Blog > Kosmopolit: an introduction (part 1)
Remember some years ago, when we randomly stumbled on a 19th century postcard exchange club called Kosmopolit, that sounded suspiciously similar to Postcrossing? 🤔 One author described it as a “fraternity of enthusiastic picture postcard exchangers” and there were also reports of “cryptic numbers and initials at the top of a message”, which sounds really familiar…
We were super curious to find out more about this Postcrossing predecessor, but at the time we wrote that blog post, we couldn’t find much more information online about the club… until later, when we heard of a book by Claus-Torsten Schmidt, which seemed to be the definitive guide to the association! Once again, our friends Claas (aka Speicher3) and Christine (aka reisegern) came to the rescue and managed to track down the book in Germany!
They’ve kindly translated some parts of it for us, and now we know much more about Kosmopolit than we did before. So get ready for a few posts about this amazing Postcrossing precursor! Here’s Claas to report on their findings:
The book by Mr. Schmidt is a chronicle that is based on documents and newspaper advertisements, which the author interprets and classifies. At the end of the 19th century there was an incredibly confusing plurality of small picture postcard collector associations, even in small towns. There were also associations that represented the interests of the many postcard dealers.
Years before Kosmopolit was founded, Fritz Schardt owned a trade for paper and stationery supplies and he also sold postcards. Already in 1896 he placed advertisements for the sale of postcards in publications like the “Zeitschrift für Ansichtskartensammler” (Magazine for postcard collectors) and “Der Postkarten-Sammler” (The postcard collector). Such magazines were very important for the huge collector scene at that time.
In 1897, the magazine “Der Ansichtskarten-Sammler” had called for a motto for the salutation between collectors of picture postcards. In March 1897, the proposal by Paul Zetsche from Hanover won: “Gut Ferngruß!” (meaning, Greetings from afar!) was since then the “official” salutation between postcard collectors.
In June 1897, Schardt finally founded Kosmopolit in Nuremberg, using that motto on their logo.
From then on, the activities of the association were documented in the “Internationale Postkarten Zeitung” (International postcard magazine), their club magazine.
The association published member address lists to enable the exchange of cards, organised postcard exhibitions, issued their own postcards on festive occasions and sold the emblem rubber stamps. Here’s a special postcard, issued for New Year’s celebrations:
Kosmopolit representations were quickly established in many regions of Germany, but also in other countries, the so-called “Consulates”. For example in Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Hungary, France, Russia, USA, Turkey, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Brazil, … Interestingly, some of these consulates were headed by Germans (we must not forget that this was the time of colonialism).
Early on, there were thousands of members, and many small associations joined Kosmopolit. But there was also much quarrelling and intrigue… Within the first years, Schardt founded further collector associations, members were expelled, there were complaints and insults. Back then, there were already members who did not send back postcards after an agreed exchange, and so discussions ensued about other members who were not keeping up their part of the deal when exchanging postcards. In the association’s magazine, Kosmopolit is compelled to point to their members that the exchange rules must be observed.
The text reads: “Exchange among members. The daily increasing number of complaints for not returning the cards leads us to point out §4 of the statutes to the members of Weltverband Kosmopolit. We will be uncompromising in our use of the above paragraph.”
Unfortunately, we don’t know what statute §4 was, but here’s an excerpt from other statutes, providing information about the aims of the club:
About the purpose of the association, it is said:
Purpose. The purpose of the association is:
- "The members receive postcards, scrapbooks, technical literature etc. cheaper by contracts concluded between the association and the publishers.
- The international character of the association gives the opportunity for exchange and correspondence with collectors from all over the world."
“Members who wish to exchange postcards must indicate this at the time of registration and have to reply all postcards with equivalent cards from their town. Not answering may result in exclusion. Rubbish cards and advertising cards are excluded from exchange. Members are expected to complete all received cards within 8 days at least.”
As we already know, there had been repeated complaints that members had not returned cards as agreed. In their magazine, Kosmopolit published an advertisement in which reminder postcards (“Mahnkarten”) were offered, which could be sent to defaulting members.
The reminder postcard states: “If I do not receive compensation by … I feel compelled to arrange your removal from the association.”
Thank you so much to Claas and Christine for this excellent investigative work! It’s so cool to learn more about this 19th century version of Postcrossing, and even notice that it already had a few of the same challenges we see on the site today… 😅 On the second part of this series, we’ll focus on Kosmopolit’s wishlists, statistics and badges — so do check back in a few weeks for more!