Home > Mail Art > Dating Antique & Vintage Postcards

Dating Antique & Vintage Postcards

It’s hard to date antique and vintage postcards: the publishers did not want to date their wares and lose sales on ‘old’ art.  They shied away from copyright dates a majority of the time prior to the 1960s.  The people of prior generations wanted what was new, modern; they were not nostalgic about the past.  From 1880 – 1910 there was mostly illustration, more pastel colors, a lot of gilt ink, raised images.  The nineteen-teens to 1920s, you see a shift from Art Noveau fonts to Art Deco on both the fronts and backs of the post cards.  Around the 1920s the art gets contemporary to the period and more photography appears. Throughout the 1930s there is predominantly a lot of photography postcards that were colored with lithographic plates, often a woven or canvas-like or linen texture to the paper appears and hangs on for a long time.  The colored photography is not absolute; I have a 1913 lithographic colored photograph and have also seen them for various World Fairs.  The 1940s brought a lot of cartoons, gags, risque humor – an overall art style like old MGM cartoons, a style that really held until 1950s.

Also, if you can pin the Series number to a date for a publisher from a mailed card, it will help you with a date range for an un-mailed card.  A higher Series number was printed after that of the mailed post card; a lower Series number was printed prior the the mailed example. The more antique post cards you get that are mailed in your collection and from the same publisher helps you place the rest in context.

A very typical 1930s postcard, a photograph with lithographic coloring:

Late 1930s through end of 1940s – gag and cartoon cards were predominant:

If you have a mailed post card and you cannot read the date stamp, try to see if you can place the stamp itself.  I was able to date one I have to 1938 as the post mark was blurry and uncertain, but the image on the one cent stamp was released that year.  If stamps were released or discontinued, their dates help date the mailed post card.  Sometimes, the senders help me out the most having also written the date on the postcard when they wrote their greeting.  In some cases, they did this if they mailed the post card in an envelope and knew it would not be date stamped.

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