The Postal Craze 1902

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There is an interesting article written by Julian Ralph originally published in Cosmopolitan in 1902, now reproduced on the website.  Julian Ralph, appears to be working in Germany and though he writes as if he has knowledge of  postcards and people throughout Europe with hindsight you realise that he has based his article on a visit to Germany though it still makes very interesting reading.

At the time the article was written the USA had little influence on world events dominance resting with Germany, France and Britain and Great Britain being the super power of the time.  Europe was becoming uncomfortable with Germany exercising its muscles and France and Great Britain becoming allies.  The US would have been interested in much that was happening in this part of Europe including fashion, manufacturing and trade.

Ralph gives the impression that Germany is the centre of the postcard craze, in some respects he may be right as the Germans did, up to the start of WWI, appear to be postcard printers to the world.  The German printing technology does appear to have been of a superior standard and quality at this time.  During and after WWI, until the RP began to dominate the postcard market postcard printing from all but a few UK printers was of a poor quality.

Ralph dismisses the French and English as bit players in collecting postcards during what was to become known in Europe as the Golden Age and does cause you to question his accuracy in reporting this craze as we now know that the French are the world’s most avid nation of postcard collectors then and now.  An article I read some years ago told of a French Woman in the early 1900s who received an average of 100 postcards a day.

It is estimated that some seven trillion postcards were printed between 1900 and 1914 worldwide and it is estimated that some one trillion survive.  I am not sure when the postcard craze arrived in the US, probably within a short time of this article being printed. 

What is interesting is that Ralph reports not that topographical postcards are the most popular but many of the postcards that hold little value today: the pretty girl cards, flowers, art cards etc.  He attributes the Germans with a sense of humour that comes as a surprise as he praises their comic postcards.  I cannot recall ever having sold a German Comic Postcard -- perhaps I would not have recognised it.

Ralph has a flash of inspiration or foresight as he recognises the world’s interest in postcards depicting ordinary people and poverty, street scenes and trades, he notes that no matter where you are in the world the poor all look the same again a surprise when America’s cry to the rest of the world was “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses .”  Had he never seen those poor huddled masses on  Ellis Island, many of them the same people he saw and could see in Germany, England, Italy and many other European Nations.

We are also offered a flash of puritanical America as Ralph questions European standards and though he does not condemn us poor Europeans for our vulgar sense of humour it is what he leaves out of the article that speaks a thousand words.  It was about this time that the US Post Office refused some British Seaside Saucy Postcards.

He also appears surprised that anyone has heard of the United States of America and mentions a US President whose Act had a profound affect on the antiques and collectables markets of today -- President McKinley.  Ralph discovers a postcard of McKinley and another postcard depicting accurately the US flag.  Today he might find it difficult to find these postcards as someone somewhere will be burning them.

What I have seen of early postcard collections at least 60% of the collection was received from family and friends the remainder being purchased when on holiday, most collections being started by young women with boyfriends and maintained throughout their life and on occasion added to by children after their parent’s death.  Ralph complains that with the price of postcards being between a cent and 12 cents it makes starting a collection very expensive and seems to have missed the point that these collections were a collection of memories and not an investment.

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