History of Large Letter Linen Postcards
In many ways the history of large letter postcards mirrors the history of postcards in general in the twentieth century. Postcards with views of a particular city, town or tourist attraction inside large letters that spell out the name of the location evolved from turn-of-the-cenury greeting cards with black and white images of women's (or babies' faces) that spelled out a woman's name or the year. The use of views of a city or town was the next logical step in the evolution of the card. The large letters spelling out the name of the city or town were usually preceeded with "Greetings from . . ."
1902-1907 Front Message Space Cards
The first large letter postcards date from about 1901 and the overall appearance of these cards was that of black and white photo montages or hand-drawn images in the letters against a black background. Some of these images were hand-tinted and, in later years, the orignal artwork was hand-colored and color separations made. There was also an area on the front of the card, usually very small, where a message could be written, since writing on the back of the card was prohibited. The back of these cards had areas designated for the stamp and address only and usually carried a note to the effect that "THIS SIDE IS FOR THE ADDRESS." The card back of the card itself also had to be designated by the words "POST CARD" and were usually printed in large ornate letters at the top.
1907-1915 Divided Back Cards
On March 1, 1907 the U.S. Post Office granted printers the right to divide the backs of postcards into one half for stamp and address and the other for a message. It was during this era that postcards reached their peak in popularity. Official figures from the Post Office for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1908, cite 677,777,798 postcards mailed. But the shortages of World War I and eventually the Depression took there toll on postcard production.
1915-1931 White Border Cards
The advent of World War I caused shortages and cutbacks in production. The most notable impact on postcards in general (and identifying hallmark of this era) was the use of a white border around the edge of the card during this period to prevent wasting ink and paper with full bleeds. The use of white borders continued through the Depression and World War II, so that it wasn't until 1946 that use of borders began to diminish, though it was a cost-saving technique that would never be completely abandoned.
1931-1936 Black Cards
The use of paper with a high rag content, or "linen" cards, and bright dyes gave way to more colorful cards. But the backgounds of large letter cards during the early years of linen remained the traditional black that was thought necessary to make the images within the letters stand out. It was during this period that color was added to the cards through lithographic process rather than by individual hand-tinting.
1935-1937 Early Blue Cards with Three-Dimensional Lettering
Around 1935 cards appeared with three-dimensional letters and with backgrounds other than black. The backgounds during this period were predominantly blue, or more accurately, the dark cyan favored during the latter part of the art deco era, with red and yellow airbrushed highlights. Hand-drawn artwork also began to appear in backgrounds.
1938-1942 Blue Cards with Red & Yellow Highlights
It was during this period that large letter postcards reached their peak in popularity. In 1939, the Curt Teich company, the biggest postcard printer of the day, produced a 128 new large letter designs, for a total of 306 since 1931. Actual photographic images began to appear in the backgrounds and had an equal amount of red and yellow airbrushed highlights, as well as the still predominant blue.
1942-1956 Bright Multi-Colored Background Cards
Cards form this latter period had, for the most part, as much artwork in the background, outside the lettering, as inside. The extrusion of the three-dimensional lettering gave it enough definition that the place name was still very readable.The cards during this period are the most colorful. In fact, large letter cards were so closely associated with the process of printing brightly-colored dyes on linen paper that their popularity waned as this printing process did. The introduction of real-photo or "chrome" cards made the linen cards, as well as the large letter format itself, appear old-fashioned and outdated. Although they began waning in the late 40s, linen cards didn't completely disappear until the mid 50s. The large letter format continued through the 70s, and in fact continues to the present day in slightly different forms.
(c) 1997 Jeff Vorzimmer. All rights reserved.