and cities. The Hungrian postcard industry declined after World War I, primarily because the much reduced independent Hungarian state was a much smaller market than the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. [Hannavy, p. 422.


We have very limited information on Italian postcards at this time. We do know that they did exist. We have seen Itlaian post cards with both Itlaian themes and cards made for export markets. We believe that Italy must have had a very large postcard industry, but have few details at this time. The limited number of Italian postcards we have acquired make it difficult to assess the country's postcard industry.

(The) Netherlands

HBC has noted some Dutch post cards, but we do not yet have enough information to make any assessments. Asin the rest of Europe, smartly dressed children were popular subjects for these cards. The fashions portrayed seen more similar to German fashions than French fashions. The images of well-dressesd children appear to follow the general pattern of being most popular from the turn of the 20th centuty to the mid-1920s. One popular subject was children as well as adults in folk costume. We know nothing about the Dutch postcard industry.


Portugal did have a national post card industry, but we are unsure how important it was. Many cards sold and mailed in Portugal were probably imported.


We have been unable to find much information about the Russin post card industry at this time. We doi not know to what extent the Russians printed cards domestically a opposed to imported from Germany or France. Importing may have been less common in Russia because the holidaysand imagery may have been less appropriate than was the case among the various European states. We have found a few cards celebrating holidays before World War I. We have also found some art oprints as well as images of the royal family. These appear to be high-quality printings including full color. After World War I and the Civil War with the Bolsheviks in control, importing consumer items like postcards would have stopped. This all post cards would have been produced domestically. We have found a few Soviet Era post cards, but have no information on the industry.


We think the first Oceania post cards appeared in Australia and New Zealand at about the sme time they appeared in Britain. The esarliest we have found date to the turn-of-the 20th century. There might be some earlier ones, but they would not have been very common. Two of the most common types of post cards appeared at about the same time. Lithogrphic tourist postcards and photographs, both with posrcard backs. We see postcards appearing in some numbers in the smaller islands of Oceania, which were mostly European colonies, especially tourist cards as the South Pacific islands began oppening up to tourism just before World War II. Yhis probably began in Hawaioi which wa annexed by the United Stated (1898).


Country Confusion

One has to be careful here to descriminate between where the card was postally used and where it was actually made. The language incription can also be confusing. The language of the greeting, if any, reflects where the card was to be sold, not where the photograph was taken and the image printed. French cards in particular were marketed throughout Europe. German cards, on the other hand, we believe were more likely to be used inside Germany. We do not have complete information on every country, but we have begun to compile information on some of the more important countries.


Hannavy, john. Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Photography.


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Created: October 7, 2000
Last updated: 2:52 PM 2/21/2009