Why do we care about old real photo post cards? If you inherited old family photos, you may have only one or two postcard photos in your collection. Old real photo postcards are not the same as cabinet cards. Cabinet cards were more expensive and were manufactured earlier than photo postcards. Photo postcards first became popular in the late 1890s to 1900.
If you’re not familiar with the markings on real photo postcards, then you’ll want to go get one of these pictures and follow along here on how to determine the age of your old real photo postcard.
How to Determine the Age of Old Real Photo Postcards
Your photo postcard will have printed markings on the back. This will give clues so you can identify the age of the photo. The stamp markings will indicate the manufacturer of the paper that the photo was printed on. These companies created different designs, like pottery companies, which makes it easier to identify the eras they were manufactured.
Dating your photo postcard won’t be necessary if your ancestor accurately marked the photo with a date and names. Often times, that is not the case! I have a photo shown here that is in an old family album. Although it seems to have some prominence in the album, it has no identification.
Why you should research and date your real photo postcard
Photo postcard’s have two main components. They are the photographic image and the paper it was printed on. A professional photographer took the photo and then sent the printed image out to have it printed on postcard paper by a different company. Here’s a good website to read more about “How to Identify and Date Real Photo Postcards” at Playle.com
Being able to correctly date a photo postcard may help you put a name to the photo. If you are able to narrow down an approximate date of the photo, you can probably use the process of elimination. You’ll know who it CAN’T be.
Photo postcard markings, trademarks and other indicators
In the photo above, you’ll see some markings on the backside of the postcard.
A. “Place Stamp Here”. I didn’t think much of this until I started researching postcards. It’s not just a pretty design. The pre-printed stamp border actually says “AZO” which is the company that made the paper.
The corners are also very important. There is one triangle in each corner and they all point UP. Using the guide at Playle.com, I determined that this card was printed between 1904-1918.
B. The professional photographer’s name and city is stamped on the left side. This is a huge bonus because with a little research in the city directory, I may be able to narrow down the year of this photo. In this case, this photographer worked in St. Paul from 1894-1926.
C. Around March of 1907, postcards were made with divided backs like the one I show above. The right side was for the address. The left side was for a short note. In this postcard example, I can squeeze off three years at the beginning of the stamp date range (in example A) from 1904 to rather 1907.
D. The photograph on the front of the postcard has a couple clues. The photograph is a REAL photo. When I look through a magnifying glass at the photo, it is a solid print image without any dots. This means that it is not a reprint but an actual photograph. This adds to the authenticity.
There is a white border around the photo image above. The earlier images on the front of postcards did not have a border and the image went to the edge of the paper. SportsCollectorsDaily.com says white borders were introduced around 1915. If this is accurate, my photo postcard may now date from 1915-1918!
For more about postcard eras, read “How to Date Real Photo Postcards” at SportsCollectorsDaily.com
Things to remember about old real photo postcards
Photo postcards weren’t always marked with name or dates but there are markings on them that can indicate a range of years that they were produced.
You can compare the date range clues to your knowledge what you already may know about the photo and use that to narrow down identification or eliminate who it may not be.
There are a few other ways to guess year or ID. One is to pay attention to any props, clothing, or background items that may give a hint as to the person in the photo.
In the example photo from my album, the man is holding what looks to be a real bear cub. That’s pretty unique. The hat may indicate a certain style of a particular era.
Make good notes and make good copies
I have more work to do, but all these clues make me excited to narrow down who the man in the photo might be.
Make quality copies of the FRONT and BACK of your old photo postcards. Give them descriptive names in your digital files. I’ll leave a note in the album next to this photo postcard that details the clues I’ve already discovered. This is for whomever inherits the album from me and also for myself so I remember all the work I’ve already done.
For more about how to make quick and easy copies (more is better) see my post on How to Copy Old Photos with Your Phone.