Postcrossing Blog

News, updates, and all kinds of goodies and stories from the postal world!

A few months ago, we were doing some research about the origins of postcards for the 150th anniversary celebrations, when we randomly stumbled on an article from 2006 titled “A brief history of the picture postcard”, by Judith & Stephen Holder FRPSL. The introduction reads:

One hundred years ago collecting postcards was a much more widespread and popular pursuit than stamp collecting, even though the publication of many learned works on postage stamps had by then started turning the craze of timbromanie into the much more advanced discipline of Philately. Postcards were collected by all walks of people, young and old, men and women, and it was commonplace and indeed fashionable among the middle classes to have an album of these pasteboard mementoes. Many a card bore the message 'here is another one for your collection’ or 'I was very pleased with the last card you sent me as I did not have it’. Cryptic numbers and initials at the top of a message – indeed sometimes being the only message – revealed membership of an international postcard exchange club.

The concept in that last sentence sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it? 🤔 We couldn’t find much more information about it at the time, so we put the quote aside and continued our research. And then some time later, we read this blurb on a book called “The Picture Postcard and its Origins”, by Frank Staff:

kosmopolit blurb

So erm… back in the 19th century, Germany already had a Postcrossing-kind of thing going on… and no one had told us about it?! 😳

Weltverband Kosmopolit

Information in English about the club is scarce, but with the help of Claas (aka Speicher3) and Christine (aka reisegern) we found out that Kosmopolit was founded in 1897 in Nuremberg, by Fritz Schardt. We are not sure how it worked exactly, but members seem to have sent postcards to each other with the greeting Gutferngruß (meaning, greetings from afar), and signed or stamped each card with their name, address and membership number.

Curiously, sometimes the sender asked for a “revenge card” to be sent back to them, a quirky expression that just means they would like to receive a card in return. Messages were mostly kept to 5 words or less as the postage was cheaper that way — so it seems clear that the goal here was collecting, rather than connecting with people in a more meaningful way.

Kosmopolit lost steam following the First World War and eventually disappeared, leaving behind a trail of mysterious postcards. You can explore some of these cards in this gallery.

It’s fascinating to us that something like this existed over 100 years ago… and also that we had no idea about it, despite the fact that the club had over 20,000 members at its peak of popularity. We’re very honored to somehow continue the legacy of Kosmopolit these days, albeit in a different format!

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The writing prompts invite postcrossers to write about a different topic on their postcard’s messages every month. These are just suggestions though — if you already know what you want to write about, or the recipient gives you some pointers, that’s great too!

This month, we suggest looking at an interesting part of our cultural inheritance: crafts!

In September, write about regional or national crafts of your country.
IMG 6674

We all know that each country or perhaps even a particular region or town has its own special form of handmade crafts that they’re famous for. Some are even classified as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, such as the hand-making of washi paper in Japan or the bobbin lace-making in Slovenia. So what about your own region or country? What crafts do people do there?

If I had to pick something to represent the southernmost region of Portugal, I’d probably choose palm weaving. We have lots of palm trees around here, and for centuries their leaves have been dried and weaved intricately to create a variety of products — like baskets, bags, chairs or brushes. They’re well-made, last a very long time, and look beautiful too!

So what are the handicrafts that your region is known for? Share them with others on the postcards you write this month!

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About a month ago, we’ve enlisted the help of the Postcrossing community for the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of postcards. The plan is to take over a wall at the Universal Postal Union's headquarters in Bern 🇨🇭 and fill it with messages showing the world’s enthusiasm for postcards.

Since then, we’ve received dozens of postcards from you guys, and we’re feeling quite overwhelmed by this avalanche of mail. Your kind words and all the memories you’ve been sharing with us about postcards are just incredible! All the stories, poems, drawings and carefully crafted pieces of mail art make our hearts melt.

Over the past few weeks we’ve uploaded a few of the postcards we’ve received on the 150yearsofpostcards.com gallery… but we thought perhaps a video would be a better way to showcase more of them. So without further ado, here it is:

We hope you liked it! Please don’t be sad if you don’t see your postcard on this video though, as this is just a small selection. Many more have arrived in our PO box, and we treasure every single one of them. 😊

If you haven’t sent in yours yet, what are you waiting for? Send us a postcard telling us what makes postcards special to you, and join us in this worldwide celebration!

