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Blog > Kosmopolit

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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69 comments so far

MrsMidsomer, Finland
WOW! This is amazing. Thank you for posting this!
I love those old picture postcards and have a few in my own collections. Most of my cards are unwritten and so there is not a hint of the Kosmopolit (World Citizen) club... I guess these members got every bit as excited as we Postcrossers get over the cards we receive or perhaps even more so :)
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Tsarek, Belarus
People love postcards whether they live now or lived in XIX century 🙋
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JoanaDaSilva, Portugal
Postcrossing is here to stay :)
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nofrodelius, Germany
Wow! Very cool.
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Tranchile, Guernsey
I love historical facts like that. A friend I made from this site recently sent me a postcard made to look like an old card like that with a printed stamp of the times and it just says ‘From Mother’ on the front and looks as if it was written by a fountain pen at the time.
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dunkan, Russia
Everything new is well forgotten old!
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shc, Indonesia
"Messages were mostly kept to 5 words or less as the postage was cheaper that way"

More words means more postage? :O
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BloomingTwig, United States of America
This is fascinating. Love the codes!
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Kewl, Philippines
How did the membership number look like? Was it just numbers (how many digits) or was it alphanumeric?
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ctr, Germany
Here you can see some cards with backsides.
https://ansichtskarten.schloemp.eu/tausch-kosmopolit/

I think that every member had his/her own member number and wrote this number on the cards. Look at this member card: https://www.alamy.de/stockfoto-weltverband-kosmopolit-farberstrasse-29-haupt-centrale-nurnberg-171835531.html
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maxcat1, United States of America
Thanks to everyone who worked together to reveal this history.
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AndiP, United States of America
Oh, a new level of postcard collection has been added: Used cards from old card collections.
And it is very interesting that they didn't want to connect with the people, but only to collect postcards (and stamps) --- I am always disappointed when I receive a card that basically says "Here's your card". I suppose it's not a modern affliction. LOL!
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juliakay, United States of America
I love this. It gives me something new to look for when I am searching for vintage postcards! Usually I'm looking for blank postcards to send, but I will now be on the look out for these.
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mapa, Belgium
Great story! History is so fascinating!
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rollmaeppchen, Switzerland
Thank you very much for your super interesting article!
Just a question: I don’t understand from where they got the adresses and who did chose them?
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meiadeleite, Portugal
@rollmaeppchen We also don't know! 😅Our best guess would be that the organization probably published a booklet with addresses and requests, and members would find their partners that way. If anyone can find more information about it, we'd love to know more!
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rollmaeppchen, Switzerland
Thank you for your fast answer! Really interesting for me!

This article makes me wanting such cool rubber stamps 😝
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Sfander, Canada
Very interesting! I have several cards that were exchanges which included an I.D. number and I'm quite sure they were North American. Back in the Golden Age of Postcards many postcard companies released series of postcards and they were often sold in packets of 5. The series could be wildflowers, roses, important people of the day, etc.. and there might have been 25 or 30 cards in the series which of course people wanted to collect, so often they would get other collectors to help them search out the missing cards to the series. Some of the postcard series could be made into a large poster (i.e. a picture of Napoleon) when put together like a puzzle. This type postcard and series were called Novelty postcards. Of which I am a huge collector.
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Flippie, Canada
See, Postcards are always very interesting, was and still is. Thanks for sharing.
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reiselustig, Germany
What a fascinating story - although German I also never heard of it before! Thank you very muc for your research and for sharing the results with us - please let us know, if you find out more. A good proof that life was possible in all ways without internet as well - sometimes we need to remind :-)
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geminiscp, Portugal
Amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)
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kssmith, United States of America
I collect old postcards from my very small town. There was an amateur photographer that lived here and he took many photos of residences and views and made them into postcards in the early 1900's. I bought some postcards that were sent to him between 1906-1907 and I figured out he was doing exchanges. Most were asking to receive one in return with their address. Not much was written, as at that time you couldn't write messages on the back of the postcards only the address. One person mentioned that they saw his letter in the "Social Circle" in The Welcome Guest (couldn't find anything on that) The best one was from another photographer, he wrote that the photo was his own make and was taken Jan. 1st 1906. He wrote that it was the deepest cut on the Panama Canal and asked for a postcard of his own make in return. Really cool card, As this is the Panama Canal being built.
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lilacs-and-figs, United Kingdom
This is fascinating! 🤯

I think it might start a trend for using those codes - "Ketty": "Are the cards which I am sending you according to your taste?"

On a serious note, what a pity that the spirit of Kosmopolit couldn't continue after the tragedy of the first world war. It's lovely to think that they would recognise and share our postal enthusiasms, if our time and theirs could meet.
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surfclub66, United States of America
This is absolutely awesome and fascinating! I would love to find out more about the members. Someday, people will feel this way about us when they come across our cards. :)
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ctr, Germany
There is a book about the history of Kosmopolit in german, but unfortunately it was published by the author himself and is not avaiable anymore:
Claus-Torsten Schmidt - Geschichte des Welt-, Kauf- und Tauschverband für Ansichtensammler "Kosmopolit" (Selbstverlag 1983).

I would like to read the book but don't know where I can get it.
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Loli-ts, Spain
Fascinating is the word. And all through paper and "snail mail". "Where there is a will, there's a way".
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fiddlesticks, Germany
How fascinating!

