Postcard Dating Guide - Publisher Imprints, Stamps and Stampboxes

By Andrew J. Morris


This is a fertile field for further research. Publisher's imprints tend to change over time, the type fonts, arrangement, and wording undergo a steady stream of minor changes, that may provide clues to publication dates. The key to identifying those changes is a good selection of reliably dated cards. Until interested collectors take the time to construct guides to particular publishers, only the vaguest outline of trends can be given here.

Early cards tend to have little text, just the title for the picture, usually on the picture side, and the name of the publisher on the address side. Later the descriptions become more verbose on the address side, but there is still usually a one or two line title on the picture side. With the introduction of Chromes the title is most often found only on the address side.

Two companies are mentioned on many cards, one being the publisher and the other the manufacturer. Or sometimes the manufacturer and the distributor. Which of these parties is referred to as the 'publisher' is not always clear.

Many cards have a logo on them, and for earlier cards there may be nothing more -- though later cards have the name of the company as well as the logo. Here is an interesting example of two different publishers using almost identical fancy-font and graphics for the words 'Post Card':

The green text has C. T. Photochrom along the dividing line, and the Curt-Teich logo on the lower left, along with a line reading Published by J. R. Brakey, Ventura, Cal. This card has the Curt-Teich number A-50843, and so was produced in 1914. It has a 1916 postmark.

The blue text has Tichnor Quality Views along the dividing line, with the Tichnor Brothers logo at the top of that line. On the left is has the text Printed by Tichnor Bros. Inc. at Cambridge, Mass, U.S.A. The Tichnor number for this view is 104973, though I've not yet found any guide as to what date that might represent. The card is postmarked 1932.

Stampboxes also provide a clue to the age of a postcard, within broad limits. Of course, the stampbox is only visible if there is no stamp -- usually such cards are unused, so we have no postmark use-date for them. Thus with these too, it is only by observing the stampboxes on dated cards that we begin to observe temporal trends.

The best example of dating information from stampboxes that I've seen so far is for real photo postcards only, and can be found on Playle's site at Also on that site are examples of publishers imprints used on real photo postcards, some of them dated.

Stamp boxes on printed cards also offer dating clues. Often there is a reference in the box to the amount of postage required. Of course, if the card is used and has a stamp, that too gives a clue, both by its value, and the style of stamp itself.

For U.S. postcards, the standard rate was:

  • Pre 1898, no special postcard rate, postage 2 cents
  • 19 May 1898 - 1 Jan 1952 *(except two periods noted below), 1 cent
  • * Twice the rate was temporarily raised to 2 cents, 2 Nov 1917 - 1 Jul 1919, and 15 April 1925 - 30 Jun 1928
  • 1 Jan 1952 - 1 Aug 1958, 2 cents
  • 1 Aug 1958 - 7 Jan 1963, 3 cents
  • 7 Jan 1963 - 7 Jan 1968, 4 cents
  • 7 Jan 1968 - 16 May 1971, 5 cents
  • and up and up ever since ...

For English postcards, the standard rate was one half penny from the earliest cards to June 1918 when the rate was raised to one penny. Of course some people might put a penny stamp on a card when only half penny was required, and cards that didn't meet postal regulations, due to size or attachments, would also require more postage. Half penny stamps in England were introduced in different styles at different dates, though they could have been used at any date after their introduction:

  • Orange Queen Victoria, Sep 1894
  • Blue-Green Queen Victoria, 17 April 1900
  • Blue-Green Edward VII, 1 Jan 1902
  • Yellow-Green Edward VII, 26 Nov 1904
  • Green George V, 22 Jun 1911

For unused printed postcards, the stamp box tends to get simpler through time, but I don't know if any specific dates can be assigned to the different styles. Here are just a few examples:

Here we have an example that breaks my general rule of decreasing complexity over time (there are always plenty of exceptions to "rules" like these!) It is a Private Mailing Card, and while the text is very complex graphically, there is no real stampbox, just text in the stamp area -- Place A One Cent Stamp Here.


These three stamp boxes are found on undivided back cards -- the first one is much larger than a typical stamp. All read Place [Postage] Stamp Here, Domestic One Cent, Foreign Two Cents


These three stamp boxes are also found on undivided back cards, but I do not have enough information on the dates of the cards to suggest if they are older, younger, or the same years as the preceding examples. The boxes are smaller and simple rectangles, and the wording is similar, except two of them mention additional areas served by one cent stamps.


This style stamp box is on an early style divided back card, with information resembling that found on earlier undivided back cards, but arranged slightly different.


These simple boxes with one cent stamp notices come from white border and linen cards, and were used over a long period.


These examples come from linen cards, and simply state Place Stamp Here -- though the first has a slightly more ornate box that seems specific to that publisher (E.C. Kropp). The same general style is also found on modern chromes, while others have done away with the text, and some with the box itself.


My Curt-Teich Project

There are two or three dates of interest connected with most scenic postcards, [1] the date the image was created (photo taken), [2] the date the card was manufactured (sometimes soon after [1] but sometimes many years later), and for used cards [3] date of mailing. Knowing any of these dates has the feature of "bracketing" the other dates on one end, that is, we know a card mailed in 1909 had to have been made no later than 1909 and also the image must be from 1909 or earlier. It seems to me it would be useful to know how closely these dates are related, particularly how soon after [1] and [2] most postcards were used, because that is the date we most often have available. Having mailed 1940s style linens in the 1970s myself, I know that a postmark CAN be long after the date of manufacture and the date of the image, but shurely that is relatively uncommon. Given a large enough sample, we should be able to say that x% of cards are used the first year, x% the second, and so on. If we can determine those percentages (for the mathamatically inclined, the shape of the frequency curve) we can begin to work backward (again, with large enough samples), so that (for example) if 50% of a sample collection of 100 cards of a particular set are dated 1932-35, and none predate 1931, we can be fairly certain that set was released in 1931.

Unlike most other manufacturers, we have a fairly good list of dates for the reference numbers found on Curt-Teich cards. This dating information gives us an opportunity to determine the shape of that frequency curve, by taking a large sample of postmarked Curt-Teich cards and comparing the postmark date to the known date of manufacture. Using that information, we should be able to go back to other publishers having sequential codes (indiviual studies will be needed to determine which publishers used systematic numbering schemes), and create dating sequences for those publishers.

I have begun saving information (as time allows!) from my own small collectionm, and that small percentage of eBay auctions that include the requisite information (postmark date AND code #) for Curt-Teich cards. To make the data more interesting and useful I'm also recording the card title when available. Using this method (and contributions from any of you collectors willing and able to share such info) it should be possible, over time, to create a very large data sample -- much more than is available from any one collection. (For a progress report, see my dated Curt-Teich card database.

There are a few problems I forsee when trying to apply this information to other publishers ... are the frequency relationships close enough to apply the Curt-Teich model?, are the publication numbers sequential?, can we distinquish between publishers numbers and manufacturers numbers, and which do we use? etc. etc. Overall however, I think the results will prove to be worth the effort.



Postmarks and Written Dates -- Copyright or Publication Dates -- Styles and Types -- Content -- Publisher Imprints, Stamps and Stampboxes -- Dated Title Lists

AJM PhotoHistory . . . HOME

Join our PhotoIdentification discussion group:

Click to subscribe to PhotoID

Copyright 2002 by Andrew J. Morris
All rights reserved.