The Souvenir Postal Card Fad

by Laurel | September 22nd, 2014

10 September 1905

Bird's-eye View of High St., Holyoke, Mass., Mt. Holyoke in Distance.

Bird’s-eye View of High St., Holyoke, Mass., Mt. Holyoke in Distance.

Enormous Sales in This City
Post Office Overwhelmed With Them and Mail Carriers Caused Extra Steps
Where the Cards Come From

“Breathes there a man with soul so dead who ne’er unto himself hath said,” I will send my friend a souvenir postal card.

If there be such a man he is lacking in the spirit of the day, and there is something due from him to his friends. Other fads have come and gone, but none has so completely enveloped the entire American people as the souvenir postal card craze. The dictionaries define a fad as a trivial fancy adopted and pursued for a time with irrational zeal. There is no doubt that the promiscuous use of illustrated postal cards now comes within this definition. Several hundred thousand of them have gone out of this city during the summer to no particular purpose, and local card collectors are as common as freckles in the summer girl’s complexion. The post office has been glutted with them all summer, and the letter carriers have been running their legs off to get these insignificant little missives to their proper destinations. The vendors of stationary and others who deal in the cards are reaping such a harvest as they have not known in years, and they are praying that this mild form of insanity may not leave the people for some years to come. If their prayer is answered there will be a good-sized group of self-made millionaires here about. Meanwhile the clerks at the post office and the better carriers, whose work is nearly doubled by the great volume of this class of mails which goes in and out of the office, are hoping that the public may get its senses again soon. Otherwise an increase in salary should be coming to them.

The souvenir postal card was born in Europe some seven or eight years ago, and was given existence for the purpose of advertising some of the historic scenes and things in some of the historic old watering places on the continent. Occasionally travelers abroad sent these cards to this country, and they were viewed with much interest. The business grew to vast proportions in Europe and England in the six or seven years afterward, but the fad was not imported to this country to any extent until last summer. Then it descended upon us with a mighty force. Nobody dreamed, however, that the business would be enduring and few dealers prepared for the terrific  onrush of business which has developed this year. The demand still exceeds the supply, and the manufacturers are put to it to fulfill orders. The greater part of the cards are still made in Germany, and there is an exasperatingly long wait between the time of sending the views there and when the cards come back ready for sale. Some American manufacturers are getting into the business to some extend now and it is expected that within a few years the cards can be produced as satisfactorily at home as in Germany. This is not true yet however.

Holyoke, Mass. The New Million Dollar Dam.

Holyoke, Mass. The New Million Dollar Dam.

The great growth of the vacation system and the consequent growth of the various country and shore resorts has been an accessory after the fact in building up  the souvenir card business. When the craze had its inception almost a year ago, it was largely continued to such resorts and vacationists took this method of informing their friends where they were, giving them a vivid picture of the beauties they were enjoying. They were good advertisements for the resorts, too, and the beauty of the scenery depicted on these cards has undoubtedly been the means of influencing many people to visit the places so shown. But the craze spread like wildfire until it enveloped almost every town in this part of the country, from the smallest burg to the largest city, and Springfield was no exempt. The result is obvious. The mails are flooded. The shekels are pouring into the dealers’ coffers with remarkable rapidity, and the strong American tendency t collect things has shown itself in the number of souvenir card collectors. This passion for large collections as seen in some measure responsible for the vast growth of the business. Collectors beseech their traveling friends to send them cards from every place they visit and they are so inexpensive that the petition cannot be refused.

The business is now about equally divided between cards being photographic views and cards of the humorous order, suggestive of jokes which may be invented by the purchaser. Some of the latter have developed into vulgarity, and many obscene and suggestive pictures have been sold, but a recent order of the post office department prevents any of the cards bordering on obscenity from being sent through the mails, and this is expected t put a stop to this class of the business to a great extent. Some 200 local scenes and buildings are now being sold on possible cards, and one firm alone has sold between 200,000 and 300,000 cards with these views during the past six months. More than 10,000 cards have been sold bearing a view of the duck pond at Forest Park, which has been the most popular of the local views. The dealers have found that people will buy landscape views in preference to views of buildings, and there are several views of different scenes in Forest Park which have sold very well. For a time after the burning of the City Hall there was a great demand for cards bearing a view of the burned structure, and the supply was entirely sold out in most of the local stores. After the sic weeks required to get more of the cards had elapsed the demand had gone by, and there is not much call for this card nowadays. Views of the United States armory, which is known throughout the country, are rather more popular than any other buildings, although there have been good sales of views of churches here and of some Main Street buildings. Views of the post office and of the railroad station are some of the latest to be issued.

