How Old is My Postcard?


People often find themselves in possession of an old postcard and want to know how old it is.

If the postcard is used, the most obvious solution is to check the date on the postmark.  However, there are many vintage postcards out there that were never mailed, so here are some clues to determining the age of your post card.  These are general guidelines.  There are exceptions to most of these rules, but these guidelines will give you a general idea of how old your postcard is.

The first commercial postcards produced in this country were sold at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago Illinois in 1893.  These were the first privately printed souvenir postcards.  So, this should be as early as you will find for United States postcards.

Does your card have the words "Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress on May 19, 1898" on the back?   The words "Post Card" were not printed on postcards until December 24, 1901.  Cards previous to that had to have the Private Mailing Card Statement.  So, if your card is marked "Private Mailing Card," is dates from 1893 - 1901.

Is the address side divided A divided back postcard has a line down the middle, or some other indication that one half of the back is for the address and the other half is for a message.  Early postcards had an undivided back.  The back of the postcard was for the address ONLY.  There was often a statement that said "this side for address only."  The postal service started allowing the use of divided back postcards in March of 1907.  So, if your postcard has an undivided back, it is from 1907 or earlier.

Undivided Back Postcard     Divided Back Postcard

Does the postcard back indicate that it was printed in Germany? Many early postcards were printed in Germany.  The German cards were of exceptional quality and are some of the best examples of old postcards available.  However, World War I shut down the German printing presses and cards started being printed in the United States or imported from Great Britain.  If your early postcard says it was printed in Germany, it is from before 1915.

Is there a white border around the picture? The White Border era dates from 1915 to 1930.

White Border Postcard


Does the picture have a texture like woven linen? Postcards from 1930 to 1944 were printed on a linen texture paper.  They also used brightly colored inks.

Linen Postcard


Does the postcard have a shiny finish on the front, with a color photographic image?
Photochrome postcards have been produced from 1945 to present.  They're sometimes known to collectors as "chromes." These should not be confused with Real Photo Postcards.  Real photo postcards are actual photographs printed on postcard paper.  They are usually black and white.  And there is usually some indication on the back of the card of what type of photo paper was used - this is often indicated by the stamp box, which will be visible if your postcard has not been mailed.  See Playle's guide to real photo postcard stamp box marking to help identify real photo postcard ages.

Chrome Postcard

Postcard Postage Rate History.
If there is an indication of the amount of postage required in the stamp box on the back of the postcard, this chart of postcard postage rates may be helpful in determining the age of your card.

Date Rate
May 1, 1873 .01
Nov. 2, 1917 .02
July 1, 1919 .01
April 15, 1925 .02
June 30, 1928 .01
Jan 1, 1952 .02
Aug 1, 1958 .03
Jan 7, 1963 .04
Jan 7, 1968 .05
May 16, 1971 .06
March 2, 1974 .08