Thursday, June 20, 2013


A postcard is defined as a rectangular piece of thick paper, cardstock, or cardboard, intended for writing and mailing without an envelope. In most instances they can be sent for less than the cost of a letter. Standard postcards measure no less than 3 x 5 inches and no more than 4 x 6 inches. The typical postcard is single-faced, displaying a photo or other artistic image on one side and space for writing and delivery information on the reverse. Postcards have been part of American culture since the inception of the U.S. Postal Service. Their popularity has dwindled but they can still be found at many tourist destinations, drugstores, and in private collections.

Postcard art is varied and ranges from simple greetings and drawings to designs featuring beautiful landscapes and festive holiday motifs. Many artists, illustrators, and photographers have contributed their talents to decorating these now very collectible cards.

One fo the most prolific souvenir/postcard and greeting card artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Ellen Clapsaddle, (1865 - 1934). She was born in New York. As a child she was encouraged to pursue an artistic career. After her elementary education she attended Cooper Union Institute for the Advancement of Science and Art. When she finished college, she moved back with her parents and advertised private painting lessons, starting her career teaching art. In addition, she began creating her own art and soon landed commissions doing portraiture of families in nearby towns.

Clapsaddle gained recognition as a commercial artist after submitting her work to some New York publishers. Many of the illustrations she created as a free-lance artist were used in advertising, on porcelain goods, calendars, paper fans, and trade and greeting cards.

Her greatest accomplishment was seeing her artwork adorn single-faced postcards. She specialized in illustrations specifically for this purpose. Her designs encompassed every holiday and special occasion that we honor today.

During the period of 1898 - 1915, called the "golden age of souvenir postcards", artistic designs were highly coveted because of their marketing potential. Clapsaddle's contributions totalled more than 3000 designs.

Today, postcards are more of a collectors item. My personal collection numbers at 40, post marked between 1908 and 1920, many with original stamps intact. In addition to their collectible value, they are also a window to our history, a tangible still-life of another time.

For some interesting reading on the subject of postcards check out the books below.

1) The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards by Susan Brown NIcholson

2) Postcard Collector by Barbara Andrews

Image at top left Christmas postcard design by Ellen Clapsaddle.

Image at top right New Years postcard from collection of Parker Kaufman

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