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You might have noticed that the postcards we’re familiar with today (picture on one side, and space for the address, postage and a message on the back) are very different from the first postcard issued in 1869 by the Austrian Post.

Correspondenz Karte

The Correspondenz-Karte, as it was initially called, was just a brown rectangle of paper with space for the address and postage on one side, and a short message on the back. Despite the decorative border, they weren’t meant to be fun or especially pretty. Instead, their purpose was much more practical, enabling short messages to be sent cheaply through the post, a departure from letters and their formal etiquette. Their look was as concise as the messages they carried.

So, when did these lackluster pieces of cardboard begin to be adorned with images and acquired the modern format of our beloved postcards?

Well, that’s a longer story… but in a way, an almost inevitable development. From ancient papyrus to Gutenberg’s bible, decorations have been sneaked onto the pages of written materials ever since humans began to record history on paper. In the 17th and 18th centuries, printing developments brought images to the masses: commercial invoices would sometimes showcase a little miniature of a storefront, and often people carried illustrated calling cards with them. Also common were letter sets featuring elaborate illustrations both on the writing paper and on the envelopes. In 1840, the same year that the Penny Black was issued, Royal Mail launched its own decorated prepaid letter sheets.

Postcards with illustration vignettes

Thus, even though the original postcards did not feature illustrations, there were plenty of other items with images on them, and so, bit by bit, they were introduced on postcards as well.

At first, images appeared on the corners of the message side of the postcard, as small vignettes often with advertisement to a hotel or restaurant. Slowly though, other images made their way onto the postcard format and by the 1880s, postcards with the Gruss Aus (greetings from) salute and a few illustrations of a town were a popular holiday souvenir in German-speaking countries.

Divided back postcards

And then, as photography and printing techniques evolved further still, photos started covering more and more space in postcards, with just a small area left for messages. Finally, in 1906, at the Sixth Postal Union Congress in Rome, the UPU declared that postcards with a divided back could be sent internationally. With no need to write the message on the front any longer, pictures were free to take over the whole space on one side of the postcard.

And this is how the modern format of the picture postcards we know and love today came to be! 😊 If you’re curious to learn more, check out the History page we’ve put together for the 150th anniversary of postcards, and stay tuned for more interesting tidbits of postal history here on the blog.

PS – Our friends at papersisters made a neat postcard to celebrate the 150th anniversary of postcards, and generously sent us a bunch to give away! So if you’d like a postcard with a greeting from the Postcrossing’s headquarters, here’s your chance: leave a comment below and let us know one cool postal fact about your country. We’ll pick 15 random commenters by this time next week to be the recipients of one of these postcards. Good luck!

Ok! Giveaway closed, and the winners as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… Tabse, jime2e4a, Stargrace, picketfence4, LuSays, BrittJohnson, betslets, Bia5546, fmstrada, surlykitty, duck2006, Daniela_P, yudi, serendipity2 and jm1122. Congratulations everyone! Keep an eye on your mailbox for the incoming postcard. 📬

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Some weeks ago, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first humans walking on the moon. Reliving the experience of the Apollo 11 mission was an emotional event all around the world, not just for the millions of people who remember watching the live broadcast on TV with bated breath, but also for the younger generations of dreamers that those astronauts have inspired.

As you can imagine, landing on the Sea of Tranquility is a risky adventure, requiring all sorts of preparations. There’s physical and scientific training to go through, and checklists for all sorts of procedures, but there’s also a more down-to-earth side of things, like life insurance. Can you imagine the price of the insurance for such a perilous and unique mission though? Yup, it’s pretty much astronomical! So how were astronauts supposed to make sure their families were looked after in the event they didn’t make it back to Earth?

When faced with this situation, Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong came up with a cunning secret plan: postal covers! Apollo Mission covers

They were famous and their autographs were greatly prized, so they decided to sign dozens of special envelopes in advance, featuring space-themed stamps and motives. These were to be hand-cancelled by friends at the post office on the day that they landed on the moon, and later delivered to their families. In case something happened to them, they hoped these autographed covers could be sold to collectors, in order to give their families some financial security.

Thankfully, they all came back safe and sound from this grand adventure, and didn’t need to use the postal covers as insurance. 😅 But it was still a brilliant plan! And as expected, these special philatelic items became collectibles, and are highly sought after by astrophilatelists, the branch of philately that focus on space-themed stamps. They continued to be made by astronauts until the 16th Apollo mission, and you can discover more of them on this page. Neat! 🌔

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