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“Greetings from…”

Switzerland is the fourth country in the world to introduce the postcard. The postage costs just half that of a letter. As tourism takes off, the following decades see a veritable boom in postcards.

Postcard from circa 1900 with a picture and the inscription “Greetings from Lucerne”. Source: Gebrüder Metz, Kunstverlags-Anstalt Basel (ed.) / Museum of Communication

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In October 1869, the first postcard is sent in Austria. It is still called a “correspondence card”, and it doesn’t have a picture. As a precaution, the Austro-Hungarian postal service notes on the card that it “assumes no responsibility for the content of messages”. This is because the postcard is in conflict with the principle of mail secrecy. The success of the new cards is overwhelming, as they cost just half the postage for a letter and are easier to write. A few months later – in 1870 – Switzerland becomes the fourth country in the world to introduce the postcard. Until 1874, it is only permitted domestically.

The postcard saves time in communications and is the perfect fit for the era of industrialization: company logo, sender address and any text required are preprinted in business correspondence. Hoteliers, spas and trading houses in particular use the new postcards as an advertising medium.

“Isn’t it lovely, wish you were here!”

The first cards with images appear in the early 1870s – more or less at the same time as the flourishing phenomenon of tourism, which evolves into a mass-market business in the ensuing decades. Among travellers, demand grows for sending their greetings to people back home and showing them some of the attractions they have seen. Photography, which is now widespread, makes it possible to send pictures from holiday destinations to say: “Isn’t it lovely, wish you were here!”

Postcard from circa 1900, reverse side with address, postmarks and franking. Source: Museum of Communication
A postcard from circa 1900. Source: Museum of Communication

However, these picture postcards initially lack colour. Photo picture postcards are coloured by hand, print by print, often using stencils. Things only become more efficient when the photochromic process is invented at Orell Füssli in Zurich. In this process, the black-and-white negative is projected onto up to 16 light-sensitive stones, which are then printed in various different colours. From 1930 on, the picture postcard business no longer works with photochromic photos, but with real colour photos.

The postcard boom lasts until the First World War. At its peak, in 1913, 112.5 million printed postcards are sold in Switzerland. While picture postcards are produced and sold privately, postcards with a printed stamp are sold exclusively by Swiss Post. Picture postcards have also always been collectors’ items. The images used on picture postcards from 1880 to 1940 in particular are of major importance from both a historical and an art-historical perspective.


Kurt Moritz Käppeli: “Ansichtskarten”, in: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS), version dated 18.09.2019, online: https://hls-dhs-dss.ch/de/articles/031213/2019-09-18Target not accessible

https://www.swissinfo.ch/ger/alle-news-in-kuerze/150-jahre-postkarte---und-der-schweizer-trick--der-sie-bunt-machte/45267158Target not accessible

Karl Kronig, Museum of Communication (ed.): Ab die Post! 150 Jahre schweizerische Post, Bern, 1999.

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