Postcrossing Blog

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

Posts tagged "postcards-history"

Today we bring you the story of a stationery maker from another era… you’ve probably seen her designs in vintage cards floating around on Ebay – today we bring you the story behind them! :)

Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle was an American illustrator and the most prolific postcard and greeting card artist of her time. She was born in 1865 in South Columbia, New York, about 200 miles from New York City. From an early age she displayed great artistic ability. Encouraged by her parents and teachers to develop her skills, she eventually pursued a career in art. After finishing her studies at Cooper Union Institute for the Advancement of Science and Art, a well-renowned and competitive college for artists, she returned to South Columbia and began giving art lessons out of her home.

Hearty Thanksgiving greetings. Digital ID: 1588268. New York Public Library

While earning a living, she also painted in her free time, creating landscapes and commissioned portraits of families in Richfield Springs. She began to submit her work to publishers in NYC and quickly became known for her illustrations that were used in advertising, calendars, paper fans, and greeting cards, where she gained her most success. Eventually, her artwork was turned into single-faced cards that could be kept as souvenirs or used as postcards. She began to design her illustrations particularly for these increasingly popular cards.

In 1906, the Wolf Company hired her at a time where very few women artists were hired as illustrators. Clapsaddle initially produced her postcards under Wolf’s name and in time became their sole postcard designer. The golden age of these postcards ranged from 1898 to 1915, and Clapsaddle is attributed to creating over 3,000 designs during this time.

A merry Christmas. Digital ID: 1586998. New York Public Library

Her images express an innocence and joie de vivre that is very childlike in nature. The main themes of her cards are centered on holidays. Her Halloween cards are the most highly prized by collectors; the Christmas cards usually feature children, but sometimes include transportation designs of automobiles and airplanes of that time period; Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s, and Fourth of July themes were also frequently incorporated in her illustrations.

Check out some classic Ellen Clapsaddle cards here!

PS – PostEurop’s Europa Stamp competition ends this week – don’t forget to vote for your favourite stamp! :)


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Ever since souvenir picture postcards made their USA debut at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, postcards touting images of cities began sprouting up everywhere. Although several firms manufactured the popular big letter “Greetings from…” USA postcards, one company in particular really made the process their own – Teich Company (pronounced “Tike”).

Tulsa - Teich Company postcard

Based in Chicago, America’s number one printing town, this family of printers created thousands of charming designs showcasing tourist attractions all over America, but hit the jackpot when they invented the processes to create the unique look their big letter designs are known for. Easily identified by their bold colors and bigger-than-life images, Teich’s patented methods of fabrication were so exact and involved (and kept secret by founder Curt Teich), it is almost impossible to perfectly recreate these sought-after collectors items, even with present-day technology.

Missouri - Teich Company postcard

No town was too small or obscure for Teich to manifest in postcard form; in 1933, Teich began producing their line of “Greetings from…” designs and by 1956 they made around 1,000 individual designs, paying homage to American cities in all 50 states (and to the states themselves).

After the company closed in 1978, their archives were donated to the Lake County Discovery Museum, in Illinois, which now runs a museum with them. The Curt Teich Postcard Archives contains over 350,000 postcards, and the collection is considered the biggest public postcard collection in the world.

Williams - Teich Company postcard

BONUS: For all the photoshoppers out there, here are step-by-step instructions for making your very own big letter souvenir postcard! Enjoy!


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We can probably all agree receiving a postcard in the mail from an exotic faraway place is one of the more exciting things that might happen in a day… but did you know that some decades ago, a pharmaceutical company used this precise notion to come up with one of the most unique marketing schemes of all time? Read on – it’s a good story!

Between the years 1954 and 1968, Abbott Laboratories of Illinois sent out 240,000 postcards every couple of weeks to doctors, nurses, and health facilities all over the world. They manufactured, stamped, and postmarked over 170 unique postcards from 165 different towns in 85 countries. The postcards’ authenticity of origin intrigued the recipients, increasing their overall effectiveness.

Abbott Dear Doctor postcard

Each card began with the salutation, “Dear Doctor, ” except for several versions sent to non-doctors that omitted this greeting and just had the message. The pictures on the cards displayed local scenes portraying the place, culture, or people of the particular country it was mailed from. The entertaining message on the back was written in a friendly tone, and never forgot to plug their prized product—an intravenous anesthetic by the name of Pentothal. This drug, by the way, is still used today not only for its anaesthetic effects, but also in some places for its truth serum properties!

