A hundred years ago, postcards helped keep folks in touch just as email does today. The idea is the same but the postcards are more enduring. Sometimes, they’re quite beautiful too.
Farm folks in particular, perhaps because of their often-isolated farmsteads, came to rely on postcards for a quick ‘hello.’ As a consequence, manufacturers of all things rural soon discovered that postcards were an effective way to advertise.
Today, antique picture postcards and trade cards that feature farming and farm equipment remain an important link to our collective rural past.
Trade or advertising cards were printed by the thousands from the 1870s through the early 1900s, and given away over the counter by storekeepers and at such public events as fairs. Their most important attribute is their outstanding colors, which resulted from a recently perfected printing process of that time.
Picture postcards debuted at the 1893-94 Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago, paving the way for the ‘Golden Age’ of postcards, which ran roughly from 1905 to 1915. During this same period, tremendous improvements began to be made to farm equipment. The changes can be documented on postcards from that time right through the present day. The heyday of farm trade or advertising cards peaked in the 1940s.
Today, the neat thing for many collectors is that cards popular during their fathers’ and grandfathers’ days on the farm show equipment and scenes of that era.
Some collectors are even lucky enough to find old family postcards among papers stored in their attics. Many a granddad had a pre-World War I Kodak box camera with which he photographed his family, his new car and, of course, his new tractor. And, he may have had his Kodak photos developed onto postcard photo stock, creating unique picture postcards for subsequent generations to collect.
Unlike postcards, which were uniformly 3-1/2 by 5 inches in size, trade cards ran the gamut from 2-by-3-inch salesmen’s business cards to 9-by-12-inch window advertisement cards used by merchants in hardware and general stores.
Generally, though, the little trade cards you’re most likely to find in old books and even in the family Bible are about 3-by-4 inches in size. They’re usually printed on thin paper stock far more delicate than postcards and requiring very careful handling and storage. A safe and easy way to store old postcards of all types is in protective pages in an ordinary three-ring album. Besides the attic, public shows hosted by postcard clubs and dealers are the next best places to find these little gems today. Such events occur regularly in major U.S. cities. Old postcards also can be found for sale on the Internet. Just log in the keywords ‘post card,’ ‘postcard’ or ‘trade cards,’ or go to an auction site. FC
Jim Ward edits the monthly bulletin of the Lancaster County (PA) Postcard Club and publishes The Journal of The Postcard History Society, issued quarterly. Contact him at 1795 Kleinfeltersville Rd., Stevens, PA 17578; (717) 721-9273; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.