Until the middle of the 19th century, people around the world mailed messages to each other via the privacy of sealed letters. The direct ancestor of the picture postcard seems to be the envelopes printed with pictures on them. The envelopes were often printed with pictures of comics, valentines, New Years and Christmas. Thousands of patriotic pictures appeared on United States envelopes during the Civil War period of 1861-1865, these are now known as Patriotic Covers. This beginning of decorative items to be mailed led to the development of the picture postcard.
The early mass-printed postcards had no pictures on them. They were designed to carry a stamp and the “mail to” address on one side. The other side was used for the sender’s message. In 1861 (in Philadelphia, U.S.), John P. Charlton obtained a copyright on a private postal card in 1861. However, his patent application was declined. Charlton sold his copyright to H. L. Lipman, who produced and sold the Lipman’s Postal Card. It was a non-pictorial message card with a stamp box and address line on one side and a blank message space on the other. Advertisers used Lipman cards to print messages and illustrations. He is considered the father of the modern postcard. These cards were used until 1873 when the United States issued the government postal card.
A similar card was used in Belgium in 1864. In 1865, Dr. Heinrich von Stephan, from Germany, proposed the postal card while attending the Austro-German Postal Conference. His idea was rejected. A few years later, Dr. Emanuel Hermann of Vienna (an economics professor), proposed the postcard again, this time greatly impressing the Austrian Post Office. On October 1, 1869, the world’s first government postal card was born. Austria sold these postal cards, with imprinted stamp, that were called Correspondenz Karte. During the first three months after being issued, nearly 3 million cards were sold. This great success led to other countries to join in. Germany followed in July, 1870. The United Kingdom joined in October 1870. Many other countries in Europe and Canada introduced official postal cards 1871-1873. The United States postal service embraced the postal card in June 8, 1872. However, it wasn’t until an agreement reached at the first Postal Congress that allowed postal cards to be sent internationally, which took effect July 1, 1875.
It should be noted here that the above mentioned cards were all government postal cards that were printed with no pictures on them. The purchaser of these cards printed and even illustrated the messages, they were not commercially produced picture postcards. Those cards were called pioneers.
The world’s oldest picture postcard is a unique hand-colored card that was mailed in 1940 from the United States to London (addressed to a playwright and novelist by the name Theodore Hook) It caricatures the postal service by showing post office “scribes” sitting around a large inkwell. This postcard was auctioned in the UK in 2002 for about 50,000 USD (including sales tax and commission).
The first printed advertising card appeared in 1872 in Great Britain. The first German card appeared in 1874. In the United States, the earliest known exposition card appeared in 1873, showing the main building of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition in Chicago. This card as well as other early advertising cards, usually bearing vignette designs, were not originally intended for souvenirs.
One of the earliest printed and postally used souvenir picture postcard was posted in Vienna in May 1871 [see Ref.1, p. 51]. Cards showing the Eiffel Tower in 1889 & 1890 gave impetus to the picture postcard heyday a decade later. Heligoland cards of 1889 are considered to be the first multi-colored cards ever printed. In the United States, the first card printed with the intention for use as souvenir (postal cards) were the cards placed on sale in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The following picture depict an early German multiview picture postcard, posted in Wartburg in September 13, 1887 and mailed to Buffalo, N.Y.
Here is another example of a USA multiview picture postcard, posted in Baltimore, M.D. in October 22, 1898:
Starting in 1898, American publishers were allowed to print and sell cards bearing the inscription, “Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress on May 19, 1898”. These private mailing cards were to be posted with one-cent stamps (the same rate a government postals). This was perhaps the most significant event to enhance the use of private postals. As with government postal cards and previous pioneer cards, writing was still reserved for the front (picture side) of the cards only.
In 1901, the U.S. Government granted the use of the words “Post Card” to be printed on the undivided back of privately printed cards and allowed publishers to drop the authorization inscription previously required. As in earlier eras, writing was still limited to the front. However, during this time, other countries began to permit the use of a divided back. This enabled the front to be used exclusively for the design, while the back was divided so that the left side was for writing messages and the right side for the address. England was the first to permit the divided back in 1902, France followed in 1904, Germany in 1905 and finally the U.S. in 1907. These changes ushered in the “Golden Age” of postcards as millions were sold and used.
