Glossary of Postcard Terms
Album Marks - Discoloration or heavy indentations on the corners of the cards from the acid, leaching out of the antique album pages, or from weight.
Archival - Any museum quality material that will protect postcards for extended periods of time.
Artist Signed - Any postcard that has a printed signature of the illustrator. This does not mean that the postcard artist autographed the card, although examples do exist. If the publisher has printed a byline clearly identifying who did the work, the card is considered artist signed.
Chrome - Any card after 1939 with a shiny paper surface. The term is derived from Kodachrome.
Condition - Refers to the physical condition of the postcard. Terms often used are Mint, Near Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor.
Deltiology - The study of postcards; the person doing the research, a deltiologist. Randall Rhodes of Ashland, Ohio, first used the term. It means (from the Greek) the science or study (logos) of small pictures or cards (deltion).
Die Cut - Any paper cut by the publisher into a shape other than a rectangle, such as the shape of an angel, Santa, or animal.
Die Cut Hold to Light - Hold to light (HTL) postcard that transforms from day to night when a bright light shows through the tiny holes cut on the surface of the card.
Divided Back - A postcard back with a center line to divide the address from the message. Divided backs appeared in 1902 in England, 1904 in France, 1905 in Germany, and 1907 in the US. This helps to date unused postcards. Cards before these dates have undivided backs.
Embossed - Postcards that have designs slightly raised above the card's surface. Heavily embossed postcards have almost a papier-mache style, that stands greatly above the surface.
Ephemera - Any printed or hand-written paper item, such as calendars, postcards, trade cards, die cuts, menus and valentines.
Foxing - Yellow spots on the paper's surface. These are spots of mildew, penetrating the paper which cannot be removed by erasing but may occasionally be removed by bleaching.
Gelatin (Gel) - A card with a varnish-like coating producing a glossy surface. The surface can crack or shatter as it ages.
Golden Age of Postcards - From 1898 to 1918.
Government Postal - A postcard that has a preprinted stamp on the back. The post office issues these postcards and publishers use them to print designs and advertising messages. They were especially used before the Act of Congress 1898.
Hold to Light - Any postcard that creates a different image if held to the light. Some are as simple as day to night, others as complicated as Winter to Summer. There are also die cut hold to lights and transparencies.
Installment - A series of postcards designed to be sent one a day. The completed set forms a picture. Some installments are vertical, such as an Uncle Sam figure; others are horizontal, such as a running horse.
Linen - Postcards published in the late 20s through 50s, using a textured paper with a cross hatched surface. The surface resembles linen fabric. The cards romaticized the images of gas stations, diners, hotels and other commercial buildings. Using the photographic image of an establishment, all undesirable features, such as telephone poles, junk yards, and background clutter and sometimes even cars and people were removed by air brushing.
Mechanical - Postcards that have moving parts. It may be simple as a die cut top revealing a different idea of the previous image when opened. It could be as complicated as pulling a tab for a curtain and totally changes the picture. Some mechanicals have wheels that change the faces on a body or dates on a calendar.
Miniature - Postcards as a novelty during the Golden Age. They were about 1/2 the size of the standard 3½ x 5½ inch postcards. They have a stamp box . The most desirable are those by the Scandinavian artists or the USA publisher John Winsch.
Novelty - These cards include mechanicals and ones that have items attached, such as bags of salt, real hair, metal medallions, paper applique, silk or even pennies. Some novelty cards are die cut shapes or have holes in which fingers can be inserted to make the postcard figures appear to have real arms, legs or even a nose.
Oilette - A term used by the Publisher Raphael Tuck and Sons of England. Oilettes often looked like oil painting, with noticeable brush strokes.
Over-Sized - The standard modern postcard size is 4 by 6 inches. Any card larger than these sizes is considered oversized. Modern postcards are often called continentals
PVC - Poly Vinyl Chloride, polymers derived from vinyl chloride used to make plastic pages and sleeves. These can cause damage to postcards overtime. Often Acid Based.
Pioneer - Postcards issued before an Act of Congress in 1898. They carry instructions on the back, such as, Write the address only on this side - the message on the other, or Nothing but address can be placed on this side or This side for address only.
Postcard - A card specifically made with the intention to be used by itself as a mailed message or souvenir.
Private Postal - Postcards produced, not by the government, but by private business or publishers.
Puzzle Cards - An European term for installments. In America, it refers to hidden picture cards, jigsaw puzzle cards, rebus cards, or anything that is a puzzle to solve.
Real Photo - A term coined to distinguish between commercially printed photographic images and an actual photograph printed on photograph paper with a preprinted postcard back. Real photo cards are more desirable than commercially printed postcards. Most real photos are one of a kind, while commercially printed photographs were produced in large quantity.
Rebus - A puzzle postcard on which words, phrases or sentences are represented by pictures of objects and signs, the names of which, when sounded in sequence afford the solution.
Sepia - A dark brown color applied to photographs or other prints. Inky secretions of the cuttlefish produce this coloration.
Series - Groups of postcards that belong together in a collection. The individual cards may or may not have been printed at the same time. More than just a common topic, a series has a common artist and publisher.
Sets - Postcards published in a group of 4, 6, 7, 8 or 12. These were sold in packets or individually. Examples are: days of the week or months of the year.
Silk - Postcards with silk fabric applied to the design, or the total image is printed on silk fabric, then attached to a postcard back.
Topics - Postcards that are not views, but are subjects such as baseball, kites, cats and golf.
Trade cards - Advertising cards issued before 1900. Store keepers gave then away in products or with the purchase of a product. They were very popular before the postcard and were often times glued into large scrap books with die cut scrap.
Transparency - A type of Hold to Light postcard that creates its transformation with many thin layers of paper. A total change in image is caused by strong light behind the postcard. There are no die cut holes in the surface to achieve this transformation.
Undivided Back - A postcard back without a dividing line to separate the message from the address. Undivided backs on postcards help date the cards (see divided back).
View Cards - Postcards that feature cities and places within cities, such as parks, main streets, depots, store fronts, bridges and roads. They are not topics such as Halloween, cats, or kites.
The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards © by Susan Brown Nicholson