Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society hears how postcards show us our history

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[June 01, 2019]    Cheryl Baker likes to collect things. Her latest appearance as the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society was to showcase her extensive postcard collection.

“Postcards are a unique way to study history,” Baker said. Postcards not only contain messages, but the cards themselves tell a story.

Postcards began as a popular way to advertise goods in the nineteenth century. They were called trade cards, and were a popular publicity method beginning around the 1870’s. “These cards are highly collectible,” she said.

It wasn’t until the 1890’s that postcards began to take on the character that we associate them with today, a way of communication between family and friends. They became so popular that Congress passed the postcard act in May of 1898 to create a special part of the postal service for them. The original cards in the first decade of the 20th century cost one cent to send. There is still a special rate today for postcards of $.35 cents.

A card with a personal note scribbled in the upper right corner. Many of the early postcards did not have a space for a note on the back. Senders were only allowed to put the address of the recipient.

Cheryl told a story about how postcards were used in central Illinois during the early 20th century. She has records of young residents of Emden taking the passenger train to Green Valley for work. They would stay for several days. On Friday, they would send a postcard to their parents in Emden telling them to meet the train as they were coming home. The card would arrive for the early mail delivery on Saturday. This was a time before telephones were common in rural areas. And this was a time when the USPS was much different from today. “The delivery from Green Valley took one day, and there were usually two deliveries a day back then,” she said.


Holiday cards were very popular 100 years ago. According to Cheryl Baker, they are highly sought after by collectors.

The early postcards were much different than the ones we are used to today. The cards from the 19th century did not have space for a message. The sender could only print the address of the recipient on the back of the card. This was common until 1907. Cards were used to send holiday greetings with an image depicting the holiday on the card. These were precursors of the fancy cards of today that are sent in envelopes. “Many of the early holiday cards are hard to find today and are very collectible, especially Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day,” said Cheryl Baker.

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Early cards were not just made of paper. There were aluminum cards, and cards made of wood. Leather was used to make postcards. During World War I, there was a cottage industry in Europe making silk cards. They were very popular with US troops as a way to stay in touch with the relatives back home.

Grocery stores sold postcards in sets. Some of them had partial lyrics of songs on them. When a set sold out, the next set had the continuing lyrics on them. Card makers sometimes went door to door taking photos of families and affixing them to the cards.

Cheryl Baker’s postcard collection continues to grow. She is always on the lookout for postcard shops and collections that are for sale. City of Lincoln postcards are high on her search list. “I have found most of my Lincoln city cards at a shop in Ohio,” she said with a laugh. Cards are very collectible. “I once found a card I had been searching for. The price was $500. I just could not pay that,” she said. A bit of negotiation brought the price within her range.

An early 20th century postcard with Mr. Lincoln’s famous quote on it.

A humorous postcard that probably could not be mailed today.

Another early 20th century humorous card. Many were sold at grocery stores.

Historical documents can take many forms. Cheryl Baker has found a colorful and fascinating way to document both local and national history with her postcard collection.

The Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society meets the third Monday of the month as their research center on Chicago Street in Lincoln at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend and they always have an interesting presentation.

[Curtis Fox]


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