Abbott Dear Doctor postcard

It is a bit of a mystery how this novel idea originated. In an article by Daniel Friedman, one Abbott employee, Dean Carson, was quoted saying, “I just came up with this idea and they said it was fine.” Others speculate it was either the Abbott advertising executive, Tom Bird or Charless Hahn, the Chicago Sun Times stamp editor, who had previously collaborated on a magazine together advertising Abbott products to doctors in Latin America.

Whoever actually invented this genius marketing method back then probably didn’t fully realize the extent of popularity these postcards possess among present-day collectors. In September 2012, a bunch of Dear Doctor postcards were sold on eBay raking in hundreds of dollars for each card—the record price was $298!

Impressive, isn’t it?

By the way, the photos that illustrate this post come from the collection of Tom Fortunato, who graciously allowed us to use them. Tom runs, a website for Dear Doctor postcard collectors – check it out!


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Since picture postcards were first created, they have been instrumental in documenting a locality’s history. Dating from 1905–1950, exaggerated and tall-tale postcards originated from the pioneer bravado of the western expansion and were extremely popular in the Great Plains and rural communities hoping to form an identity for themselves as a place of agricultural wealth.

Exaggeration and Tall-Tale Postcards

These postcards promoted agrarian and wildlife benefits to a public that was aware of the exaggerations, and were used to facetiously advertise the products and unique aspects of a region. The common theme among the postcards was immensity; fishing, hunting and riding oversized animals, harvesting gigantic fruits and vegetables, or wheeling in massive sheaves.

While exaggeration postcards illustrated an object of disproportionate size, the tall-tale postcard added a caption, bringing the whole scene to life with anecdotal referential humor. The most well-know creators of these cards were Alfred Stanley Johnson, Jr., and William H. Martin. They created their masterpieces using trick photography, usually taking two black and white pictures, one a wide shot and the other a close-up. The enlarged close-up image was then cut and glued over the wide shot to create the embellished result.

Titles such as “Great Sport Fishing Here” and “Harvesting a profitable crop of onions in Kansas” helped further the intent of the image. Other designers painted their unlikely scenes or used a combination of photography and painting (an early day exercise in Photoshopping!).

Exaggeration and Tall-Tale Postcards

Larger than Life: The American Tall Tale Postcard, 1905–1915 by Morgan Williams is a great volume on the exaggeration postcard, capturing “many facets of life in turn-of-the-century, small-town America and vividly bears witness to a unique form of creativity.” To check out more of legend William H. Martin’s work, visit

By the way, all the images illustrating this blog post come from Brenda’s wonderful collection – check out her website for many more!


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Since Halloween is just around the corner, we decided it was time to tell you a bit more about this popular holiday – and the postcards that used to be sent around this time of the year :)

Halloween originated from Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival celebrating the season change from summer to winter. This night was allegedly filled with magic and spirits. Demons and ghosts were allowed to roam the Earth on this night, so people wore strange outfits and scary costumes in order to trick the spirits and frighten them away.

Vintage Halloween Postcards

The Catholic Church then adapted this pagan tradition into All Saints’ Day; the night before was called, “All hallows’ evening, ” or “Hallow e’en”. Irish immigrants rekindled interest in this celebration in America, with door-to-door visits, masquerades, and the jack o’lantern (based on a myth about a soul trapped on Earth, only given the burning embers of hell for guidance). It was the Victorians who eventually brought the Halloween traditions of England and America together, making it a refined holiday involving child’s play, romance, and parlor games.

When postcards emerged in the late 1800s, sending a holiday postcard was an inexpensive way to send your greetings. Early Halloween postcards featured cute, chubby traditional Halloween symbols- like jack o’lanterns, black cats, and children in costumes. Witches were often portrayed as very beautiful women sending messages of romance and amour. Other cards featured people bobbing for apples, predicting who they might marry, and playing games of chance. Some cards had accompanying verses like, “On Halloween, Goblins have been known to fly away with Fair Maidens. Therefore ‘tis best to have some one hold you and tightly, too—because Goblins are strong."

Vintage Halloween Postcards Vintage Halloween Postcards

The peak of the Halloween postcard trend lasted roughly until 1918. Approximately 3,500 images were produced during that time. Cards did not begin depicting the tradition of trick-or-treating until the 1930s; one of the only indications that trick-or-treating did not become a widespread practice until then.

Vintage Halloween postcards are highly collected and some of the hardest to find. Original Edwardian postcards are especially rare, and can be distinguished from the spelling of the holiday “Hallowe’en.” Prices for these postcards range from $20-$600, depending on the condition of the card and how rare it is.

Vintage Halloween Postcards Vintage Halloween Postcards

Check out these and more great vintage Halloween postcards available through Flickr Commons!


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