Postcard Glossary

Every hobby and interest has a vocabulary of commonly used (sometimes abused) words and phrases.  Below is an ever expanding list of those terms and their meaning.  The pictures can be clicked to see larger versions and links to pages with more detail are highlighted.

It's in alphabetic order.......




Advertising Postcard   In the late 1800's and early 1900's postcards were the major means of low cost everyday communication.  Advertisers took note of this trend and many fine advertising postcards were produced.  These postcards were often distributed with a product to encourage further purchases to complete a 'set'.  Theatres would leave advertising postcards on the seats promoting future performances.  Some companies elicited trade orders via a postcard mailing, and so on.  Today these cards are avidly collected for their striking design, their social history interest and, occasionally, simply for the wild claims made by manufacturers of the era.  A fun and rewarding area in which to collect.  For some examples on this web site see Opera and Wine , Trebucien Chocolate , Kings Insurance , and Oliver Typewriters.  



Album Corner Marks (ACM) - Pressure indentation or marks to the corner of postcards resulting from storage on early 1900's albums.

Applique Postcard.    A novelty postcard onto which material is applied to the surface to form the image.  Feathers, real hair, fabric (see the black cat half way down on this linked page), dried flowers, powdered glass, and so on.  These cards were very popular with everyone but the Post Office who, challenged with the task of delivering them, charged a higher postage rate for doing so.








Art Deco Postcard (An abbreviation of 'les arts decoratifs',  a 1925 Paris Exhibition).   An art and design style that emerged in the mid-1910's, reached its peak in the mid 1920's and  continued into the early 1930's.  Characterised by  angular shapes and bold colours it was a considerable change from the swirling curves and softness of the preceeding Art Nouveau era.  Many wonderful artist postcards were produced in this era featuring the glamour and  fashion of the time.  Artists from Italy and France predominate though the list is wider;  Busi, Brunelleschi,  Chiostri,  Corbella, Rie Cramer, Marte Graf, Jennie Harbour,  Chilton Longley,  Andre Marty, MauzanMeschini, Montedoro, C E Shand,  and many more.    



Art Nouveau Postcard  An art and decorative design style fashionable between 1890 and 1910.  Characterised by the organic curves of nature and often depicting flowers, leaves or tendrils and the flowing hair of a young woman.  Art Nouveau artist postcards are among the most sought after of cards; names such as Mucha, Kirchner, Leopold Lelee, A K Macdonald, Henri Meunier,  Basch, Lessiuex and others.   



Artist signed  A postcard carrying a print of the signature of the artist or a postcard on which the publisher clearly identifies the artist's name.  For a series of pages on this site referring to particular artists just follow this link.  You can also search for a particular artist by name using the search box at the top of the page. 


Bas Relief Postcard Machinery

Bas relief  A postcard to touch and feel.  The image on the card has heavily raised surfaces giving it a sculptured feel. Usually the images are of Royalty or Edwardian actresses and other 'familiar' celebrities of the era.  Run your finger over the surface and you will feel the contours of their faces, hair, and bodies.  The effect is more pronounced than on embossed cards.  It was a patented process, the picture to the right is from an early Patent documenting part o the process.



Chromo Litho  Chromolithography is a printing method.  It was the first method capable of producing multi-color prints and prevailed on postcards published in the late 18 and early 1900's.   Based on lithography it used  print blocks (originally stone slabs) onto which an image was drawn using an oil based medium.  There was one block (or stone) for each  colour.  A chemical process etched away the oil free parts of the block leaving the image part for the given colour proud of the surface. The card would be printed in multiple impressions, each block adding another colour layer.  There are many examples on this site, here are a couple.  Take care not to confuse this term with the American use of the word Chrome (ending with an e) which refers to relatively modern (1950's onwards) glossy Kodachrome postcards.

Composite  A series of postcards which when assembled together form a single picture.  Horizontal series display images such as march hares or horses running.  Rectangular  series display artists depictions of notable figures or events, for example Joan of Arc,  Jesus Christ, and so on.  Composite sets were often purchased to be sent one at a time to the recipient who would gradually assemble the full picture.  In America I've seen the term 'Installment Postcards' used to refer to these.

