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The period between 1905 and 1915 is considered the golden age of postcards in America. Their one-penny price made them an attractive medium for communication, and the number of subjects they embraced made them collectable. Moreover the photographic postcard allowed for production of cards with local or special interest subjects. In fact, it was common for individuals to have their family snapshots printed on postcard stock.

Technically there are two kinds of cards: government or commercially printed--the former a postal card with a printed stamp; the latter a post card, either blank or printed in a number of designs, to which a stamp must be affixed. In many instances, however, both are lumped together as "postcards." Use of government postal cards dates from 1873. In 1893 business successfully petitioned the government to end its monopoly and extend recognition to commercially manufactured cards. Privately printed picture postcards cost the same to mail as government cards, but the scene occupying one complete face of the picture card and the space for address on the other leaves less than half of one side for a message.

In Nebraska State Historical Society collections are dozens of categories of picture cards, most of them with a Nebraska connection: vistas, buildings, wildlife, agricultural products, transportation, famous persons, sports, calendars, and humor. Many are multi-colored, some exquisitely printed; others are sepia-toned or black and white.

The presidential campaign of 1908, which pitted Republican William Howard Taft against Democrat William Jennings Bryan, involved the extensive use of postcards as a political advertising medium. No other presidential campaign generated such a large number of politically oriented cards, which can be divided into two types based on technology. The first consists of photographs of candidates campaigning or posing for the camera, with a minimum of retouching. The second type consists of cartoons or of combinations of photographs and other graphics. One striking example of this second type is a card depicting the candidates at exercise: a cartoon Bryan is industriously raking hay while Taft takes his exercise on the golf course.

The year 1908, too, was the zenith of the era of humorous postcards, which declined dramatically between 1910 and 1914. New means of communication were reducing the popularity of the penny postcard, although it did not increase from the traditional price until January 1, 1952.

(February 2000)



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