@ctr: If your local library doesn't have it, you can probably get it on inter-library loan; university libraries are better-suited for this than public libraries (Stadtbüchereien). Check the appropriate union catalog (Verbundkatalog), and if it's not in there ask your librarian for more info. They should still be able to order it from outside the area covered by the library union they belong to. The German national library (DNB) is also always an option (they do have a copy).
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alessia83, Germany
Wow, this is so awesome! I live in Germany and I had no idea about this either! I love learning about interesting historic gems like this one, thanks so much for sharing! ❤️
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MissiveMaven, United States of America
WOW! This is utterly fascinating!
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fisherman, Ireland
Lovely piece of postcard history - Thanks for researching
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Speicher3, Germany
@ctr You can find single pages of the book on the internet. And as fiddlesticks already mentioned there are some museum libraries and universities which have it on stock.
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Carelaine, United Kingdom
Fascinating and thank you for the research.
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ned44440, Ireland
Wonderful and fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing.
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betslets, United States of America
Love the Blogs. . .and it appears that people who enjoy sending and receiving postcards (both now and in the past) have had the best hobby imaginable, through "worldwide" connections. I especially enjoyed the vintage cards of Nurnberg, near where I once lived.
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sallyanne, United States of America
Postcards forever!
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anandamardeep, India
It gives me immense happiness to know of such club in the 19th century. The other part that I truly agree is of the messages that people wrote in the postcards as we get the pleasure after reading them. Now, when I see people coming to this hobby to collect stamps, it makes me sad. But, I believe, we will realize the true potential of a postcard is to carry the loving messages today and forever.
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KAS, Norway
At a postcrossing meetup we had at a stamp exhibition recently, we were approached by an elderly lady who told us we were just reinventing the wheel and went on about how there was a postcard exchange club when she was young and not to think that postcrossing was anything so very special. She wasn't very friendly about it, so I didn't pay any attention to the details ;-)
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saikat_das, India
Fascinating!
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BrendaVR, Canada
Fascinating! The codes especially interesting. And totally want my own stamp now! Looks like a number of members had their own Kosmopolit stamp.
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Gen24, United States of America
*GASP*
aNOTHER PoSTcArD GrOuP?????
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Miss-Cynical, Germany
amazing! And they even had individual stamps!
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jm1122, United States of America
Wow! I find this fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing!
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SissyLee, United States of America
Fascinating!
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Luhaiman, China
Fashion is the reincarnation of the game field.
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Demmi, Romania
Gutferngruß!
Great story!
This fact remembering me about a Romanian popular quote:
" nimic nu e nou sub soare"
meaning "Nothing is new under the sun!"

It's been a pleasure to read and about that! Thanks for it!
:) :D
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mihneaR, Romania
wow - now I will look in antique flea market for that postmark! I really want a card wearing Kosmopolit ID and number..I am wonder - any member of Kosmopolit relatives... it is on postcrossing? :)
ANd to complete my colleague: we can not re-invent the hot water or the wheel...they were already invented! :D
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AnnitaV, Spain
I am sure that I would have been a member of the club...
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jarezien, France
Wonderful ! I love postcards and I love history... so when both gathers, it's magic to me ! Thanks for this discovery !
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Iside82, Italy
Wow! 0_0
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Gen24, United States of America
You all are awesome, thanks for sharing!!!
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nelsico, United States of America
It was common in the USA in the period 1905-20 for a postcard to be mailed in the morning and to be delivered the same day to the addressee. It's not uncommon to see an old postcard with a note such as "I'll see you this evening."
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Herkenbe, Germany
There is a german webpage on history of postcard in
www.ddr-Postkarten-museum.de or
https://www.ddr-postkarten-museum.de/index.php?/category/1580.

Also cards with sound are included.

Regards
Beate
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rousita, Mexico
This is indeed interesting!! How come the world already had a community of postcard enthusiast and it disappeared!! Hopefully Postcrossing is here and it will not go away!! :D
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isinesunshine, Germany
This is so cool! And especially the individualized stamps with address and membership number look so familiar! ;)
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petitzouzou, France
Tres amusant ces codes prenoms !
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Talal90Ahmed, Iraq
coooooooool
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SophietheValiant, Kazakhstan
Individual postal stamps - wow, would love to have one like that myself.
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alison41, South Africa
One of my friends recently returned from the UK and brought me a wooden postcard ! She tells me they are the latest craze in the UK, and apparently can be mailed in the usual way. It is very lightweight, has the usual printed space for address, stamp etc and has a picture of the Houses of Parliament on the reverse, with text. All I know is I am definitely not mailing it; the SA Postal Service will totally destroy it.
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AnnetteW, Australia
Fascinating! There really is nothing new under the sun! Glad that we are carrying on a wonderful old tradition. I collect vintage postcards so will be looking out for the Kosmopolit postmark.
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Cassisia, Germany
This is so cool - great to find out that that Kosmopolit was founded in Nuremberg, my hometown! 😀
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Renimar, United States of America
So perhaps in another century, there will be a new club of postcard exchangers and collectors who will marvel at 'vintage' cards that seem to have a country code/number combo and learn why 'Happy Postcrossing!' is on a set of postcards unearthed at an antique shop. :)
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PedroSantos, Portugal
Maravilha 😊
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ejcain, United States of America
This is so cool! And yes we use country and number IDs, but we don't have a secret language yet. . .
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triplightly, United States of America
Thank you so, so much for sharing this with us and doing so much work to discover something so fascinating.
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biblio_dani, Germany
Wow, that is so cool! :O The secret code is amazing. Great find!
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Nana805, France
This is very interesting !
Funny to know it already existed a kind of postcrossing before postcrossing and before internet !
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miwi2, Germany
I found it in (German) wiki....
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weltverband_Kosmopolit
Oh, I see you had a link above.....
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manders2280, United States of America
The annual Minnesota State Fair includes a competition for antique postcard collections. A post card collection club sponsors the premium, i.e., the prize.
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Robin67, Austria
What irresistible vintage cards! ❤️❤️❤️

And I welcome "revenge cards" at any time! :-D
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