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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.

Enlargement from seaside photographerReverse showing print is on a roll of pre-printed postcard paper

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.

Post card papers

post card papers advertisement

RPPC Example

Reverse of RPPC Example

Size of Postcard

The size of cards varied throughout this period.

  • Court sized cards (3½ x 4½ inches).
  • The 'Intermediate' size of 5 x 3 inches (approx) was followed by
  • the adopted standard sized card 5½ x 3½ inches which was in common use from 1900 until the 1960's

Two Court Postcards

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 two Court Postcards

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

Some common stamp box designs were:
AGFA/ANSCO 1930-1940s
ANSCO 1940-1960 2 Stars at top & bottom
ARGO 1905-1920
ARTURA 1910-1924
AZO 1926-1940s Squares in corners
AZO 1904-1918 4 triangles pointed up
AZO 1918-1930 Triangles 2 up, 2 down
AZO 1907-1909 DIAMONDS in corners
AZO 1922-1926 Empty Corners
CYKO 1904-1920s
DEFENDER 1910-1920 Diamond above & below
DEFENDER 1920-1940 Diamond inside
Devolite Peerless 1950-
DOPS 1925-1942
EKC 1939-1950
EKKP 1904-1950
EKO 1942-1970
KLTD - 1918-36 Kodak Ltd
KRUXO 1907-1920s
KRUXO 1910-1920s Xs in corners
NOKO 1907-1920s
PMO 1907-1915
SAILBOAT 1905-1908 Sailboat in circle
SOLIO 1903-1920s Diamonds in corners
VELOX 1907-1914 Diamonds in corners
VELOX 1901-1914 Squares in corners
VELOX 1909-1914 Triangles: 4 pointed Up
VITAVA 1925-1934

Stamps, where postally used

Originally the postal rate for postcards was ½ d
The colour of the halfpenny - ½ d stamp was changed in 1900 to meet international standards
Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901
The postal rate for postcards was increased to one penny on 3rd June 1918
Postage rate for postcards was increased to three half pence on 13th June 1921
Postage rate for postcards was decreased to one penny on 24th May 1922
Postage rate for postcards was increased to twopence on 1st May 1940
Full details and stamp examples are to be found here: http://sunnyfield.co.uk/dayspast/stamps_on_postcards.php


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

Photographer’s Details

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

Publisher's details, printed on the face or reverse of the card, can also help with dating. 

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www.FadingImages.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, listing photographers in Cambridgeshire 1840-2000
This page was last modified: 30 March 2016, 10:25

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