Postcrossing Blog

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

Posts tagged "postal-history"

This year is filled with historical anniversaries it seems, and today is both the 145th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union, and the 50th World Post Day. Unbeknownst to us, while we were busy setting up the big exhibition, the Little Mail Carriers decided to wander the halls of UPU and see what they could find… Here they are to tell you about their adventure!

The Little Mail Carriers at the UPU

Hi everyone! We hitched a ride and snuck out while Paulo and Ana were distracted. 😇 Want to tour the UPU headquarters with us? Come along!

So, first things first, the UPU is composed of 4 bodies: the Congress, the Council of Administration, the Postal Operations Council and the International Bureau (IB), which is where we are and also where 250 or so people from 50 different countries work. They’re all busy connecting the world’s post offices, working on their development in different areas or monitoring the quality of mail service worldwide. In a way, being inside the UPU is like being inside a “big machine” that makes mail work… just with more offices, and less levers and cogwheels.

UPU conference center UPU conference center

Policies are made mostly by people talking to each other and finding compromises and common strategies to solve problems, and the conference center is one of the places where those important conversations happen. It’s a huge room, where delegates from each country sit down to hear each other and debate. We hopped on to the podium to address the crowd… but they had all left already.

UPU conference center UPU conference center

There is an upper level balcony on the sides of the room, where observers and translators sit. French, English, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish are the official languages of the UPU, though sometimes simultaneous interpretation is other languages is also provided. The meeting attendants just need to tune in on the channel to hear speeches and discussions in their preferred language. And when it’s time for a coffee break, someone rings this bell!

Sustainable Development Goals

Speaking of languages, here’s something cool: the stairs between floors feature the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, translated in different languages. If you’ve never heard of the SDGs before, these are a group of 17 resolutions adopted by all UN members in 2015 as a universal call to action to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030”. All UN countries and partnering institutions keep these in mind, so that they can work together towards the same goals.

Chinese Tapestry at UPU

One thing that surprised us was how much art was their headquarters had on display. On all floors, there was barely a wall that didn’t feature something stunning, like this huge tapestry gifted by China in 1974 on the occasion of the UPU’s centenary. Every country wants to contribute with something and after 145 years, you can imagine just how much beauty there is all around.

Tunisian Tile Mural at UPU

We were particularly impressed by this modernist mural by Tunisian artist Abdelaziz Gorgi, on display in the building’s cafeteria. It shows two musicians floating in a boat in a fantastical garden, surrounded by flying and swimming creatures… It’s so beautiful!

Postal vehicles collection at UPU Postal vehicles collection at UPU

There was also this collection of miniature postal vehicles, on loan from a retired UPU employee… we wish we could ride on all these cars and trucks. What a cool idea for a postal collection!

UPU offices UPU mail room

But it’s not all art and fun — a lot of work goes on in this building! This is the office of Mrs. Olfa Mokaddem, manager of the UPU philately and IRC programs. She let us take a peek inside and also showed us the mail room, where everyone that works here can receive their mail.

UPU library The UPU Library

They also have a huge library here, with a beautiful detail: the bricks that cover the walls feature these colorful crystal structures, like little geodes. They were a gift from Japan.

The Little Mail Carriers at the UPU

Before we left, there was still time to marvel at the view of the Alps from the rooftop, and say hello to Mr. Bishar Hussein, the current UPU director-general. He wanted us to let everyone know about the role of the posts not just in delivering mail, but also in delivering development and progress. Every year on World Post Day, he shares his thoughts about the evolving role of the post, and this year’s message can be found here.

On our way back to the backpack, we stumbled on a framed excerpt of the Treaty of Bern — the treaty that officially launched the UPU, signed on this day 145 years ago.

The Treaty of Bern

We felt a bit emotional looking at these two sheets of paper. This is where it all started: with an ambitious idea and these 22 signatures. Since then, the world has evolved and changed, and 192 countries are now part of this global network of postal cooperations, that continues to adapt, grow and connect us all.

Congratulations UPU, and happy World Post Day everyone!


Tags: , , ,

Montgomery Blair hall

So, earlier in the year we had an ambitious idea of putting together a postcard exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of postcards, collecting images and messages from around the world to showcase our collective love for this small format of communication. We contacted a few people and then the opportunity came up to do this exhibition at the UPU, an incredibly important institution that brings all post offices together in cooperation.

