Postcrossing Blog

Stories about the Postcrossing community and the postal world

Posts tagged "postcards-history" View all

  icon

Welcome to the last part on this series about Kosmopolit, a “kind of steampunkish 19–20th century Postcrossing sister”, as Claas (aka Speicher3) describes it. He and Christine (aka Reisegern) found a great book by Claus-Torsten Schmidt on the topic, and have been slowly entertaining us with the story of this fascinating association. You can catch up previous posts here, and read on for more juicy details!

While reading the book, I couldn’t resist buying a few Kosmopolit postcards on Ebay. One of them, sent in 1902, is not directly related to the association itself. However, this postcard was published by the publishing house of Kosmopolit founder Fritz Schardt, and the verse on the card is written by Fritz Seemann, who was the secretary of the Kosmopolit when it was founded.

An old postcard featuring a sail boat, with words scribbled around the border in the front, and just an address and stamps on the back

Another one is from 1912. There are several postcards sent by Carl Gerner from Cologne to Louis de Clei in Belgium. This shows that the members not only wrote single cards to each other, but sometimes stayed in contact for longer periods of time. On many of these cards you can see that the stamp was fixed on the postcard’s image side. That seemed to be quite popular. On the reverse side, where the stamp would be located, there is a note: “Stamp overleaf”.

An old postcard featuring gentlemen in a park. The stamp is in the image side of the postcard. The back has the member rubber stamp, the address and a note where the stamp should be, letting the mail carrier know to check the other side for it.

And there’s another similarity to Postcrossing: Some members wrote their postcards completely full and were interested in communication. Others just wanted to add cards to their postcard collection and just added their stamp or a short note. Mr Gerner apparently belonged in the category “Hello, I’m Carl. Happy Kosmopolit!”

Here’s a 1910 postcard from a Kosmopolit member in the United States:

An old American postcard, featuring an Indian tribe by the water. Some are in a canoe, and some are standing in the shore, by a tent. The back of the postcard features the sender's rubber stamp, a postage stamp and the recipient's address

In 1911 Kosmopolit sold a number of different donation stamps to its members. These stamps were used to collect money for building the first picture postcard museum in Nuremberg. The plans for the museum were later on foiled by World War I. The donation stamps had different pictures and colours and were titled with “Buillding stone for the Kosmopolit house”.

Sheet with 9 black and white mini-images, each featuring a small engraving and the words 'Baustein für das Kosmopolit-Heim (Building block for the Kosmopolit-House)'. These were intended to be sold as fund raisers to a Kosmopolit museum

Do you remember when the first Postcrossing meetup was held and when the first meetup card was sent? It is fascinating that much of what we do today has been done in a very similar form 100 years ago. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Kosmopolit congresses were organized regularly, where members met to get to know each other and to show themselves their postcard collections. This is what we’d call a Postcrossing meetup today. And not only that. There were even meetup cards! In the book is a postcard from a 1923 Kosmopolit congress, which was signed by a number of congress participants!

Just as thousands of Postcrossing meetup cards were signed and sent out today, Kosmopolit meetup cards were signed about a hundred years ago. The most eye-catching difference: no washi tape in 1923.

Here is one of the oldest meetup cards we know so far:

A black and white reproduction of a postcard with a Kosmopolit themed design on the front and lots of scribbled signatures on the back

They also organized some postcard exhibitions over the years, with fancy posters and stamps:

Kosmopolit exhibition poster and stamp. The poster is green and features the text ''Worldwide Association Kosmopolit — Postcard exhibition, Fürth, 10 November 1912' It has design in the center with a coat of arms, a crown and the Kosmopolit logo. The stamp is coloured, and features an angel on a horse, playing a horn. The text on it mentions a postcard exhibition in München, in 1913.

The 1920s were an unstable period with many changes in Germany. Political upheavals, coups, hyperinflation and the founding of the extreme right-winged party NSDAP, which later led into the “Third Reich” and the World War II. These turbulent times also influenced the Kosmopolit. It is not known exactly how long the association existed. In 1925 the association was officially moved from Nuremberg to Dinkelsbühl. The author of the book could not find any files on this in Dinkelsbühl, and in 1927 the file on the “Weltverband Kosmopolit” was officially closed by Nuremberg authorities.

One can still find postcards from the 1930s that carries the Kosmopolit members’ stamps… however, this is probably only a private use of the stamps.

Fun fact: The German Wikipedia article about Kosmopolit even compares the association with today’s Postcrossing!

And this is the last post we have for you on this fascinating association! Thank you so much to Claas and Christine for all your work on this topic, and for digging deep into postcard history for us. We’re still amazed at how many parallels there are between Postcrossing and Kosmopolit, from meetups to profiles or “signature rubber stamps”… Who could have guessed that history would repeat itself so thoroughly 100 years later! 😊

  icon

Here we are, back again for the second instalment of our exploration of Kosmopolit, the 19th century precursor of Postcrossing (which we knew nothing about until a couple of years ago). You can catch our previous posts about this obscure postcard club here.

Our friends Claas (aka Speicher3) and Christine (aka reisegern) managed to get their hands on a great book about Kosmopolit by Claus-Torsten Schmidt, and are here to continue reporting back on their findings!

