Real photo postcards are postcards with genuine photographic images on the fronts. They do not have “ink-and-printing-press” images but are actual photographs on photopaper. They were designed and printed on the backs to be mailed, often having handwritten letters, addresses and postage stamps on the back.
Real photo postcards with baseball subjects are popularly collected by vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors, and prime examples of famous players and teams can fetch big bucks at auction. However, real photo postcards can be found with a wide range of subjects, including other sports, movie stars, politicians, nature and animals. Vintage real photo postcards, including of non-sport subjects, is a major collecting area all around the world.
Most real photo postcards were essentially family photographs and snapshots intended to be given to relatives and friends or to be put in the family album. The factory made real photo postcard photopaper that happened to be a convenient size for such purposes. These family photos and snapshots will show standard family poses, including little Jimmy in his school uniform, the family picnicking or a wedding reception.
Some real photo postcards were used for advertising or sold to the public at stores and are equivalent to trading cards– and, thus, actively collected by trading card collectors. Many of these show celebrities such as movie stars, sports stars and politicians. You can find examples picturing everyone from Ty Cobb to Red Grange to Greta Garbo to Thomas Edison.
Some famous sports photographers sold real photo postcards. This includes George Burke (the photographer for the Goudey and Play Ball sets), Carl Horner (the photographer for many early 1900s cards including the T206 Honus Wagner) and legendary boxing photographer Charles Dana.
Dating Real Photo Postcards
Real photos are dated by the back designs and text and, as shown later, authenticated by some basic knowledge of old photography.
In the United States real photo postcards originated in 1901. The American design of postcards was regulated by United States law and can be dated in general by the text and designs. Below is a brief description of the vintage designs.
Post Card Era (1901-1907) The use of the term “POST CARD” was granted by the government to private printers on December 24 1901. Earlier cards were called ‘Private Mailing Cards.’ Only the address was allowed to be written on the back of the card during Post Card Era. A blank panel was put on the front for messages.
Divided Back Era (1907- ) Postcards with a divided back began March 1 1907. The address was to be written on the right side and the left side was for writing messages. This is the same style used today. The early images were ‘full bleed,’ meaning that they went all the way to the edge of the card. White borders were popularly introduced around 1915. In more modern times, both full bleed and white borders were made, but the white borders almost always date mid 1910s and after.
Giving an ApproximateDate to a Real Photo Postcard by the Stampbox Markings
Many real photo postcards have text identifying the brand of paper. If this text exists, they will be found in the stampbox. The stampbox is the little square in the upper right hand corner that the stamps are placed on.
If a real photo postcard has the stampbox text, the below chart will help determine the general period in which the postcard was made. (Chart courtesy of the2Buds.com).
Stampbox Markings Dates
AGFA ANCO 1930s — 1940s
ANSCO (2 stars at top and bottom) 1940s — 1960
ARGO 1905 — 1920
ARTURA 1910 — 1924
AZO (Squares in each corner) 1925 — 1940s
AZO (4 triangles pointing upward) 1904 — 1918
AZO (2 triangles up, 2 triangles down) 1918-1930
AZO (diamonds in corners) 1907 — 1909
AZO (nothing in corners) 1922 — 1926
CYKO 1904 — 1920s
DEFENDER (diamond above & below stampbox) 1910 — 1920
DEFENDER (diamond inside stampbox) 1920 – 1940
Devolite Peerless 1950 and later
DOPS 1925 — 1942
EKC 1940 — 1950
EKKP 1904 — 1950
EKO 1942 — 1970
KODAK 1950 — present
KRUXO (nothing in corners) 1907 — 1920s
KRUXO (Xs in corners) 1910 — 1920s
NOKO 1907 — 1920s
PMO 1907 — 1915
SAILBOAT 1905 — 1908
SOLIO (diamonds in corners) 1903 — 1920s
VELOX (diamonds in corners) 1907 — 1914
VELOX (squares in corners) 1901 — 1914
VELOX (4 triangles pointing up) 1909 — 1914
VITAVA 1925 — 1934
Postage dates and stamps
Postally mailed postcards will have the dated postage cancellation stamp. No better way to date postcard. In fact, the blank backed Pinkerton Postcards were confirmed to be vintage (there were doubts by some collectors), because a few were found to have been used as postcards with 1910s postmarks on the backs.
Other tips between for telling the difference between genuine vintage examples and modern reprints
As old postcards can easily be reprinted on home computer printers these days, the following are some additional tips for telling the difference between vintage and modern reprints. As you might expect the counterfeit ones will be of primo subjects, such as Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Jim Thorpe. Needless to say, it is good practice to buy from reputable sellers who guarantee authenticity. If you want a second opinion, PSA and SGC grade real photo postcards.
* Silvering in the image as sign of old age. Silvering is when it appears as if the silver has come to surface of the image. If it exists, it is more noticeable at the edges and in the dark areas of the image, and when viewed at a specific angle to the light. If you change the angle of the photo to a light source, the silvering will become stronger and darker, sometimes disappearing. It can range in intensity and often resembles a silvery patina.
The key is that silvering is an aging process and appears after decades. The presence of silvering is very strong evidence of a real photo postcard’s old age.
* Early real photo postcards are on thinner stock have matte backs, though the fronts can be glossy. If the back has a smooth, plasticy surface, it is modern. Kodak introduce plastic resin-coated paper in 1968.
* Cyantotype real photo postcards. You will occasionally see real photo postcards with bright blue images. These are cyanotype photos, with cyan meaning light blue. Cyanotype was an old type process. Cyanotypes, even antique ones, don’t get silvering.
* If the front and back have a multi-color dot pattern under strong magnification, as on a modern baseball card or computer print, it is more than probably modern reprint, likely made on someone’s home computer.