Anna Maria Island, December 2, 1987

Wish you were here!

By Gib Bergquist

All of us at one time or another in our lives have received the above message on a colorful picture post card from traveling friends and loved ones. Where and when did this bit of Americana originate? What! You don’t really care?

Well, the Cracker would like to tell you, anyway.

The picture post card made its debut at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and has been an important means of communication ever since.

For the first time, for the price of only a one-cent stamp for domestic delivery, these colorful cards were accepted for mailing by the U.S. Post Office Department. For two cents, the card could be sent anywhere in the world. There was one important restriction: Only the name of the recipient could appear on the blank or reverse side of the card.

Due to this postal regulation, senders would write little messages such as “Luv ya!,” “Miss You!,” “My hotel room is where the ‘X’ is,” and more often “Wish you were here!” on the picture or in the margins of the card, much to the chagrin of the serious post card collector.

From its introduction in 1893, the collection of post cards became a national craze and remained so until about 1920. It was not uncommon to find post card albums in the parlors of the most fashionable homes of that era.

Finally, in 1907, postal authorities recognized the mutilation problem collectors were facing and approved a new design for the reverse side. The new card was printed with a divided reverse side — the left for a short message and the right for the address. To the delight of the post card collectors, this design has remained so for the past 80 years. Only the price of the card and the stamp to mail it has drastically changed.

Post cards were once printed for every conceivable occasion such as holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, etc. Some of the fancy ones were even embossed. Also printed were cards depicting romance, humor, patriotism, jingoism, animals, sports, important personages, fashions, elegant women and even erotica — you’ve led a dull life if you haven’t seen Uncle Harry’s collection of naughty French post cards brought back from World War I.

During the heyday of the post card collecting hobby, one U.S. company had in its inventory 16,000 different scenes made by photographers sent to every nook and cranny of our country to record “Main Street, U.S.A.” and environs. Foreign countries also got into the act, since, at that time, their engravers were better than ours.

Not all post card producing companies were scrupulous, however, and the same scene has been known to appear on more than one post card with only the caption changed.

“The River Queen rounding the bend near Cairo, Illinois” might also be published as “The River Queen rounding the bend near Vicksburg, Mississippi” and so on down the river all the way to New Orleans.

In spite of the charlatans, the post card remains to this day, the best pictorial record of the development of our towns and cities and is an invaluable aid in historic restoration projects. The Cracker, while not a serious post card collector, has a shoe box full of old timey picture post cards chock-full of history, geography, nostalgia, and unsophisticated humor.

“Wish you were here” to share them with me.

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

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