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Migratory worker on the Norfolk-Cape Charles Ferry, writing a postcard home to his parents. Photo by Jack Delano, July 1940.

Of Postcards and Postage

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I love postcards. I send them, collect them, and even make them. In my latest Flickr album, You’ve Got Mail, I included a 1939 photo of what was described as the “largest postcard ever sent through the mail.” A regular postcard cost one cent to mail in that year.

Huge postcard sent Minnesota Senator. Washington, D.C. Photo by Harris & Ewing, May 2, 1939.

I spot an interesting error in the original caption for the photo. It states that “it took $1.50 in stamps to carry the card.” Being a stamp nerd, I wanted to get a closer look at the postage on the card. This was possible because of the high-resolution scan made from the original glass negative. Look at all the postage in the upper right corner of the postcard! When zooming in on the TIFF, I saw that at least two different stamps were used to send the card. I could make out the stamp on the right as the 1939 New York World’s Fair 3-cent stamp:

1939 New York World’s Fair stamp from Jan Grenci’s childhood collection.


There are fifty of that stamp on the card, which alone amounts to $1.50 in postage. But there are 100 other stamps on the card to the left of the Trylon and Perisphere. I can’t see those stamps clearly enough to identify them, but from what I can see, I suspect that they could be from the presidential series of stamps first issued in 1938. But there were over twenty denominations in that series, and I can’t see the stamp clearly enough to determine which one it is:

1938 Presidential stamp series from Jan Grenci’s childhood collection.

We may never know just how much postage was needed to mail the postcard.

It seems to me that mailing postcards, large or regular-sized, is on its way to becoming a lost art.

This was not the case in the early 20th century. Communicating with family and friends via postcards was extremely popular. In this 1906 Detroit Publishing Company photo taken in the Michigan resort town of Petoskey, I spot four separate displays of postcards. On one, the cards are advertised as 2 for 5 cents:

The Midway, Petoskey, Mich. Photo by Detroit Publishing Company, copyright 1906.

That price is beaten by this newsstand in New Orleans, where cards are 3 for a nickel, or 15 cents for a dozen!

Smallest news & post card stand in New Orleans, La., 103 Royal Street. Photo by Detroit Publishing Company, between 1900 and 1915.

I wish I could find a shop like this today. There must be thousands of cards for sale at this Cincinnati establishment:

Jas. K. Stewart’s post card shop, Cincinnati, O[hio]. Photo by Detroit Publishing Company, between 1890 and 1910.
Postcards were still popular in the 1930s as you can see in this photo from San Juan:

Postcards for sale near the market. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Edwin Rosskam, December 1937.

The young lady at this patriotically decorated stand has a number of postcards for sale, presumably of the mining activities in and around Hibbing, Minnesota:

Girl who sells pieces of ore and iron range souvenirs to tourists. Hibbing, Minnesota. Photo by John Vachon, August 1941.

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Comments (3)

  1. Leave it to the Minneapolis Substitute Committee of the National Federation of Post Office Clerks to make their case for sick leave and vacation by sending a giant postcard. I presume postal clerks would add the correct postage, although it’s weird that they didn’t use fewer higher denomination stamps or just mark it postage paid. So many three-cent stamps to lick!
    It also made me think of Public Radio’s Car Talk Guys who were always soliciting entries to their puzzle contest with instructions to mail the answer on the back of a $20 bill, a watermelon, a telescope, or some other silly “un-postcard.”

  2. It might be a long shot, but check with the archival repository that holds Senator Ernest Lundeen’s papers. They might still have the giant postcard!
    The Hoover Institute of War, Revolution, and Peace, in Stanford, CA.

  3. This was a fun blog post! Thanks!

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