mad in pursuit: tips on antique postcards


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1 - Postcard Eras | 2 - Black & White Postcards | 3 - Color Postcards

Postcard Printing Processes: Black & White Views

Understanding the printing processes used to produce postcards can help you describe what you have and maybe help establish value. Below are samples of various printing processes from postcards scanned at 2400 pixels per inch, so you can see the tiny detail in the grain.

Do it yourself: Once you know what you're looking for, a good magnifying glass will show you what you need to know. A 15x jeweler's loupe will allow an even closer inspection.

Photograph (printed directly on to sensitized paper from a photographic negative): All view postcards are based on original photographs. As you can see below (default view below and Sample #1), photographs are the gold standard in terms of fine grain -- providing beautiful, detailed resolution. Photographic postcards were often unique images, not meant for mass distribution. The one above shows boys at a camp. The so-called film grain, as you can see from the sample below, is nearly microscopic.

Photomechanical processes (ways of securing a photographic image on a printing plate, for mass production):

Collotype. In full commercial use by the 1870s. A "photo-gelatin" method that produced a very fine grain, sometimes indistinguishable from to photograph to the naked eye. Impressions were limited to 1500 to 2000 before the gelatin printing surface deteriorated. Quite common in postcards. Sample #2 below (from a 1914 French postcard) shows the highly reticulated grain. The Albertype (USA) in Sample #3 is a variation of the collotype.

Photogravure. Introduced in Vienna in 1879. A copper engraving plate is sensitized photographically. Beautiful, but expensive and the steel facing of the plate would wear out after about 1000 prints. I haven't seen any postcards from this process. (Sample #4 is not from a postcard.)

Platinogravure. Sample #4 (from a French postcard of Lourdes). What do you think? From what I can gather, Platinogravure is a brand name for a French reproduction process. I would have assumed it is a variation on photogravure, but the texture looks screened.

Halftone.  popular after 1894. The photographic negative is processed through a screen into a grid of variably sized black and white dots. Easy, cheap, not very beautiful because of the relatively poor resolution. (Sample #6 below, from a White Border era postcard, 1915-1930, USA)

 (Click on the thumbnails below to blow up the patterns from different processes.)


Click on thumbnails to enlarge:

Real photograph
[card 296]
[card 265]
[card 172]
[card 271]
[card 207]

7.11.05 (rev. 12.6.05, 5.1.13)