They had lots of walls in their headquarters in Bern, though most of them were covered in art… except this one, a huge 10 meter wall divided in 2, on their ground floor lobby. It was black and had the peculiarity of having over 200 deactivated mailboxes on it. Postcards like mailboxes though, don’t they? It seemed like the perfect match, so we decided to go for it!

We received hundreds of postcards in the past couple of months on the call-for-postcards we launched for this exhibition. Choosing just a few of them was a hard job — some were gorgeous works of art, others had heartfelt messages and many were both!

Putting together the postcard exhibition at the UPU

While choosing the postcards to take, we noticed that many of them would be tricky to hang on a wall due to their thickness or odd shape. Also, some of the postcards only made sense if people could see both sides… so we came up with a solution: since we were sticking postcards on mailboxes, why not opening one and leaving some postcards there for people to browse?

Putting together the postcard exhibition at the UPU

This turned out to be a good call, as the “Browse me” encouraged people to get up and close with the postcards, giving them permission to touch and interact with the exhibition. For us personally, it also helped ease some of the pressure of picking just the right postcards, as we could bring a lot more of them!

Some of you have asked whether we’ve taken pictures of every postcard displayed, and I’m afraid we have not. Carefully shooting every single one would have taken a lot longer than the time we had. We brought as many postcards as we could to Switzerland though, posted some images on the website, and are planning to take some more photos of the postcards and their messages when they return to us at the end of October. We don’t want you to feel sad if yours didn’t end up at the UPU — all the postcards we’ve received are unique and so very appreciated. 💛

So finally, here is the result:

Postcrossing postcard exhibition at the UPU Postcrossing postcard exhibition at the UPU Postcrossing postcard exhibition at the UPU

We’re very glad that everything went well, and that we were able to successfully display your messages, images and mini-masterpieces at the UPU. Although the building isn’t open to the public, many delegates from post offices all around the world will get to see and read your postcards throughout this month, while they attend the many events that are happening in October. We hope they too understand how special postcards are in the digital age, and what role they play in connecting our lives — and, indeed, the whole world.

And lastly, here’s a little making-of video of the whole setting up operation that we shot with a borrowed camera. 😊 It took 2 days to put together, with a lot of time spent cutting and measuring. Enjoy!

PS – Our big thank you to Olfa and Stéphane UPU’s philately department, for making this possible!


Tags: , ,

Today is the day we’ve all been waiting for: it is exactly 150 years since the first postcard was sent!

As the very first postcard was being sent on October 1st 1869 in Austria-Hungary, few people could anticipate the mail revolution that would ensue, or just how long postcards would last. One hundred and fifty years later, we’re still just as happy to discover a bit of sunshine on our mailbox at the end of the day, or to send a smile to loved ones or strangers far away. It’s inexplicably charming how something so simple can bring so much joy. 😊

150 years of postcards

Earlier this year, when we noticed there didn’t seem to be that many activities planned to commemorate the anniversary, we decided to take matters into our own hands and use the power of the Postcrossing community to celebrate this historical milestone. We’ve contacted postal operators and postal museums, and also invited you guys and the whole world to join the party by creating events and spreading the word about this anniversary. The response was just amazing! Over one hundred events are taking place in 34 different countries, including 58 meetups, 11 exhibitions, 8 cancellation marks, 8 workshops, 6 seminars, 4 commemorative postcards issued by post offices, 3 guided tours, 2 postage stamps about the anniversary and even one country offering free postage on postcards sent today. Hurray!

We’ve also invited everyone to participate on a postcard exhibition at the Universal Postal Union headquarters in Bern and hundreds of you have sent postcards and expressed your love for the medium in creative forms. We teared up going through all these small tokens of love, and it was a real struggle to pick the 200 or so that we ended up bringing with us, as they were all incredible. So many of you have written about connection and healing, about traveling and learning, about conquering fears, making discoveries, teaching little ones and making the world a smaller place. They were all messages of hope and appreciation, and it was our huge honor to carry your words with us to the UPU and hang them on this 10 meter wall.

150 years of postcards

All throughout October, postal delegates from all countries in the United Nations will walk this lobby and browse these postcards. They too, will realize how much we all treasure these little pieces of paper that travel the world in our stead. We’re so proud of each and every one of you, for your enthusiastic participation and creativity — this would not have happened without you!

150 years of postcards

We plan to show you more of the exhibition later, but for now, it’s time to celebrate! Join a local event if you can, or just take the time to write a postcard (or 10!) to someone you care about to spread the happy vibes.

And last but not least, happy birthday dear postcards!!! 🎉


Tags: , ,

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!


Tags: , ,

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. 📬


Tags: , ,