A History of the Postcard

By Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Amateurs et Collectionneurs Amateurs et CollectionneursLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The concept of the postcard originated at the Austro-German Postal Conference of 1865. Small administrative cards came into circulation in 1869 and these were an overwhelming success with 140,000 copies sold in the first few days and 10 million copies in a single year. Many countries swiftly adopted the idea.

LA PREMIERE CARTE POSTALE française illustrée, créée en 1870 pour les soldats du Camp de Conlie, par LEON BESNARDEAU, libraire à Sillé-le-Guillaume (Sarthe) LA PREMIERE CARTE POSTALE française illustrée, créée en 1870 pour les soldats du Camp de Conlie, par LEON BESNARDEAU, libraire à Sillé-le-Guillaume (Sarthe) by BESNARDEAU LéonLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

But it might have been a French Idea…

L'ETRANGE AVENTURE DE L'ARMEE DE BRETAGNE L'ETRANGE AVENTURE DE L'ARMEE DE BRETAGNELe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Following defeat at the Battle of Sedan, French statesman Léon Gambetta created a camp for the future Army of Brittany near Le Mans. Nearly 80,000 men were crammed together and correspondence with families provided comfort for them, until they ran out of paper.

LA DEUXIEME CARTE POSTALE française illustrée, créée en 1870 pour les armées de terre et de mer, par LEON BESNARDEAU, libraire à Sillé-le-Guillaume (Sarthe) LA DEUXIEME CARTE POSTALE française illustrée, créée en 1870 pour les armées de terre et de mer, par LEON BESNARDEAU, libraire à Sillé-le-Guillaume (Sarthe) by BESNARDEAU LéonLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

A bookseller named Léon Besnardeau, who worked close to the camp, came up with the idea of cutting the covers of notebooks into small rectangles, since the pages had already been sold. This new resource was exhausted quickly, so he had blank cards printed at Oberthur in Rennes. The caption "Souvenir of National Defense" inscribed on the illustration suggests that the card was made after the war of 1870 for soldiers returning home. If Léon Besnardeau cannot be credited as being the inventor of the postcard, he at least deserves the title of "pioneer."

Carte postale officielle Carte postale officielleLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

1872: the postcard was officially incorporated into French law.
Two designs were produced costing 10 and 15 centimes (cents). Copies started selling in the very first week and 7,412,700 were sold in total.

Mairie et Bureau de Poste Mairie et Bureau de PosteLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

These cards were printed exclusively by the post office and sold in post offices and tobacconists. They were 8 x 12 cm, made of cardboard, with a blank side for correspondence and the other side printed for the address.

Souvenir de Vannes Souvenir de VannesLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

1875: production restrictions were relaxed. The only constraint was size and weight compliance for administrative regulations. Merchants seized this opportunity to have advertising cards printed. A decree prohibited postcards from being immoral and going against traditions.

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1889: The first French illustrated postcards were published to celebrate the Universal Exhibition. These included five engravings by artist Léon-Charles Libonis depicting the Eiffel Tower, and 57,500 copies were sold in 20 days.

Basilique N.D de la Garde Basilique N.D de la GardeLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The First Photographic Postcards

Marseille Marseille by Imprimerie ArtistiqueLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

It was an inhabitant of Marseille by the name of Dominique Piazza who took the initiative, using photography rather than engravings to send pictures of Marseille to an exiled friend. Piazza developed a commercial product, but was unable to register the patent.

Du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre je vous envoie ce SOUVENIR , Paris Eglise du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre Aspect du Monument terminé Du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre je vous envoie ce SOUVENIR , Paris Eglise du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre Aspect du Monument terminé by AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

His idea was taken up by Parisian publishers and printers and the postcard popularized photography, an activity just for the elite until that point.

C'est-il pourtant beau, les Cartes Postales ! C'est-il pourtant beau, les Cartes Postales !Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The Golden Age: 1900–1920

Petites bibliothèques de table ou murales en bois naturel, ou laqué teintes claires filets or pour classeurs "favoris" Petites bibliothèques de table ou murales en bois naturel, ou laqué teintes claires filets or pour classeurs "favoris"Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The beginning of the 20th century marked a period of success for the postcard.

Retour de classe Retour de classeLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Free and compulsory public education gave new social classes access to reading and writing.

La Poste La PosteLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

All villages became served by the postal service.

La pêche aux lançons La pêche aux lançonsLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Tourism was gradually becoming more popular, thereby encouraging the growth of the postcard market.

