Dating and Authenticating Real Photo Postcards

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.

1920shighschoolteam
1920s high school baseball players
louisebrooks
1920s postcard of silent movie star Louise Brooks

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.

Many vintage real photo postcards are family photos
Many vintage real photo postcards are family photos

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.

circa 1936 George Burke postcard of Joe DiMaggio
circa 1936 George Burke postcard of Joe DiMaggio
Carl Horner postcard of the 1904 New York Giants
Carl Horner postcard of the 1904 New York Giants

 

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.

Post Card Era’ back: With the earliest real photo postcards, only the address could be written on the back. This back dates the postcard as being from 1901-07
Post Card Era’ back: With the earliest real photo postcards, only the address could be written on the back. This back dates the postcard as being from 1901-07
Divided back postcard. The left side was for the letter and the right side was for the address.
Divided back postcard. The left side was for the letter and the right side was for the address.

 

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).

The stampbox is in the upper right.
The stampbox is in the upper right.

 

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

azo text in a stampbox
azo text in a stampbox

 

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.

1907 postmark
1907 postmark

 

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.

silvering is seen in the dark areas of this image.
silvering is seen in the dark areas of this image.

* 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.

1906 cyanotype real photo postcard of a baseball team.
1906 cyanotype real photo postcard of a baseball team.

* 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.

 

Author: David Cycleback

David is an art and artifacts scholar. You can visit his website at cycleback.com

2 thoughts on “Dating and Authenticating Real Photo Postcards”

  1. How can I distinguish between George Brace, Ed Broder, Mike Anderson and Jim Rowe postcards? I have some from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. Some players names are written in pencil with the year on the back. Others just have the name written in red sharpie or pen. Are there specific traits that distinguish each postcard? Thank you for any help.

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