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How to Date Real Photo Postcards

1914 real photo postcard of a football team

1914 real photo postcard of a football team

Real photo postcards are postcards with genuine photographic images on the front. They are actual photographs on photopaper, but designed to be mailed and have letters written on the back. As with all photographs, if you examine the images under strong magnification the you’ll see no dot or other printed ink patterns.

Popular in the early to mid 1900s, real photo postcards picture a wide variety of subjects and were used for a variety of purposes. Most were the equivalent of family photographs intended to be given to relatives and friends or to be put in the family album. These will show standard family poses, including little Jimmy in his school uniform, the family picnicking, a wedding photo.

Some real photo postcards were used for advertising or sold to the public at stores. Many of these show celebrities such as movie stars and politicians. Postcards picturing sports subjects are highly popular in the sports hobby, and you can find examples picturing Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Red Grange and most of the big stars and teams.

1915 Boston Red Sox including rookie Babe Ruth.  Sold for over $21,000 at Robert Edward Auctions

1915 Boston Red Sox including rookie Babe Ruth. Sold for over $21,000 at Robert Edward Auctions

circa 1930 real photo postcard of movie stars Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.  Movie star postcards have been collected by the public since the silent era.

circa 1930 real photo postcard of movie stars Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Movie star postcards have been collected by the public since the silent era.

1904 New York Giants real photo postcard with the blank panel for writing at the bottom.  Only the address could be written on the back.

1904 New York Giants real photo postcard with the blank panel for writing at the bottom. Only the address could be written on the back.

Dating Real Photo Postcards
In the United States real photo postcards originated in 1901. The American design of postcards was regulated by United States law and can be dated in general by the text and designs. Below is a brief description of the vintage designs.

Post Card Era (1901-1907) The use of the term “POST CARD” was granted by the government to private printers on December 24 1901. Earlier cards were called ‘Private Mailing Cards.’ Only the address was allowed to be written on the back of the card during Post Card Era. A blank panel was put on the front for messages.

Divided Back Era (1907- ) Postcards with a divided back began March 1 1907. The address was to be written on the right side and the left side was for writing messages. This is the same style used today. The early images were ‘full bleed,’ meaning that they went all the way to the edge of the card. White borders were popularly introduced in around 1915. In more modern time, both full bleed and white borders were made, but the white borders almost always date mid 1910s and after.

'Post Card Era' back: With the earliest real photo postcards, only the address could be written on the back.  This back dates the postcard as being from 1901-07

‘Post Card Era’ back: With the earliest real photo postcards, only the address could be written on the back. This back dates the postcard as being from 1901-07

Divided back postcard.  The left side was for the letter and the right side was for the address.

Divided back postcard. The left side was for the letter and the right side was for the address.

Giving an Approximate to a Real Photo Postcard Date by Stampbox Markings
Many real photo postcards have marks identifying the brand of paper. If these marks exist, they will be found on the stampbox. The stampbox is the little square in the upper right hand corner.

The stamp box is in the upper right corner

The stamp box is in the upper right corner

If a real photo postcard has the stampbox markings, the below chart can help determine the general period in which the postcard was made. (Chart courtesy of the2Buds.com).

Stampbox Markings  Dates
AGFA ANCO  1930s — 1940s
ANSCO (2 stars at top and bottom)  1940s — 1960
ARGO  1905 — 1920
ARTURA  1910 — 1924
AZO (Squares in each corner)  1925 — 1940s
AZO (4 triangles pointing upward)  1904 — 1918
AZO (2 triangles up, 2 triangles down)  1918-1930
AZO (diamonds in corners)  1907 — 1909
AZO (nothing in corners)  1922 — 1926
CYKO  1904 — 1920s
DEFENDER (diamond above & below stampbox) 1910 — 1920
DEFENDER (diamond inside stampbox)  1920 – 1940
Devolite Peerless  1950 and later
DOPS  1925 — 1942
EKC  1940 — 1950
EKKP  1904 — 1950
EKO  1942 — 1970
KODAK  1950 — present
KRUXO (nothing in corners)  1907 — 1920s
KRUXO (Xs in corners)  1910 — 1920s
NOKO  1907 — 1920s
PMO  1907 — 1915
SAILBOAT  1905 — 1908
SOLIO (diamonds in corners)  1903 — 1920s
VELOX (diamonds in corners)  1907 — 1914
VELOX (squares in corners)  1901 — 1914
VELOX (4 triangles pointing up)  1909 — 1914
VITAVA  1925 — 1934

The AZO with squares in the corners of this stampbox dates the postcard to 1925-1940s

The AZO with squares in the corners of this stampbox dates the postcard to 1925-1940s

Other tips between for telling the difference between vintage and modern reprints
As old postcards can easily be reprinted on home computer printers these days, the following are some additional tips for telling the difference between vintage and modern reprint. As you might expect the counterfeit ones will be of primo subjects, such as Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson or Jim Thorpe. Needless to say, it’s good practice to buy from reputable sellers who guarantee authenticity. If you want a second opinion, PSA and SGC grade real photo pscards.

* There’s no better dating of a postcard if it’s postmarked with the date. That counts as official government dating.

1907 postmark

1907 postmark

* Silvering in the image as sign of old age. Silvering is when it appears as if the silver has come to surface of the image. If it exists, it is more noticeable at the edges and in the dark areas of the image, and when viewed at a specific angle to the light. If you change the angle of the photo to a light source, the silvering will become stronger and darker, sometimes disappearing. It can range in intensity and often resembles a silvery patina.

The key is silvering is an aging process and appears after decades. The presence of silvering is strong evidence of a real photo postcards old age.

This image shows strong silvering in the dark areas.

This image shows strong silvering in the dark areas.

* Early real photo postcards are on thinner stock have matte backs, though the fronts can be glossy. If the back has a smooth, plastic surface, it’s modern. Kodak introduce plastic resin-coated paper in 1968.

* Cyantotype real photo postcards. You will occasionally see real photo postcards with bright blue images. These are cyanotype photos, with cyan meaning light blue. Cyanotype was an old type process. Cyanotypes, even antique ones, don’t get silvering.

Cyanotype postcards with the signature bright blue images

Cyanotype postcards with the signature bright blue images

* If the front and back has a multi-color dot pattern under strong magnification, as on a modern baseball card, it’s more than probably modern reprint, likely made on someone’s home computer.

* A previous column showed how to identify modern paper and fakes with a black light. Read it here.

About David Cycleback

David Cycleback is an art and artifact historian and an internationally known authentication expert. He has advised and examined material for major auction houses and institutions, and was an articles writer for the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography. Reprinted by Beijing's Three Shadows Art Center, his guides "Judging the Authenticity of Prints by the Masters" and "Judging the Authenticity of Photographs" were the first comprehensive books on the subjects published in China. You can find his books for sale on eBay here: http://bit.ly/1mixAcg. He can be reached at [email protected].

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