What is a postcard?

Leave it to us to make a simple topic complicated.   It’s easy to know what a postcard isn’t, right?  An apple is not a postcard, is it?  But what if you put a stamp on it, and carve a message into the skin, and write the address, and mail it?  (Don’t give up, we’re almost finished…)  No, that’s not a postcard.  Now think of the apple as a piece of copper foil.  Stamp, message, address:  yes, this qualifies as a postcard in most jurisdictions.  Not just copper, either:  balsa wood, leather postals, scratch-and-sniff fragrances and the like–all available then or now.  You can cut the front panel of a box of cornflakes into the shape of a postcard, and mail it without any special issue.  It will arrive.


Postcard clubs are everywhere, and vendors (including us) often have “novelty” sections.  But over time we have learned there is no easy or convenient definition.  At one extreme, those really are postcards in the spinning rack at the front door of a tourist shop near the Eiffel Tower.  But here’s where it gets murky:  you can be sitting in Kansas and buy unused cards with all perspectives of the Eiffel Tower from companies in Russia.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these, but the card never was and never will be anywhere near Paris.  You can go to Paris, take your own photo, submit it for printing, and voila!  a pack of 1000 cards with that picture, delivered to your door.  Or skip the ordering process, and print them yourself.  Are these postcards?  Sure they are.  Sort of.


Then there are free “ad cards,” many of which are designed for mailing and have space for a stamp and address, while others are fully pre-printed on the back.  And some airline companies, even in today’s economy, still hand out cards of their planes to passengers who ask.  What about miniature souvenir folios, usually fold-out or some other format, more than one card and meant to be mailed that way?  Recently we came across another kind of “postcard,” whose name we will not dignify here.  Maybe you’ve seen them, a kind of plastic, the result of putting your message and an address into your mobile phone and they do the rest.  Ugh.


We focus on traditional postcards but aren’t rigid about it.  If we know the item to be from an online shop, or (very rarely, but it happens) self-made, we try to say so.  If there’s any question, customers can always ask.  But not to worry, in the great majority of cases, what you think of as a “postcard” and what we think of will be exactly the same.