The giving and receiving of cards and letters reached their highest prevalence around the beginning of the Victorian era, where it was expected for all citizens of social standing to successfully and eloquently express themselves through writing. The succeeding Edwardian era, with the advent of varying methods of transportation (railways and aircraft) and systems of communication (telephone and telegraphs), prompted a small surge of the uncommon among those who still made letters their primary source of correspondence, entertainment, and education. For example, it was during this time that many postcards were crafted out of leather.
Regarded as novelty items, leather postcards were in production from about 1900-1910. The forwarding address was written on the back and a stamp was added to the same side before mailing. If the sender wanted to include a handwritten note, the only place to do so was on the side of the postcard that displayed a design. Thus, personalized correspondences on leather postcards (and their paper counterparts) tended to be quite concise. It wasn’t until 1907 when postcards adopted the “divided back” design familiar today, whereby senders were legally permitted to write a message next to the recipient’s address should they so choose.
The designs and scripts of single-sided postcards, especially of leather postcards, tended to be succinct. Although most postcards depicted locations or idealized landscapes accompanied by generalized statements (“Missing home…,” “Greetings from Chicago!”), some of them portrayed moods or suggestions that could range anywhere from seething anger to the sexually explicit. Love was also a constant theme on leather postcards, much like greeting cards presently available in shops. However, possibly due to the fact that the message on a postcard can be read by any and all who beheld it, many romantic sentiments seem to be very lighthearted; perhaps even trite.
Regardless of emotion, Leather postcards (much like their paper counterparts) often tell a story–or, especially without the addition of postmarks, a mystery. Unlike their paper cousins, the small production window of leather postcards practically guarantee that each story is about 100 years old. Does a postcard featuring a romantic message, unmarked and unsent, allude to a love that had experienced an untimely, maybe unavoidable, death? Or, given that the postcard is in pristine condition, was it a memento received in person and remembered with fondness throughout a lifetime?
Find a leather postcard and give a combined gift of love, art, and history to your significant other this Valentine’s Day!