One of the most fascinating but little-known treasures of the San Joaquin County Historical Museum may be its collection of historic postcards. The scenes they depict range from the mundane to the bizarre. Starting the first week of March, visitors can catch glimpses into this rich collection of local resources when the Museum opens an exhibit based on its own holdings.
Today, postcard collecting is the third most popular hobby in the world. Postcards capture moments that remind us of places, people, and events. Sometimes they are the only existing images of buildings and locations that are long forgotten.
The U.S. Postal Service issued the first pre-stamped postcard in 1873. This was the only postcard at that time that could be sent in the mail. In 1898, the U.S. Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, which gave private companies permission to produce postcards. Congress required these cards to include the printed words "Private Mailing Card" on the back. Blank areas on the front were reserved for writing messages; addresses went on the back.
Postcards with divided backs were introduced in 1907. From then on, senders could use the back for both the address and the message. At the same time, "real photo" postcards appeared. These changes increased the popularity of postcards, which purchasers started to save in picture albums.
Until 1915, German printers dominated the postcard industry, However, when World War I broke out production moved to the United States. The new wave of postcards had a white border to save ink and detailed picture descriptions on the back.
From 1930 until 1944, cotton paper was used to print postcards, thus giving them the look of linen cloth. In 1939, Union Oil Company introduced the first photochrome postcards. The images on the front of these closely resembled real photographs and are the kind we purchase today.