Serious collectors of United States postcards call their hobby Deltiolgy. The term Deltriogy (del·ti·ol·o·gy) is from the Greek words meaning "small picture" and "knowledge". The number of people who collect Postcards is only surpassed by the number of people who collect coins and stamps.
The first American postal service was established in the colony of Massachusetts in 1639. In 1775 the Continental Congress resolved to have a postal system of its own. When a postal service was authorized by Congress in 1789 under the U.S. Constitution, the nation had only 75 local post offices. The introduction of adhesive stamps in 1847 greatly simplified post office operations and rural delivery service was established in 1896. The predecessor of postcards seems to be the envelopes printed with pictures on them. By 1873 United States postal cards and privately printed cards started to appear. During this period all privately printed Postal cards required the regular two cent letter rate postage and the government printed Postal Cards required one cent.
Vintage One Cent Postal Cards
Private Mailing Card Era, 1898-1901
American Postcard publishers were allowed to print and sell postcards bearing the inscription, "Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress on May 19, 1898". These private mailing cards used one cent stamps which was the same rate a government postcards. However, writing was still reserved for the frontof the cards only.
Undivided Back Era, 1901-1907
In 1901, the United States Postal Service granted the use of the words "Post Card" on the undivided back of privately printed cards. Writing was still limited to the front. These changes ushered in the "Golden Age" of postcards as millions were sold and used.
Divided Back Era, 1907-1915
During "Undivided Back Era, 1901-1907" other countries began to permit the use of a divided back on their postcards. This enabled the front to be used exclusively for the image or design, while the back was divided so that the left side was for writing messages and the right side for the address. From 1901 to 1915 a majority of U.S. postcards were printed in Europe, especially in Germany whose printing methods were regarded as the best in the world. However, tariffs and the threats of war, caused a slow decline in the postcard imports and brought about the end of the "Golden Age" of postcards.
White Border Era, 1916-1930
In the years leading up to World War 1 German printers dominated the postcard printing market. But, during and after World War 1 most postcards were supplied by United States printers. The public's appeal changed and postcard publication declined due to the poor quality.
The cards of this era were described in more detail on the back and usually printed with white borders around the picture, thus the term "White Border Cards".
Linen Era, 1930-1944
A change in printing technology enabled publishers to print cards on a linen type paper stock with very bright and vivid colors. Among the best postcards of this time period are the political humor cards of World War II. Most linen postcards retained the white border, but some postcards were printed to the edge of the card. The back remained a divided back.
Photochrome Era, 1939-present
Modern Photochrome style postcards first appeared in 1939 with the Union Oil Company carrying them in their service stations. Photochromes are commonly called "Modern Chromes", are still the most popular cards today. The photochrome postcards are in color, are the closest to real photographs, and are the ones most familiar to us today.
Postcards continue today to be the most popular form of travel souvenirs as well as reasonably priced means of personal and business related communication.