Station de haras Station de harasLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The frequency of mail distribution made the postcard an important medium for disseminating information.

Jeune Fille, Pays de Redon Jeune Fille, Pays de RedonLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

It cost less to send a postcard than it did to send a letter.

Rue du Fil Rue du FilLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Postcards could be bought anywhere: jewelry stores, mechanics, tobacconists, grocers, coffee shops, shoemakers…even pharmacists were publishing them. Now priced at 15 centimes, the postcard was accessible to all and had already become a collector's item.

Aux Cartophiles Aux Cartophiles (1901-11-12) by CHARAIRELe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

In 1900, France had 38-million inhabitants and published 8-million cards and 33 collectors' journals.

Berck-plage - La procession Berck-plage - La processionLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Initially, users could only write on the picture side of the card.

The back was reserved exclusively for the address.

Pour qui la lettre. Mesdemoiselles ? Devinez... Pour qui la lettre. Mesdemoiselles ? Devinez...Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

From May 1st, 1904, correspondence was allowed on the same side as the address.

The image thus took up its rightful space, covering the entire front of these 9 x 14 cm correspondence cards.

Le Foyer du Soldat , Salle de Correspondance Le Foyer du Soldat , Salle de CorrespondanceLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

People had never written as many letters or postcards as they did during the Great War: six to seven billion were exchanged between soldiers and their relatives, an average of nearly 1,000 letters per soldier.

Nous progressons, 1914 Nous progressons, 1914Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Produced by private publishers or official organizations, they spread propaganda and messages of love. Some publishers dared to produce satirical and anti-militarist cards, but these were censored from 1915.

Brochette de petits hommes Brochette de petits hommesLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The Decline Following the Great War

Panorama PanoramaLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

There are multiple factors that explain the decline:
The automobile gave tourists freedom to visit new destinations where postcards were less prevalent.

Effet de Mer Effet de Mer by Mancel A.Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Amateur photography allowed people to retain other memories.

Le bourg Le bourgLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Industrial production replaced more artisan manufacturing processes, meaning regional printing started to disappear and quality greatly reduced.

Le MUTADYNE , RADIO-OUEST NANTES, 10 Rue Franklin - 2, Rue de Clisson, RENNES Le MUTADYNE , RADIO-OUEST NANTES, 10 Rue Franklin - 2, Rue de Clisson, RENNESLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The postcard was no longer considered as a source of information following development of the illustrated press, the telephone, and the radio.

Bien arrivés à St-Abraham Bien arrivés à St-AbrahamLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The 1950s and 1960s: The Arrival of Color

Vue générale Vue généraleLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Color photography appeared in the 1950s, but it wasn't until the mid-1960s that the reproductions were of a satisfactory quality.

Quai de Courcy Quai de CourcyLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Unlike previous decades, technical progress meant greater quality. The widespread use of bromides made black and white cards more attractive.

Vue d'ensemble Vue d'ensembleLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

In this era of shiny and serrated cards, photographers were able to offer aerial views.

Le Calvaire et l'Eglise Le Calvaire et l'EgliseLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

In a rapidly changing society, publishers avoided depicting clichéd characters and cars in order to prevent postcards from going out of fashion too quickly. Having started in the 1930s and 1940s, this turning point gained momentum, making the pictures of towns and villages seem less lively.

l'Aventure Carto... la plus fabuleuse aventure depuis Marco Polo ! l'Aventure Carto... la plus fabuleuse aventure depuis Marco Polo ! by HAERDE Kris-AdzelLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

After 1970: The Revival

LOIC!... JE T'AI DEJA DIT... TU EN FAIS TROP ! LOIC!... JE T'AI DEJA DIT... TU EN FAIS TROP ! by CLAVAL JeanLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Stimulated and inspired, publishers innovated with multi-picture cards, reproductions of paintings or posters, humorous cards, and more. These brought a new sense of appreciation of the old clichés and care in how they were presented. The 1990s saw new formats being invented, new qualities of paper on offer, and the emergence of e-cards.

je suis Bathis, siamois lilac-point. je suis Bathis, siamois lilac-point. by KERVINIO YvonLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Adjusted to the 10.5 x 15 cm format and to color, postcards became a social marker. They traveled from sender to recipient, and the latter, being proud of this friendly gesture, puts the card on display to show it off.

Credits: Story

Thanks to:
The town of Baud
Le Carton Voyageur - Postcard Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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