Government-issued postcards first appeared in Austria in 1869 as an economical means of transmitting a message. They swiftly spread throughout Europe and were adopted in the United States in 1873. Meanwhile, pictorial postcards were introduced in France in 1870. Pictorials did not, however, enjoy immediate popularity in the United States, where such privately printed cards required two cents' postage; government postcards cost only a penny. As of July 1, 1898, the Private Mailing Card Act eliminated this inequity, and privately published postcards appeared in increasing number. Postcards published before that date, whether mailed are not, are known as "pioneers".
The World's Colombian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, led to the emergence of the modern postcard. Charles Goldsmith, a Chicago entrepreneur, obtained from the U.S. Post Office a license to print souvenir views of the fair on government-issued postals. When test sales of four cards met with success, Goldsmith issued sets of ten illustrations packaged in a wrapper. The cards became available in 1892, in time for the exposition's ground-breaking ceremony.
After the decrease in postage rates in 1893 gave new impetus to the practice of mailing postcards, collecting them became one of the world's most popular hobbies. At first, the Post Office required that one side of the card be given over in its entirety to the recipient's address; any message had to appear on the front with the illustration, necessitating brevity. New regulations issued in 1907 permitted publishers to divide the reverse of the card to accommodate both message and address in a format which remains in use today.
The period between 1898 and the outbreak of World War I was the golden age of postcards. Printers in Austria and Germany, where color reproduction was less costly than elsewhere, produced lovely postcards for American publishers. During the fiscal year ending on June 30, 1908, for example, 677,777,798 postcards were mailed in the United States. In addition, vast, uncounted quantities languished, unsent, in collectors' albums. At the time, the population of the United States was 88,700,000.
Interest in collecting postcards, after reaching the proportion of a national mania for nearly two decades, diminished abruptly in 1914 because of the onset of World War I and the popularity of newfangled folded greeting cards. As a result, postals dating from the 1920s through the 1960s are more scarce than older specimens. Early collectors called their hobby "cartephilia" or "philocarty", Greek for "a hopeless love of cards". A new wave of postcard collecting commenced in the 1970s, indulged in by a visually literate public which discovered them to be attractive souvenirs of travel and leisure activities, compact to store, and convenient for brief messages. To this generation of collectors their avocation is "deltiology", derived from Greek words meaning "small picture" and "knowledge".
During the golden age of postcard-collecting, one of the collectors was young Anne Hathaway Gibbens, known familiarly as Hathy. As a student of the Ursuline nuns in New Orleans between ca. 1906 and 1910, Hathaway was sent postcards by her mother and other relatives. Hathaway also received postcards, chiefly from friends, at various Gibbens family residences in New Orleans, Louisiana and in Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. She arranged the cards in albums, supplementing her own acquisitions with a small quantity of postcards addressed to her sister Gladys and to Will J. Gibbens, who presumably was her brother.
Represented most prominently in Hathaway Gibbens' collection are viewcards, those which depict a building or scene; there are just a few subject cards and no advertising postcards. The largest two series in the collection contain Louisiana and Mississippi scenes. Such postcards became available in the late 1890s. Some provide the earliest color images of small-town and rural sites and structures or the only surviving illustration of a building or an event.
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