The years 1898 through 1918 are known by some as the "Golden Age Of Postcards" in the United States. This Guide will be a brief introduction into what I believe made postcards so wildly popular over these two decades.
US postcards can be separated into two basic groups. First are the cards issued by the United States Post Office with the rate stamp printed on the card. Figure #1 shows an example of the first card issued by USPO in 1873. The rate was 1c to mail the card. In my opinion, it's kind of ugly and somber. One would not expect these to catch on with the collecting public and they haven't. This one has a dunning notice for a library book printed on the back.
Prior to 1898 the USPO charged the 2c letter rate for mailing privately printed picture post cards. An individual might as well write a letter for his or her 2c worth. However, businesses caught on to the vast advertising potential of the 1c government cards. They began to have them imprinted on the reverse with illustrations and advertisements; especially in New York City where the vast majority of commercial artists in the US were plying their trade. These cards are very interesting and can be beautiful works of art but not part of the "Golden Age" per se.
Second are the cards issued by private companies to which a postage stamp must be added for mailing. The sub-group of these that I believe made the era in discussion "Golden" are the German-American "designer" cards. Figure #2 is a classic Christmas Card example from 1911 printed on a glossy coated card stock and embossed with gold leaf. Notice the 1c green Franklin stamp(Scott #331).
At this time in Germany the companies of I.G. Farben were making great advances in coal tar chemistry which is the basis for making printing inks in brilliant rainbow colors. It didn't take long for US companies to realize that the lowering of the private post card rate from 2c to 1c in 1898 would fuel the American Public to what was to become an insatiable appetite for low priced, high quality, massed produced designer postcards.
German companies had patents on the best inks and were the master printers of the world. The US had the greatest consumer market in the world for collectables. US companies imported most of their cards from Germany after sending the designs of uncounted numbers of free-lance artists over there for reproduction. The US companies even sent their most popular designers over to Berlin to work directly with the master engravers of the great German lithographic printers. Berlin produced most of the valentines, postcards and greeting cards sold in America during this time. Figure #3 shows a "designer" card depicting the German- American business relationship during the era.
Then, in 1914, Europe was plunged into war. The conflict caused economic disruption and a breakdown in transportation. As the German chemical companies began converting their plants to war materials the shipments of now "frivilous" picture postcards dried up and ended completely when the US entered the war against Germany. Figure #4 is not a German designer card. I'ts a good old fashioned Made in America patriotic card mailed September 4th, 1918.
Low and behold, the USPO raised the private postcard rate to 2c on November 2, 1917 through July 1, 1919 as a War Tax measure. Notice the 2c red Washington on the reverse. The "Golden Age" had come to a close. One final card:
Happy Easter 1906-2006