#Lookback: Postcards – The Instagram of the early 19th century

A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

Postcards seem rather simple, but surprisingly, took quite a long time to develop – having been restricted by size, color, and numerous government regulations. Before postcards, people often sent “mailed cards” which were cards sent in decorative envelopes which had pictures on them. It is from these picture envelopes that postcards were developed when, on February 27, 1861, John P. Charlton (sometimes Carlton) copyrighted the first postcard in America.

Although the postcard had officially been born, it took a while to catch on. The pioneer period of the postcard lasted from about 1870-1898. During this time, Congress passed legislation approving the government production of “postal cards” and they issued their first one on May 1, 1873. The postcard had small pictures and/or images around the border of the card which was blank on both sides for a message and an address. Unlike the postcard of today, the images or illustrations were minimal.

The Postal Congress was extremely strict about the way the postcard was organized: message on one side, address on the other. It was not until 1907 when the Universal Postal Congress decreed that postcards could contain, on one side, short messages on the left and an address on the right. This left the other side of the card free for larger images and illustrations.

As a result of the larger images, a “Golden Age of Postcards” began and lasted from roughly 1907 to 1915. From this point forward, the format of the postcard changed only stylistically. The White Border Period (ca. 1915-1930) during WWI, produced postcards with white borders around the image side to save on ink. The Linen Period (ca. 1935-1945) began in the 1930s with new printing processes which allowed printers to produce postcards with a high rag content, giving the postcard the look and texture of being printed on linen. Finally, the Photochrom Period (ca. 1945-present) produced postcards that are familiar to us today with colored images that closely resemble photographs.

The Dubois Museum has a rather extensive collection of postcards. Some have been kept as mementos and remain blank. Others have been sent in the mail to friends and family to describe travels, sights, and give glimpses into events and places that range from the mundane to the extraordinary. The black-and-white postcard shown here was sent to Dubois resident Senator W. K. Carson in August of 1920 from friends taking a tour of battle sites from World War I. In it, a tour group poses inside their vehicle in front of the ruins of a town. The other postcard is unsent and is more modern, dating from the 1960s. It shows a colorful scenic vista of Arrowhead Lake in the Wind River Mountains.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

April 7th, 6 pm at the Riverton Museum “Seed Starting with the Riverton Garden Club”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

April 17th, 2-4 pm at the Riverton Museum “Seed Starting for Children”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

April 22nd, 7 pm at the Dubois Museum “Swift Fox Ecology, Distribution and Trends” by Nichole Bjornlie WG&F

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

April 24th, 1-3 pm at the Pioneer Museum “Sheep Shearing Day”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

Joe Scheuerle Art Exhibit: “Native Americans of Wind River Country”, 9-5 Monday-Saturday, Pioneer Museum Lander, Handle with Care: Art Moving

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum are seeing significantly decreased visitation this summer as a result of Covid-19. As a result, the self-generated revenue we rely so heavily on to make ends meet is not keeping pace. We are counting on private donations to continue to maintain successful and engaging museums during this time. We urge you to make a tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support. 

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