How to Date Postcards


How to Date Postcards: A Guide to Unveiling Their Secrets

Postcards have been a popular form of communication for over a century, serving as a means to share greetings, travel experiences, and historical moments. These tiny pieces of paper hold a wealth of information, including clues about their age and origin. If you’re an avid collector or simply curious about the history behind these artifacts, learning how to date postcards can be an exciting journey. In this article, we will guide you through the process, unraveling the secrets hidden within these fascinating mementos.

1. Examine the Stampbox: One of the easiest ways to date a postcard is examining the stampbox, which is located on the backside. Different stampbox designs were used during different time periods, providing valuable hints about the card’s age.

2. Analyze the Postage Rate: The postage rate can also offer valuable insights. Familiarize yourself with the historical postal rates and identify if the postcard’s rate corresponds to a specific period.

3. Observe the Divided Back: Until 1907, postcards had a blank front and a back for the address only. After that, a “divided back” was introduced, allowing for both the message and address to be written on the same side. If your postcard has a divided back, it is likely from 1907 or later.

4. Note the Style of Printing: Pay attention to the printing style on the postcard. Different eras had distinct printing techniques, such as lithography, letterpress, or photochrom, which can help you narrow down the card’s date.

5. Study the Writing Style: The handwriting on the postcard can offer valuable clues. Observe the penmanship, language used, and any specific phrases or slang that may indicate a particular era.

6. Identify the Publisher: Some postcards have publisher marks or logos printed on them. Research the publisher’s history and compare it to known date ranges to determine the postcard’s age.

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7. Explore the Image Subject: The subject of the image on the postcard can provide a rough estimate of its age. For instance, if the image showcases prominent landmarks or historical events, you can cross-reference their dates to narrow down the postcard’s age.

8. Consider the Back Design: The design on the backside of the postcard can also help in dating. Look for any changes in font styles, colors, or layout, as these can indicate different eras.

9. Examine the Postmark: If the postcard has a legible postmark, it can provide an exact or approximate date of when it was sent. However, keep in mind that postmarks can be misleading if the postcard was printed long before it was mailed.

10. Compare Similar Postcards: Collectors often have access to databases or online communities where they can compare and discuss postcards. This can be a helpful resource for dating postcards, as you can compare similar designs, stamps, or postmarks.

11. Seek Expert Advice: If you’re unsure about the age or origin of a postcard, seeking guidance from experts or experienced collectors can be beneficial. They may have access to specialized resources or knowledge that can help you in your quest.

12. Utilize Online Resources: Numerous websites provide valuable information and resources for dating postcards. These platforms often have extensive galleries, forums, and databases that can assist you in identifying the age and history of your postcard.

13. Preserve and Document: Once you have successfully dated a postcard, it’s essential to preserve it properly. Store it in acid-free sleeves or albums, and consider documenting its details, including the date, publisher, and any relevant historical context.

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Common Questions about Dating Postcards:

1. Can I date a postcard without any postmark or writing?

Dating a postcard without any postmark or writing can be challenging. In such cases, you’ll need to rely on other clues like the stampbox, printing style, or image subject.

2. Are all postcards divided back after 1907?

Not all postcards had divided backs after 1907, as some publishers continued to produce undivided back cards for a short period. However, the majority of postcards from 1907 onwards had divided backs.

3. Can I date a postcard solely based on the image subject?

While the image subject can provide an estimated date, it should be complemented with other factors like the stampbox, printing style, or publisher marks for a more accurate dating.

4. How can I determine the value of a postcard after dating it?

Determining the value of a postcard depends on various factors like rarity, condition, historical significance, and demand among collectors. Consulting price guides or experts in the field can help you assess its value.

5. Are there any online databases specifically for postcard dating?

Yes, several online databases and communities are dedicated to postcard dating. Websites like MetroPostcard and Postcardy offer extensive galleries, resources, and forums for collectors and enthusiasts.

6. Can postcards be used to study history?

Absolutely! Postcards serve as snapshots of history, reflecting the social, cultural, and technological changes of their time. They provide insights into travel, fashion, architecture, and more.

7. How can I remove stains or dirt from old postcards?

Removing stains or dirt from old postcards can be tricky. It’s recommended to consult a professional conservator who specializes in paper restoration to prevent any damage.

8. Are postcards from the early 20th century valuable?

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Postcards from the early 20th century can be valuable, particularly if they are rare, in good condition, and feature significant historical events or prominent locations.

9. Can I date a postcard using the postage stamp?

The postage stamp can offer some clues, especially if it corresponds to a specific time period. However, it should be considered alongside other dating methods for a more accurate estimation.

10. Are postcards with handwritten messages more valuable?

Postcards with handwritten messages can add sentimental value, but they don’t necessarily make the postcard more valuable. The overall condition, rarity, and historical significance play a more significant role in determining value.

11. Can postcards be dated if they were never mailed?

Yes, postcards can still be dated if they were never mailed. By analyzing the stampbox, printing style, back design, or image subject, you can still estimate their age and historical context.

12. How can I protect my valuable postcard collection?

To protect your valuable postcard collection, store them in acid-free sleeves or albums, and keep them away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, and humidity. Regularly inspect and handle them with clean hands to avoid damage.

13. Are there specific postcard collecting clubs or societies?

Yes, there are numerous postcard collecting clubs and societies around the world. These groups provide a platform for collectors to connect, share knowledge, and participate in trading or purchasing postcards.

In conclusion, learning how to date postcards can be a fascinating journey through history. By examining stampboxes, postmarks, writing styles, image subjects, and utilizing online resources, you can unlock the secrets hidden within these cherished mementos. Remember to preserve and document your findings, allowing future generations to appreciate the historical significance of postcards. Happy dating!

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