Images of old postcards

One year after its foundation in 1897, there were already more than 1000 members in the Kosmopolit. Since collecting postcards was a mass phenomenon in those days, there was a large number of various collectors associations, and also some competition between many of these clubs. Therefore, it was important to show that one had as many members as possible. And here Kosmopolit was very creative… but also not always honest. In the “Internationale Postkarten Zeitung” (the association’s magazine), membership numbers were regularly published. To make the numbers look as high as possible, however, these numbers weren’t necessarily the realistic numbers of the currently active members. They always published the number of registrations that had ever been made since their foundation, and resignations from the club were not deducted.

One also liked to cheat a little bit from time to time. When the 2000. member was welcomed in 1899, the next member received the number 2101… so the 100 in between never existed! 😅

The statistics do not reveal what happened during World War I, but we know that the sending of postcards wasn’t interrupted during the war. Many military mail postcards were sent, even across borders. Some Kosmopolit members got into trouble because they had “contact with the enemy” by writing postcards to their pen pals.

The highest Kosmopolit membership number was #18320 in 1923…

Membership ledger for the Kosmopolit club

… but that said, we later found a Kosmopolit postcard on Ebay sent in 1924, whose member stamp shows the membership number 18535!

Kosmopolit member number 18535

In another chapter of the book, we’ve found the historical archetype of the Postcrossing profile wish list! Although not that many people used English as a foreign language at the beginning of the 20th century, Kosmopolit members still wanted to inform other members about their preferred postcards. This is why Kosmopolit published a key of international exchange codes in up to seven languages. This way, participants were able to use simple code words to communicate their wishes for the reply card.

Kosmopolit's code of collectors

Here are some examples (see if you can find some similarities to today’s lists of preferences!):

  • § = Used postage stamps wanted
  • a = City views, squares, streets
  • nn = Handsome heads
  • zz = Photographs of members
  • Adele = Blank postcards
  • Berthe = Cards stamped from the place of origin
  • Henriette = Your last card did not have sufficient postage. I had to pay a tax.
  • Ida = With young ladies
  • Ketty = Are the cards which I send you according to your taste?
  • Micheline = Kindly excuse my tardy answer. a) I was sick, b) I was travelling, c) I was very busy, d) I was on maneuvres, e) I was flooded with cards, f) I thought I had already answered your card
  • Esp. = I am interested in Esperanto

These days, Postcrossing profiles and forum accounts have a few badges, and they existed also in Kosmopolit times, more than 100 years ago! Kosmopolit members could not only acquire melodious titles (consul, representative, consul general, etc) and there was even a medal for special merit.

Kosmopolit medal badge

Doesn’t that look super fancy?

Thank you Claas and Christine, for another fantastic report! What do you think, should we make a special Postcrossing medal? 🎖 In the third and final instalment of this series, we’re going to be talking about meetup postcards, the Kosmopolit museum and the demise of the association — stay tuned!

  icon

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!

Kosmopolit book

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.

Kosmopolit logo Kosmopolit articles of incorporation (in German)
Kosmopolit logo and articles of incorporation

From then on, the activities of the association were documented in the “Internationale Postkarten Zeitung” (International postcard magazine), their club magazine.

Kosmopolit club magazine header
Kosmopolit 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 New Year's celebration postcard
New Year’s celebration postcard

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.

 Kosmopolit  rules detail

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:

Kosmopolit Charter 1 and 2
Charter 1 and 2.

About the purpose of the association, it is said:

§2
Purpose. The purpose of the association is:

  1. "The members receive postcards, scrapbooks, technical literature etc. cheaper by contracts concluded between the association and the publishers.
  2. The international character of the association gives the opportunity for exchange and correspondence with collectors from all over the world."
Kosmopolit Charter 8
Charter 8

§8
International exchange

“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.

Reminder postcards Reminder postcards
Reminder postcards

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!

  icon

2020 is a Leap Year, so how about a look at some old postcards illustrating one of the best-known Leap Day traditions? If you’ve never heard of this, the tradition is that on Leap Day (and only on Leap Day!) women can propose to men.

In 2012, Huffington Post rounded up this and other marriage superstitions related to Leap Day around the world: in some countries, it’s bad luck, while in Finland if the man refuses he has to pay a fine and give the poor lady enough material to make a skirt. (In times past that was a pretty significant fine, and a useful gift!)

Take a look at some of these postcards we found!

The Manhunt in 1908 The Maiden's Vow in 1908 In 1908... Careful, that's a fine specimen! Maidens are eagerly waiting, their traps enticingly bating...
My heart and money... I lay them at your feet Unsafe for a poor lone bachelor!

The Scottish tradition is that proposing women had to wear a red petticoat as a sort of warning to let men know they were going to propose… but I’m not sure how anyone could check on the petticoats of some of these ladies! We don’t think they’d let you try… (quite right, too!)

We had no idea that Leap Day postcards were a genre of their own, but we found a whole collection of them curated by Alan Mays on Flickr, as well as the others we gathered above! Do you know any other traditions or stories related to Leap Day in your country?

  icon

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!