By this period, divided backs were almost universal, except in a few monopolistic governments. Previous to and during this period, a majority of U.S. postcards were printed in Europe, especially in Germany whose printing methods were regarded as the best in the world. However the trying years of this period, the rising import tariffs and the threats of war, caused a swift decline in the cards imported. The advent of WWI caused the supply of postcards from Germany to end. Poorer quality postcards came from English and U.S. publishers. The lowered quality of the printed postcard, recurrent influenza epidemics, and WWI war shortages killed the American postcard hobby. During the war years the telephone replaced the postcard as a fast, reliable means to keep in touch. Thus the political strains of the day brought about the end of the “Golden Age”.
Early Postcards of the Lebanon3
Between 1780 and 1840, the Orient became a source of literary, cultural and artistic inspiration for the west. Early 19th century tourists and pilgrims, on returning from their voyage would buy engravings, to show their friends at home. The Lebanon was at first a stopping-place on the way to the Holy Land. The few engravings of the Lebanon which accompany the narratives of early travelers tended to deal exclusively with Baalbeck, Sidon, or Tyre. Beirut inspired only passing interest. Engravings gave way to photographs in the 1840’s through the 1890’s, which began to change the criteria for pictorial representation of the Orient. As early as 1839, Frederic Goupil Fesquet took a picture of Beirut which appeared in the “Excursions Daguerriennes,” published in France about ten years after Beirut had become a fully-fledged port. In the mid1950’s a few professional photographers had set up permanent shop in the Near East. Thus Leeuw, Charlier, Dumas and Bonfils were eventually able to offer travelers a selection of several hundred photographs, in their Beirut studios. Towards the end of the 19th century, the mass production of small portable cameras and the appearance of the picture postcard had spelled the end of a period of prosperity for the photographers of Beirut.
By the late part of the 1990’s, Egypt and the Near East were receiving their first batches of “Gruss aus …” postcard, bearing views of Cairo, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Beirut, etc. The clientele was scant, because of the very high prices of those postcards. As a result, only a relatively limited number were sent from the Lebanon. However, the development of new printing techniques in the early 1900’s soon made cheaper picture postcards available to the public. The old-style photographers, antique dealers, the foreign post offices, and even hotel-keepers became publishers of picture postcards. The early postcards published were reproductions of photographs by Bonfils or Dumas taken over the period of the preceding two decades. However, those postcards were soon followed by ones depicting fresh multifaceted pictures* taken by local photographers/postcard publishers. This was the first golden age for postcards of the Lebanon which lasted till the beginning of the first world war.
There were dozens of publishers in the first golden age of the Postcard in the Lebanon: Bonfils, Charlier Bezies, Derviche, Andre Terzis et Fils, Dimitri Tarazi et Fils, Habib Naaman, George Assir, Dimitri Habis, Michel Corm & Cie, the French Post Office, and, last but not least, Sarrafian Bros. Born in Diarbekir in 1873, Abraham Sarrafian came to Beirut on 1897 after learning photography from the Protostant missionaries in his native town, and subsequently during a stay in Berlin. He founded the firm of Sarrafian Bros with his brothers Boghos and Samuel. In thirty years, this firm published more than a quarter of the postcards published in the Lebanon and covered countries as far as Libya, Yemen and Turkey.
The second golden age for the postcard in the Lebanon came after the end of the first world war. The influx of foreign troops to the region (the Levant), breathed new life into the postcard trade which had lost steam during the conflict. Sufficient numbers had to be published to supply cards for the ever increasing correspondence between the occupying troops and their families. New generations of publishers sprang up: Amalberti, Ouzounian et Kehyayan, Mahe’, Mann, Hissarian, Jean Torossian, L. Ferid and many others. Some of these were established in France, such as L. L., or Deychamps-Beziers. Though their quality was inferior to that of the first golden age productions, these new postcards nevertheless are a precious memorial of the Lebanon. The Beirut of the 1920s and the French Mandate is shown by them: barracks, urban development, new architecture, and main roads named after recent events or modern leaders.
1. The Picture Postcard & Its Origins. Frank Staff (New York: F.A. Praeger).
2. Pioneer Post Cards: The Story of Mailing Cards to 1898. Jefferson Burdick (New York: Nostalgia Press).
3. Beirut: Our Memory, A guided tour illustrated with picture postcards, 2nd edition, Fouad C. Debbas, 1986, Folios, Beirut – Lebanon.
*By virtue of a decision of the Council of Ministers of November 14, 1900, an Imperial decree by the Sublime Porte forbade the introduction into, or sale in, the Ottoman Empire, of postcards bearing the names of God and his prophet Mohammed, any pictures of the Kaaba, or anything related to Mecca or other Islamic religious buildings. The police in Constantinople seized all such cards found in shops and in the possession of salesmen of Turkish nationality, and bought up all they could find in the possession of foreigners.