Postcard Greetings from on the road

Postkarte
Holiday greetings around the world: between countries that had joined the “Universal Postal Union”, you could send pictures back and forth for little money. | Photo (detail): Christian Deflandre © Musée de la Carte Postale

Did you know that the first postcard in the world came from Vienna? It was not yet illustrated. That someday people would be able to send postcards with pictures of their vacation spots we owe to inventions from France and Germany.

The birth of the postcard can be dated quite accurately, namely to the year 1869. At that time, an economist in Vienna put the first specimen into circulation. After that, it took about twenty more years for the illustrated postcard as we know it today to spread.

Among others, it was French and Germans who developed this wonderful means of communication and eventually spread postcards throughout the world. The heyday of the postcard was between 1900 and 1914.
 
Christian Deflandre, the founder and director of the Postcard Museum in Antibes, tells us the story of this European cultural heritage, which still sends our best holiday experiences from on the road. The postcards presented in this picture gallery are part of the exhibition of the Postcard Museum in Antibes.
 

  • The first postcard was put into circulation in Vienna (then the capital of Austria-Hungary). Photo (detail): Christian Deflandre © Musée de la Carte Postale
    The birth of the postcard

    On 1 October 1869, after two years of wavering, the first postcard was put into circulation in Vienna (then the capital of Austria-Hungary). Undersecretary Emanuel Herrmann signed the order authorizing “the open transport at a reduced price of a correspondence equivalent to a conventional letter”. In the following years, other postmasters adopted the principle of the postcard, first in the countries neighbouring Austria-Hungary and later around the world. These postcards were not yet illustrated.
  • The first postcards illustrated with drawings or photographs appeared around 1890. Photo (detail): Christian Deflandre © Musée de la Carte Postale
    The first illustrated postcards

    The first postcards illustrated with drawings or photographs appeared around 1890; we see here the development of the technique of photoengraving (printed in oily colours on a gelatine layer). Illustrated postcards spread thanks to large luxury hotels, which offered postcards of their establishment – free advertising for them. Shortly thereafter, postcards experienced a huge success worldwide. One reason they were very popular was that in newspapers and other print products of the time there were very few photos; photography was reserved to professional photographers.
  • German printers optimized the use of chromolithography. Photo (detail): Christian Deflandre © Musée de la Carte Postale
    The contribution of Germans and Frenchmen

    The postcard then underwent two major developments in Germany and France on the way to today’s picture postcard: German printers optimized the use of chromolithography, a technique of colour printing; and in France the process of photoengraving (seen in the next picture) enabled bulk production in excellent quality.
  • An international medium of communication Photo (detail): Christian Deflandre © Musée de la Carte Postale
    An international medium of communication

    Many countries that joined the “Universal Postal Union” were now able to send and receive pictures from around the world at little cost. Of course, every country showed itself from its sunny side - to attract tourists and travelers of all kinds.
  • Postcards were also used for religious, political and advertising purposes. Photo (detail): Christian Deflandre © Musée de la Carte Postale
    Different uses

    In addition, postcards were also used for religious, political and advertising purposes. In this picture, for example, we see a small ad, written by a postcard collector.
  • The postcard, a world heritage Photo (detail): Christian Deflandre © Musée de la Carte Postale
    The postcard, a world heritage

    Postcards not only reveal the most important historical developments of their time, they also represent a real iconographic treasure for the study everyday life before 1914. With all these snapshots, we can use the postcards to discover a whole universe: field work and handicrafts – activities that have almost disappeared today – but also religious and civic festivals, sporting events and much more.
  • Many artists of the Belle Époque used postcards to make themselves known to a wider audience. Photo (detail): Christian Deflandre © Musée de la Carte Postale
    Zeitgeist per postcard

    At the same time, the illustrations of postcards show both the mentality of the artists and the zeitgeist of the respective epoch. How did people live? What worried them? What did they want? What were their dreams? Many artists of the Belle Époque used postcards to make themselves known to a wider audience. This picture shows a section of a postcard in the modern style.
Art, Literature und Language

A contribution from France

with relation to Austria,
Germany