Postcard Mania

Postcards are an excellent tool for the modern genealogists, and we have found a source of Winnipeg and Manitoba postcards and other digital materials that are public domain.  Read on, gentle reader…..


The history of postcards is an interesting one.  Historically, the use of postcards in its earliest forms were recorded in the 13th century in Asia, and has changed forms over the centuries, particularly in the 15th century amongst the wealthy and elite. As early photography and lithography became more common place, postcards changed again, and were used to promote holidays, destinations, businesses and much more.

The birth of the modern postcard was in 1869.  It was in this year that Austria introduced a government-issued card with a pre-printed stamp, designed to simplify postal services.  Soon after, in 1870, Germany introduced the “Correspondenz-Karte,” a standardized card with a divided back, allowing space for both the message and the recipient’s address.

In 1907, the United States Postal Service began allowing postcard backs to be divided, including a message on one half and an address on the other.  With an increase in printing technology, greater travel opportunities, and the reasonable postal rates for a postcard, the use of the postcard flourished.

POSTCARD:  The Bank of Hamilton.  Courtesy of D. Dumanski, MGS Member.


The period between the late 19th century and the early 20th century is when postcards reached the height of their popularity and became a cultural phenomenon.   Primarily this was due to printing technology and lower postal rates for postcards, compared to regular mail.  It became a popular form of communications between distant family members and friends.

As the popularity grew, so did the themes of postcards:  scenic views, landmarks, historical events, and everyday life were common subjects.  They also featured illustrations, often with vibrant colors, showcasing art, fashion, and popular trends of the time.  Greetings, jokes, and sentimental messages were frequently printed on postcards, catering to various personal and social occasions.  Increases in tourism, the World Fairs, and greater travel spurred even greater use of the postcard.  Businesses used them for quick and economical communication with their customers.  This lead to people collecting postcards.

Deltiology is the study and collection of postcards.


Fueled by publications like the Post Card Collectors Magazine, as well as postcard catalogues, and international postcard conventions at the turn of the 20th century, by the 1940’s the study and collection of postcards, otherwise known as deltiology, was alive and well.  It was considered that only “used” postcards that had a message and had been mailed were worthy of collecting.  Collection elitists would only collect cards from city’s that were mailed from that city.  The variety of collections were as endless and diverse as the people collecting them.  Postcards today generally fall into these categories:

  • Vintage picture postcards are described as being from the “Golden Age of Postcards” which was generally 1898–1919.
  • Modern ‘chromes’ are color photographs and thus differ from photochromes generated from black and white photographs before c. 1915.
  • Picture postcards are also differentiated on the basis of other features: undivided backs are typical for c. 1901–1906 in the USA, prior 1904 in Canada, and other years in other countries.
  • Divided backs followed undivided backs: c. USA 1907, while white border cards are common from c. 1915-1930.
  • The time of the linens was circa 1930–1950.
  • Modern chromes appeared after 1940.


By the mid-20th century, collecting postcards was alive and well.  Many homes during this time had a collector and the most common form of collecting was by scrapbooking.  Today, estate sales, antique shops, and garage sales will often have a scrapbook or two from the hay day of postcard collecting.  Although not as popular as it once was, collecting postcards is still a global hobby, and there are now online postcard clubs.  Today, postcards are often stored in index card boxes, photo albums, and envelopes.  They are often created in a highly customized way with your own photo and used for holiday greetings, wedding announcements and much more.  Businesses still use them for promotional purposes.


Postcards are collected by historical societies, libraries and genealogical societies because of their importance in research such as how a city looked at a particular time in history as well as social history.  Some ways that postcards can be helpful to genealogists are:

  • Postcard photos of family members on one side, and a message on the back.
  • Addresses on postcards are a great source to track where family members lived.
  • Messages that give glimpses into family relationships, daily life, and significant events.
  • Messages that can provide clues about family connections, migrations, and other genealogical data.
  • Sender’s and recipient’s addresses, which can help confirm family connections and residences at specific times.
  • Postcards advising family members of events like weddings.
  • Historic images of towns, cities and landmarks help to understand the historical context of an ancestor’s life
  • Family owned business postcards can give information about their activities

When incorporating postcards into genealogical research, it’s important to analyze the content, context, and associated information carefully. Collaborating with local historians, postcard collectors, and genealogical societies can provide additional insights and support in deciphering the historical significance of postcards for your family history.


This Winnipeg Public Library website celebrates Winnipeg’s past.  As stated on their website,

Here you will find images, audio, and more, related to Winnipeg’s past. From postcards to historical directories to oral histories, these materials can be browsed and downloaded.

With PastForward, Winnipeg Public Library aims to create a space to preserve and present digital information relevant to the public history of Winnipeg and the surrounding region. Through the collection, digitization, and interactive display of these resources, we aim to provide materials for research, story-building, and the contribution to a rich dialogue about our community. By engaging diverse participation in building a public domain collection, we are seeking to enrich the content and the community.

We invite you to visit this site and check out some of their collections.  At the time of this writing, this site boasts:

  • the Rob McInnes Postcard Collection (early history of Winnipeg)
  • the Martin Berman Postcard Collection (over 5,000 Winnipeg and Manitoba postcards)
  • Henderson Directories (1880-1965)
  • Public Historical Postcards
  • Music History (show posters, handbills and more)
  • Winnipeg Public Libraries (historic and contemporary images)
  • Voices of the North End (interview recordings of Manitoba residents of the North End)

And, yes, unless specifically noted in the item’s usage statement field, all digitized items on PastForward are released in the Public Domain.  See their Usage Statement here.

Thank you to Daryl Dumanski, MGS member for bringing this website to our attention.  It was worthy of an article.

Wikipedia, Deltiology.

One Response to Postcard Mania

  • Neil

    Really enjoyed your article and thank you for highlighting the genealogy potential of postcards! Your readers may also be interested in

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