Skip to main content

Washington, D.C. Postcard Collection

Identifier: P030

Scope and Contents

The earliest postcards in the collection date from circa 1898 with the bulk of the materials dating from the 1920s to the 1940s.

The collection consists almost exclusively of imprinted (ink) postcards but also includes “real-photo” (gelatin silver) variety as well. The collection leans heavily towards images of tourist Washington but many images of “hometown” Washington are included as well (Businesses, Churches, Organizations, Restaurants, Schools – Private/Public, Stores, and Streets).


  • ca. 1848-1940

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Use

No know restrictions.

Biographical / Historical

The first souvenir “post cards” were available for purchase in the United States at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. These cards featured illustrations of the various fair buildings printed on government-issued postal cards and privately printed souvenir cards. The government postal cards were imprinted with one-cent indicias while the privately printed souvenir cards required two-cents postage to be applied. Writing was not permitted on the address side of these cards.

Five years passed before private printers were granted, by an act of Congress on May 19, 1898, permission to print and sell postcards that bore the inscription Private Mailing Card. These cards could now be mailed at the same one-cent rate as the government-issued cards.

The federal government granted use of the word “Post Card” to private printers on December 24, 1901. Writing was still not permitted on the address side. Use of postcards with “divided backs,” allowing both the address and a message on one side, was permitted on March 1, 1907.

Besides depicting images of places that may no longer exist, postcards often contain messages offering documentation representative of a time and place. From observations of historic events to matters of personnel concern, insights are given into the life and times of the postcard's sender.


7 Boxes

7 Linear feet


Arranged by subject. Processed without series.

Custodial History

The postcards in this collection have been donated continuously to the Library since circa 1934.

Processing Information

Basic archival processing procedures were applied to the collection when it was processed.

Washington, D.C. Postcard Collection
An inventory of the Washington, D.C. Postcard Collection at DC Public Library
Finding aid prepared by Jerry A. McCoy.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The People's Archive, MLK Library Repository

901 G Street NW
4th Floor East
Washington DC 20001