This charming story about the first postcards showed up on Blogspotting the other day:

The fuss about AOL's data gusher reminds me of a story I heard a week ago about the advent of penny postcards in the 19th century. They provided a handy statlib.jpgcommunications tool, and cost half as much to send as a letter. This fueled fear: What if the mailman reads my mail?! Eventually (most) people figured out that for personnel stuff they should spend the extra penny and put it in an envelope.

We thought we'd dig up some more postcard secrets from this aficionado's page:

  • Historically, there exists some debate about just who was first. Printed message cards did begin appearing in the early 1860s when John P. Charlton of Philadelphia initiated a patent which was subsequently picked up by a Mr Lipman. About the same time, a German, Heinrich von Stephen and an Austrian, Emmanuel Hermann, both hit upon the idea for a pre-printed correspondence card. The "Poor Man's Telegram" was born and literally thousands were printed and used almost immediately.
  • The illustrated souvenir card received its most significant boost in 1889, when Eiffel Tower cards were mailed in their thousands by awestruck visitors to the Paris Exposition that same year.
  • Disasters such as the Titanic and World Trade Centre induced minor postcard frenzies. Two days after September 11, you couldn't buy a WTC postcard anywhere.
  • The study of postcards is called Deltiology.

For more, check out this great gallery of old penny postcards from all 50 states.