Old Photographs - Real Photograph Post Cards - RPPCs
The Real Photograph Post Card (RPPC) is a cross-over point where the collection of old photographs and post card collection meet. Essentially the RPPC has a photograph on one side and a postcard back. The photographic image might be of anything, but the most common subjects are views, portraits and events.
Recognising real photograph post cards
Look at the image carefully with a glass – if it is a photographic image individually exposed and printed photographically there will be continuous graduations of greys. Postcards printed in tiny dots will have been produced by another printing process.
Production of RPPCs - the Supply Chain
RPPCs might have been published by postcard publishers who operated nationally, regionally or locally. Sometimes these are clearly marked with the publisher's details, sometimes not. Sometimes a publisher produced postcards (usually views) exclusively for a retailer, such as a local postmaster or shopkeeper, who then sold these to the public. These postcards might be commissioned by the shopkeeper, perhaps from an image which they supplied, or they might simply be bought wholesale from a listing. Such postcards might contain the name of the retailer, or they could contain the name of the publisher.
After the picture postcard was introduced on 1st September 1894, commercial photographers offered clients an option to have their portraits or other prints on photographic paper, the back of which was pre-printed as a postcard. Sometimes this would have been an option chosen by the client to permit the use of the card by post as a post card, sometimes it was chosen because there was a craze of post card collecting, just as many years earlier cartes de visite were collected. Sometimes, there might not have been an option – that was simply how some photographers offered their product. The example below illustrates the point and shows an image from a seaside photographer at Margate - the photograph has been printed 8.5 x 5.5 inches - and the reverse shows that the photographic paper used is from a roll with pre-printed postcard backs.
Local professional photographers were also often postcard publishers in their own right, and in some cases were both publisher and retailer of postcards.
Photographs taken by amateurs can also occasionally be found in the form of RPPCs. Some of the commercial developing and printing works, who processed films for amateur photographers, offered an option to provide prints with a postcard printed reverse. This option had died out by the 1950s.
The amateur who developed and printed his or her own prints could also buy photographic paper pre-printed with postcard backs as can be seen from the scans below from Marion's Photographic Catalogue in 1906. Below this is an example of an amateur photographer's entry in a photographic competition at Mortlake's Brewery in Summer 1938. A certificate on the rear states that the photo and its printing is the personal work of the photographer, F.G.Gaines - and the print on which the certificate is stuck is Kodak postcard backed paper.
Size of Postcard
The size of cards varied throughout this period.
Two court postcards, 4.25 x 3.25 ins, that on the left has rounded corners, photographers and subjects unknown late 1890s. (author's collection)
Reverse of the above two postcards
Border Round the Edge, Uneven Printing
Where photographic plate sizes did not map to the same proportions as the postcard, one option was to print the entire plate with white borders round the edge, often unevenly centred.
Divided / Undivided back
Originally picture postcards had an un-divided back – only the address could be written on this side, the message had to be on the face of the card.
From 1902 Inland British postal regulations permitted the writing of a message and the address on the back of the postcard. The back was divided – communication on the left, address on the right. This arrangement was adopted in later years by other countries. It was common from 1902 for messages to appear on the back of the card telling the user that the space could now be used for a message, but for inland postage only. The message became more complicated between, 1902 and 1906, listing different countries which permitted this as it was adopted elsewhere until 1906 when the Universal Postal Union adopted this arrangement world-wide. The “now” was dropped from the message around 1906. Eventually the whole message about the divided back was dropped as people became familiar with the medium.
This site shows a number of examples of divided backs:
Text in the Stamp Box
Text was often included in the stamp box on the rear of the card, indicating postal rate or use of the divided back. It also became common practice for the photographic paper producer to include a manufacturer’s text or a motif.
These sites have some good examples www.edinphoto.org.uk/0_pc_0/0_post_card_history_-_stamp_boxes.htm and
Stamps, where postally used
Originally the postal rate for postcards was ½ d
Where postally used the postmark will indicate date posted, which might of course have been some time after the photograph on the card was taken
Where the RPPC was produced by a professional photographer it was usual to have the photographer's name and studio details printed discretely on the rear, or occasionally printed on the face. It is very difficult to work out details of the photographer for many RPPCs. When the publisher is shown, knowledge of the publisher's modus operandi can occasionally lead to the identity of the photographer. For example, Edgar Morley, a shopkeeper at Linton who published and sold postcards of local views is known to have taken his own photographs.
Publisher's details, printed on the face or reverse of the card, can also help with dating.
www.FadingImages.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, listing photographers in Cambridgeshire 1840-2000
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