Court Card Between 1894 and 1899 British postcards were 'court sized'.  British postal authorities limited by law the size of privately published postcards to be of similar size to those that they published (and smaller than the cards published by other European nations).  Court sized cards were four and half inches by three and half.  The origin of the phrase 'Court Size' remains something of a mystery.     


Deltiology - The study of postcards.  From the Greek deltion 'writing tablet or letter' and the English 'study of' suffix ology) also from the Greek 'Logos'. 

Divided back  The earliest postcards carried the recipients address and postage stamp on one side, the message was written on the 'picture' side.  Such cards are known as undivided back postcards.  In 1902 Great Britain introduced the divided back, a picture on one side and a divided space on the other side for both the recipients address and senders message.  The transition from undivided to divided back took many years as postal authorities around the world adopted similar standards; 1904 in France, 1905 Germany, 1907 in the USA, and so on.

Edwardian Postcards dating from the era of King Edward VII who reigned  from 1902 until his death in 1910.  Often referred to as the golden age of postcards. There were few telephones, no radio and so on.  Postcards were the best, the quickest, the cheapest method of  communicating with family and friends.  It was in this era that postcard collecting was firmly established.  Postcards covered every subject of interest.  Publishers competed fiercly and the cards of this era  thoroughly document their time.

Embossed A postcard with a raised surface to its image.  Think in terms of physical 3d image that has contours that can be felt as you run your fingers over them   Often an embossed card will also have other novelty effects applied. 


Embroidered  Postcards with an embroidered panel forming the image. See WW1 Embroidered Silk Postcards

Exaggeration Postcard - A popular theme in America in the years leading up to WW1.  Exaggeration postcards typically feature photo manipulated images of enormous agricultural produce or animals.  For example poultry as large as donkeys or giant cabbages being hauled by horses.

Foxing  Small brown spot blemishes on the postcard.  The causes of foxing are thought to be fungal in nature or to be the result of residual metals included in the card from the pulp process. 


Gel or Gelatin coated Postcards
An American term but one that is applicable elsewhere.  Postcards with a thin glossy surface layer.  The surface layer can be prone to cracking.  

Golden Age The era in which postcards were at their peak of popularity.  Generally considered to begin in 1902 when the introduction of the divided back and improved printing technologies allowed publishers to produce cards with images of a larger size and quality.  The Golden Age continued through to the start of the First World War in 1914. 

Gruss Aus  In the 1890s the words Gruss Aus (literally 'Greetings From') first appeared as part of the design on town view postcards published in German speaking European countries.  The fashion spread swiftly with each country using the equivalent greeting in their own language. These cards were the forerunner of the seaside holiday souvenir postcards.

Hold to light   A novelty postcard with die cut or transparent areas designed to allow the transmission of light through parts of the image to create a 'lit up' effect when the card is held to a light source.  Typical subjects include night scenes with the windows of buildings that light up, though there are also many more elaborate styles. 



Linen Postcards
An American term and specific to American postcards.  Postcards produced on a distinctive textured paper whose surface resembled the weave of linen fabric. These postcards generally date from the 1920's through to the 1950's.

Mechanical  A novelty postcard with some moving parts. There are numerous types.  Cards with levers or tabs to change part of the displayed image.  Cards with thumbwheels which when  rotated update the display of a calendar or clock. Gramophone record postcards. Postcards with squeakers. 

Midget (or Miniature) Postcards that were half the usual  3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch postcards. Produced in the early 1900's.  Midget postcards featuring the actresses of the Edwardian era were a popular novelty of that time. There were also Giant postcards, bookmark postcards, panorama, and court size (see above).

Novelty Postcards that vary from the norm.  Postcards made from an unusual material such as Celluloid, leather or aluminium.  Postcards with mechanical features.  Postcards with hair, feathers, flowers, glass eyes or other materials attached.  Postcards with pullout strips of images.


Oilette - A brand name used by Raphael Tuck & Sons for many of their artist postcards.

Panel Card  A novelty postcard printed onto very thick card, designed to be framed or otherwise displayed by the recipient.

