Greg Hoots Real Photo Postcard Collection

Postcards have a rich history in the United States and abroad with the first postcards being used in Europe in the 1840s.  In the United States, the first postcard was patented by John P. Charlton of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1861 who sold the license to produce postcards to Hymen Lipman, noted for producing postcards with intricately engraved decorated borders.

Souvenir cards were first produced for the 1893 World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois.  These cards were “private mailing cards” as opposed to postcards which could only be produced by the United States Postal Service at that time.  In 1901, legislation allowed private printers to produce “postcards” which could be mailed through the U.S. Mail.  The regulations created with that law prohibited the user from writing any message on the address side of the card.


This real photo postcard is “undivided”, meaning that no message could be included on the address side of the card.

On March 1, 1907, new legislation was enacted that allowed postcards to be divided on the address side to include a space for a written message, apart from the address. That change in regulations launched a boom in postcard usage in the United States.  For the next forty years, postcard use in America boomed, and the cards became a popular subject of private collectors.  Often, collectors stored their cards in albums, and while many people exchanged postcards for virtually every celebrated holiday, a new type of postcard gained enormous popularity in the mid-1900s, the real photo postcard.  The postcard bore a real photograph produced on a postcard blank which contained photographic emulsion on one side.  Kodak developed and patented a compact bellows camera that produced a negative that was 122-millimeters in width, roughly 3 1/2-inches by 5 3/4-inches in overall size, the exact size of a penny postcard. The cameras, in the “folding pocket camera series” were commonly called “postcard cameras”.

postcard camera

This Kodak folding pocket camera, also known as a ‘postcard camera’, produced a 122-millimeter negative, the exact size of a penny postcard.

Photographers began selling their service to businesses, providing real photo postcards for advertising purposes or for merchants to sell to their customers.  Real photo postcards became the most popular type of postcard collectors in American, particularly in the era between 1907 and 1918.  While photo postcards remained common in America throughout the last half of the 20th century, the collector market for real photo postcards is centered on the subjects photographed in the first half of that century.

While the use of postcards exchanged via the mail waned after World War II, private collectors began collecting old postcards in earnest in the 1960s and 1970s.  Many of those collectors were private local historians who collected local or regional photographic views.  Other postcard collectors focused on particular subject matter, such as Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad views or Rock Island Railway real photo cards, while other collectors focused on views from a single city.

Missouri_200_Colorized descreen copy

This photo postcard, produced circa 1908, shows the north end of the east side of the 200 block of Missouri Street in Alma, Kansas. Buildings seen from left include, Louis Palenske’s Commercial National Bank, F.C. Noller Mercantile, the Alma telephone exchange, the Simon building, and the Airdome Theater. Colorized postcards such as this one were produced by printers who would take a real photo negative and apply it to a printing plate, arbitrarily assigning colors to various sections of the card.

Virtually every professional photographer operating in 1910 was producing real photo postcards for sale by local merchants.  Some national companies such as C. U. Williams of Bloomington, Illinois aggressively marketed real photo postcards using photos produced by professional-quality cameras in the early 1900s.  By 1912, Williams had transitioned into a new line of work as a very successful automobile dealer.


This real photo postcard of the collapse of a bridge under construction at Dover was produced by M. L. Zercher Book and Stationery, circa 1908.

In Topeka, M. L. Zercher Book and Stationery Company became a giant in the real photo postcard business beginning in about 1907.  In addition to having their own photographers, Zercher also aggressively advertised his lab’s ability to reproduce any photo or negative provided by a customer.  Zercher produced more real photo postcard views of Kansas towns than any other photographer or company in the state’s history.


This card was produced to promote real photo postcard sales, listing the price for printing the cards. The card also notes that Zercher would make real photo postcards from customer’s pictures.

The Flint Hills Special’s creator, Greg Hoots, began collecting real photo postcards of the Flint Hills about twenty-five years ago.  Below you can view a selection of his postcard collection which includes scans of the front and back of each card.  The collection includes real photo views from the Flint Hills towns of Dover, Eskridge, Alma, Paxico, Maple Hill, Alta Vista, Harveyville, Cottonwood Falls, and Strong City.

Click on any photo below and view the entire collection in a gallery format or as full-screen images.

Categories: Gallery, Photographs

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7 replies »

  1. Thank you so much for posting this.  It is quite amazing to view this history.  My father and mother both grew up in Paxico. Watch your dreams unfold one by one. Barb  


  2. I really enjoy looking at your photos. There was railroad bridge made out of iron located just out of Alma that the Santa Fe train ran on in route to Eskridge. Would you happen to find a picture of it?


  3. The “Business Block of Alma” postcard near the top shows the Noller Mercantile in 1908 – Nollers built the house I live in at 509 Missouri Ave. Built that same year 1908.


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