Mount Tom House, Holyoke, Mass.

Mount Tom House, Holyoke, Mass.

To comprehend fully the extent of the fad one should look at the huge piles of the cards which are fired into the local post office every day. The number reaches far into the thousands daily, and there are almost as many of them as there are of other letters. Care is now taken that none of thee that may seem objectionable shall be allowed to go through the mail, and as some of them are arranged in the most puzzling manner, the clerks are compelled to use considerable ingenuity before passing upon them. A local young woman has the record in the number of cards received at one delivery, getting 85 in a single mail. Other popular young women frequently get 25 or 30 in a mail, and it must be understood that all of the cards must go through the hands of the clerk and the carrier, thus entailing a vast amount of work. It is doubtful if the fad will continue long enough for all the people to learn that a stamp is required to carry the card to its destination. more than 100 cards are dropped into the local letter boxes every day minus the requisite stamp, and in every case they are steered into the office of the assistant postmaster to await results. If they are not called for in a day or two a card is sent to the person to whom it is addressed, and if the addressee is sufficiently concerned about it to send in postage the card will be forwarded. If no word is received a second card is sent from the local office, although the government does not require it, and if this does not bring the stamp the card goes to the dead letter office. It is probable that the letter office has the largest collection of souvenir postal cards in the world. All of the improper cards which are received in the office are forwarded to the dead letter office without a notification to the person for whom they are intended. Rarely are the cards signed, and it is therefore impossible to trace them back to the sender, or prosecutions would follow. The local office sent 50 such cards to Washington a few days ago, and more have accumulated since. The great abundance of the cards makes the work much harder for the carriers. Oftentimes they visit many houses to carry these cards, where they might otherwise skip a house or two.

To what end the fad will come is still a matter of very great doubt. Jut now it seems to be extending. A few months ago illustrations in pyrography on leather were popular, but the government refused to accept leather for postal cards, declaring it was merchandise instead of first class mail, and therefore required a two cent stamp. The leather was considerably more expensive, and is not now much sold. Even before the souvenir postal card’s day came the dealers who did considerable business with souvenir trays in aluminum with views of local scenes and buildings, and there was still another branch of the business in photo-fabrics for pillow covers. Neither of these are now sold to any greater extent than before. The leather postal cards are being used somewhat for pillow covers by sewing or weaving many of them together for a top, with a silk back. The dealers look for a continuance of the souvenir card business fo some years to come. It is reasoned that the humorous cards will probably no endure long, but there will be a demand for the photographic cards for years. In eight years abroad they have not tired of them, and the business was never more thriving there than today. Leipzig, Germany, is the center of the business, and there are a number of big factories there. From that city most of the nice cards sold in this country now come.

Holyoke Armory

Holyoke Armory

Another device which has recently been thought up to attract attention is to print the views on the front of playing cards, with a different view on each card. The white Mountains have thus been portrayed, but the expense of such cards is rather too great to make them particularly popular. A handsome profit is yielded from the sale of the postal cards. They are sold by the wholesalers for something like $7.50 a thousand, while the dealers sell two of them for five cents. The money is thus earned easily. Representative of the large wholesalers go through cities and towns taking photographs, and these are submitted to the factory at Leipzig. Orders will not be accepted for less than 1000 of each view, and the dealers in small towns can scarcely afford to buy, unless they have some big celebration in view.

Feeding Ducks at Hampton Ponds Near Holyoke, Mass

Feeding Ducks at Hampton Ponds Near Holyoke, Mass

It is expected that there will be slight falling off in the souvenir card business as soon as the vacation season is over. The dealers are somewhat anxious to know just how to plan for the winter business. It was not flourishing to any great extent last winter, but the fever have not really taken hold then. It is believed that the souvenir cards will have the effect to drive out to some extent the fancy Christmas cards. Orders are already going in for cards appropriate to the holiday season. St. Valentine’s day may also see the effect of the recent innovation, and the frills are furbelow of the old time valentines may be considerably curtailed by the arrival of the souvenir postal card. We may soon expect souvenir wall papers and souvenir external covering or our places of abode.

Adapted from The Springfield Republican

More Holyoke Postcards
More on The History of Postcards
Postcard History from The Smithsonian

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