Introducing: The Postcard

Tucked away in the corners of gift shops and mounted on carousels as souvenirs of sunny places, the humble postcard may seem unassuming at first glance. However, these small slips of card carry with them a rich history which far exceeds their surface-printed pictures. The postcard as we know it today embodies decades of development in the global postal system, and represents a long heritage of hobbyist collecting. So let us get to know a little better that which we thought we knew quite well: the ‘Wish You Were Here!’; the ‘pin-it-on-your-fridge’: the postcard. 

When the postcard first debuted in Austria, 1869, it looked very different from how we know it today. It was entirely plain, with one side for the address and the other for a message. What made the postcard so popular throughout Europe for the first quarter-century of its life was not fun, printed quips and a colourful variety of pictures, but its accessibility as a cheap method of communication. Though the ‘penny post’ of 1840 made sending letters more affordable to the wider public, sending this plain postcard was half the price. Naturally, the ‘halfpenny postcard’ became a hit among the public and businesses alike, looking to communicate at a lower cost. 


The picture postcard, though still not quite in the form we would recognise today, was first pioneered in Germany in the 1890s and granted UK circulation by Royal Mail in 1894. This evolution featured an image beside the message, with a full side of the card for the address. 1902 saw the Post Office approve a new format: the message and address to one side, and a full picture to the other. With the fully evolved picture postcard came a new boom of novelty interest, catalysing a collecting phenomenon. The Edwardian era marks the “Golden Age” of deltiology*, with publishers producing cards at top-rate to keep up with the public demand. People collected mainly by publisher or topic, which remains true of postcard collecting today. Though the craze fizzled out in the face of the First World War, deltiology remained, and remains still, an incredibly popular collecting hobby. 

Under the umbrella of postal history, stamp and postcard collecting go hand-in-hand: as such, McTear’s is glad to welcome postcards to the upcoming dedicated stamps auction on June 10th: ‘The World in Mint: Stamps & Postcards’. Including the very best snapshots of scenic Scotland, the biggest names of publishing and designs by iconic artists, there is something for every postcard collector. Don’t ‘Wish You Were Here’ and be sure to bid online, on the phone or in the room at McTear’s on June 10th at 2.30pm.

*Deltiology: the study and collection of postcards 


Gina Ramage

Click to browse the auction >>


For a complimentary, no-obligation valuation, visit our Glasgow Galleries or contact a specialist on 0141 810 2880 or

What's it worth?

Find out what your items are worth by completing our short valuation form - it's free!

Get started

Get the McTear's News!

Sign up for our free newsletters - we'll never pass your details on to third parties. 

Get in touch

Upload images if relevant to your enquiry Add file
Select fileChange Remove