Printed Photo A postcard of photographic origin but produced in volume via a printing process and lacking the definition and finish of real photo postcards. 

Pullout A style of novelty postcard.  The postcard has an attached pouch containing a concertina strip of pull out images.  Open the container  to extend the strip of miniature images.  The better cards present the pouch as an integral part of the design; as postmens sacks, suitcases or motorcar luggage, as seaside creatures, as WW1 knapsacks, and so on.  The pull out images are usually local views but examples featuring military imagery, cartoons, golliwogs and other childhood images are occasionally to be found.  


Real Photo A photographic print developed and printed directly onto a piece of card with a postcard back.  The finest were produced by local photographers in very small quantities,  sometimes singly,  sometimes with a small number of copies.  Larger companies also produced real photo postcards in some volume.  The difference between real photo postcards and printed photo postcards is swiftly apparent under magnification.



Reward Cards are not,  strictly speaking, postcards though they were postcard sized and similar in design.  The cards were used as rewards for good behaviour or attendance at school or church.  The cards typically have an image to one side and have either plain backs or some preprinted text concerning the depicted topic or awarding institution.


Seaside Comic Postcards designed to be sent home by the British seaside holidaymaker.  Always with a comic theme,  often risque and sometimes vulgar.  English seaside comic postcards first appeared in the early 1900's illustrated by artists such as Tom Browne.  Later the cards became saucier and, with an emphasis on sexually suggestive double meaning and innuendo, the artist Donald McGill achieved recognition as the master of this style.  In the 1930's and 40's the saucy postcard was at its peak with many millions being  sent each year.  The tide turned  in the 1950's when the government decided that Britains moral fibre was threatened.  McGill was prosecuted under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act.  The industry suffered as a result wth retailers reluctant to stock the cards and, while the more open minded society of the 60's saw a  brief revival, the saucy seaside postcard went into decline. Happily, today the cards are  seen as being great fun and very much 'of their time' and are avidly collected.  


Squeakers - Postcards that have an embedded mechanical device that 'squeaks' when the card is pressed.  Typically these cards depict animals.


Stamp Box - A printed rectangle on the address side of the postcard for the postage stamp.  Many stamp boxes are printed with series numbers or, for real photo postcards, carry the photo paper publisher details and can be used to date the postcard.

Topographical  Sometimes shortened to topographic or topo.  A postcard displaying a scene of the world as our predecessors knew it.   Views of markets, of street scenes, people at work or at worship  and of buildings.  Your house, your road or town as it was some time ago.  Topo postcards are an excellent social history resource.  Genealogists collect such cards to document locations associated with their family history. Many  collect the history of the town they live in or have family links to.  Some collect features of interest such as Piers, Cinemas, Theatres, Harbours, pubs and so on.  The list is as endless as your subject of interest.  

Undivided back  postcards carried the recpients address  and postage stamp on one side and the message was written on the 'picture' side.    In 1902 Great Britain introduced the divided back,  on one side of the card would be the  the picture, the other would have both the recipients address and senders message with a dividing line between the two.  The transition from undivided to divided back took several  years as postal authorities around the world adopted common standards

Victorian  Postcards dating from the era of Queen Victoria who reigned  from 1837 until 1901.  It was during Victoria's reign that Britains penny post service was introduced (in 1840) and in 1870 the first postcard was made available, a preprinted correspondence card with a half penny universal delivery charge.  The availability of this fixed cost and reliable postal service resulted in a wide and rapid  public acceptance of the medium. 

Vignette  A postcard image in which the colour or tone  fades gradually to blend into the (invariably  white) background of the card.   Vignettes were a common feature of early undivided back postcards on which white space had to be left for the senders message on the picture side of the card. 

Write Away  A postcard on which the first few  words of the senders message has been included in the design. Very often the illustration is of a comic nature and depicts  the write away phrase.  Phrases such as;  'I shall be under the clock...',  'I really must stop...', 'I must remember...',  and so on.  Write away cards were very popular in the first few  years of the 1900's with those using the  illustrations by Lance Thackeray being good examples

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