How to Identify Real Photo Postcards


First Published in October 2004

I’m excited about having the opportunity to present a weekly history and genealogy column for the Ludington Daily News. I’m an amateur genealogist, a collector, and accumulator, of antiques, collectibles, and memorabilia of all kinds.

I have a wide interest in all things historical and that should be evident in the topics that will be presented. We won’t just be looking at the documented past of our local history but also at researching techniques, using the internet to discover links to our genealogy, identifying photographs, and preservation of your family memorabilia.

My interest is not only in those pillars of the community who did great things for our county but also in the private’s letters home from the war, who was driving the county plows in the great winter storms of the 1930’s, and the Scottville Tigers Baseball team.

Other topics will include oral histories, a field trip where we will excavate a 100 year old privy, and much more.

In the immediate future I’m looking for information on the Scottville Tigers Baseball Team, anyone who was at the beach or on the City of Flint during the Armistice Day storm that might be able to identify people in a series of 28 photographs taken by Harrold Holmes, information on Ludington’s fish town, and commercial fishermen in the 1900 to 1930 era for future articles.

Today though let’s take a look at real photo post cards. During the early part of the 1900’s when people fell in love with their box cameras they went out and photographed everything they could find. In the process they documented a tremendous amount of local history and in having their photographs printed on postcard stock created a very popular collecting niche.

The real photo postcard is exactly that, a photograph developed onto paper stock the size of a postcard that had a printed back and a stamp box. There are other types of postcards of town views as an example that are printed. You can tell the difference by taking a magnifying glass and looking at your card. If you see tiny dots that make up the image you have a printed card, like that of a newspaper or magazine, if it’s solid then it will be a real photo postcard.

One of the attractive attributes in collecting these types of postcards is that there may only be one of that particular scene developed from someone’s personal roll of film.

A great many family portraits and scenes of daily life were also produced as a economical, and fun way to share family photos with friends and relatives for the price of a penny stamp.

Professional photographers also produced an abundance of real photo cards and offered them for sale as a means of supplementing their income. Tornadoes, floods, street scenes, parades, school children, lighthouses, boats and county buildings were popular subjects.


The 2 postcards I have here are of the Scottville Barbecue of 1910. The card with the wagon has a sign stating “Going to the Scottville Barbeque Oct 14,15,16 ’10. Without a sign or date inscribed in the photo these can be dated by the postmark if it was mailed or by the printed stamp box on the back


About two dozen companies produced postcard stock, AZO, from 1904 to the 1940’s , and the date of production can be narrowed further by looking at the stamp box. As example if the triangles all point up it was produced from 1904 to 1918.

ARGO, from 1905 to 1920 and on these 2 cards CYKO which dates the cards from 1904 to the mid 1920’s, well within the date of 1910 on the sign next to the wagon. Postage can be an indicator but cards were often mailed many years after they were produced. Prior to 1963 we used a two digit zip code in between the City and State, from 1963 to 1983 a five digit code.

Historically real photo cards are significant, they can be valuable and they are fun to collect and research. What’s in your shoebox?

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