:: Postcard Collection


The Riverside Public Library's Postcard Collection consists of over 1200 postcards and includes, in addition to standard-sized cards, oversized postcards and postcard portfolios. They range chronologically from the late 19th century to the present. They cover Inland Southern California with an emphasis on Riverside. This is an active collection and new cards are added on a regular basis.


Postcards can make the past come to life in a unique and engaging way. Once they were considered things to be used and thrown out, but now they can provide a window into the past that allows us to see places that may no longer exist and to hear voices stilled by the passage of time.

In the late 19th century, as correspondence by post became more reliable and common, a growing middle class provided a market for these cards to send by post. This socio-economic trend merged with the emerging field of photography and created, by the end of the century, picture postcards. Initially, personal messages were restricted to the fronts of these cards while the backs were reserved strictly for the address. Eventually "split back" cards were allowed by postal authorities. Correspondence was on the left and the address and postage on the right. At a time before television and the Internet, the introduction in 1893 in the United States and in 1894 in Great Britain of the picture postcard marked a significant turning point in visual communications. People were at once able to send visual messages to others. Much as today, people will send vacation pictures to friends and family by e-mail or post them on websites, so, too, a century ago did people send postcards as a way of sharing with others their own experiences. The sharing of postcards reached a peak during the so-called "postcard craze" of the early 20th century from around 1902 to 1915. Today postcards provide a window into the past and are an invaluable resource to historians, preservationists, and other researchers.

Types of Postcards

Postcards can be grouped in two very broad categories: view cards and greeting cards. View cards are those that show buildings, towns, streetscapes, landscapes, etc. Greeting cards would encompass what remains, including holiday postcards, birthday cards, portraits of persons, comedy cards, cards with sayings, etc. At RPL we collect primarily, but not exclusively, view cards.

View Cards fit into several more-or-less chronological categories as follows:

Pioneer Era (1893-1898)

Although there were earlier scattered issues, most pioneer cards in North American collections today begin with cards placed on sale at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago on 1 May 1893. These were illustrations on government issued postal cards and privately printed souvenir cards. The government postal cards had the printed 1 cent stamp while the souvenir cards required a 2 cent adhesive postage stamp to be applied to it. Writing was not permitted on the address side.

Private Mailing Cards (1898-1901)

On 19 May 1898, private printers were granted permission, by an act of Congress, to print and sell cards that bore the inscription "Private Mailing Card." Postage required was now a 1 cent adhesive stamp. A dozen or so American printers began to take postcards seriously. Writing was not permitted on the address side.

Post Cards (1901-1907)

The use of the word "Post Card" was granted by the government to private printers on 24 December 1901. Writing was still not permitted on the address side. In this era private citizens began to take photographs and have them printed on paper with postcard backs.

Divided Back Postcards (1907-1914)

Postcards with a divided back were permitted on 1 March 1907. The address was to be written on the right side and the left side was for writing messages. Many millions of cards were published in this era. Up to this point most postcards were printed in Germany, which was far advanced in the lithographic processes. After the start of World War I, more postcards were printed in Great Britain and the United States.

White Border Postcards (1915-1930)

Most of these cards were printed in the United States in this time period. To save ink, a border was left around the view. The high cost of labor, inexperience, and public taste caused production of poor quality cards. High competition in a narrowing market caused many publishers to go out of business.

Linen Postcards (1930-1944)

New printing processes allowed printing of postcards on paper with a high rag content that produced a linen-like finish. These cheap cards allowed the use of gaudy dyes for coloring.

Photochrome Postcards (1945-Present)

Photochrome postcards began to dominate the scene soon after they were launched by the Union Oil Company in their western service stations in 1939. Three-dimensional postcards also appeared in this era.

Hold-to-light Cards (early 20th century)

Hold-to-light Cards have a design cut out of the card which is covered in thinner paper. When the card is held to light, it shows through the thinner paper, thus revealing the design.

Realphoto Postcards (various)

Realphoto cards are real photographs. A photograph was taken and developed. A caption might be written on the negative. Then the photograph was printed on postcard stock. They occur throughout the different periods of cards, from very early to the present. They are characterized by their fine detail and color gradations. If one is viewed under magnification it will have typical photograph grain as opposed to a dot pattern typical of printed cards. Many Realphoto cards are one-of-a-kind. Some were, relatively, mass produced, usually by a photographer. We typically treat Realphoto cards as photographs, and not as postcards.

Greeting Cards

This designation is for cards that do not fall in the View Card category. The bulk of such cards published can be called Holiday Cards. Holiday Cards were quite popular in the period 1907-1920, whereupon they gave way to larger cards mailed in envelopes such as we are familiar with today. RPL does not actively collect Holiday Cards except as incidentally when the correspondence portion is significant. There is also a wide variety of generic scenes, comedy cards, art reproductions, portraits, the infamous "French" postcards, and all manner of miscellany.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of postcards relating to Inland Southern California with an emphasis on the City of Riverside. There is a significant number of postcards of the Mission Inn, which is said to be the U.S. hotel most depicted in postcards. There are over 1200 postcards. The collection is divided into two series: standard sized-cards and also oversized cards. The cards date from the late 19th century to the present.

Series Description

Series I: Standard-sized cards arranged alphabetically by subject heading.

Series II: Oversized cards arranged alphabetically by subject heading.

The subject headings used are those as set forth in the Riverside County Local History Subject Heading List.


The cards in this collection were acquired by the Riverside Public Library by gift or purchase over a period of time encompassing the Library's entire history.

Related Collections

There are various collections which contain visual images. They include:

Allmon (Lorne) Photograph Collection

Bandy (Frances) Photograph Collection

Beaver, Edith. Photo Album

Bobb (Marion) Photograph Collection

Collier (C.T.) Photograph Collection

Field (Avery Edwin) Panoramic Photographs

Frasher (Burton) and Cooper (Lloyd) Photograph Collection

General Photograph Collection

Griffing (Mary Knight) Photograph Collection

Lander (Chesley Adelbert) Photographs

Love, William K. A Collection of Photographs Taken by William K. Love

McCright (Edith) Papers

Moore (Wanease) Photograph Collection

Murrieta Hot Springs Photograph Collection

Reed (John Henry) Photograph Collection

Riverside Woman's Club Photograph Collection

Shades of Riverside

Local History