By Michael Baadke
The terms "postcard" and "postal card" are very similar, just as the two objects described by those two terms are very similar.
A postcard requires the sender to add postage before mailing the card. An example is the colorful picture postcard sold at souvenir shops for vacationers to mail home.There is a notable difference between a postcard and a postal card, however, and understanding that difference will help the collector understand an important part of the stamp hobby.
After greetings are written and the card is addressed, a stamp must be affixed before the card is mailed.
Figure 1 shows an example of a postcard mailed from Faeroe Islands to the United States in 1987. The mailer affixed a 3-krone postage stamp showing a fishing trawler (Scott 158) to pay the necessary postage.
A postal card, on the other hand, has postage imprinted upon the card by the postal authority before the card is sold. Such cards are normally sold at post offices.
Figure 2 shows a postal card mailed in 1997 from Indiana to Ohio. The 20¢ stamp image on the card, showing St. John's College, is part of the card's printed design.
This type of postal card has no picture on the reverse. Instead, the reverse is blank, allowing a large area for the mailer to place his message.
Both the postal card and the postcard play important roles in the stamp hobby. Collectors may save postally used versions of both to show evidence of existing postal rates, the use of specific stamps, postmark varieties, and so on.
Mint postal cards are also saved by some collectors, just as mint postage stamps are saved by others.
Unused postcards, however, do not have a role in the stamp hobby. A separate hobby, known as deltiology, includes collectors of both mint and used postcards. These collectors are generally interested in the design, subject matter, history or manufacture of the postcard itself, rather than its postal use.
Laws regarding both postcards and postal cards were established by the United States in the late 1800s. After Austria introduced its first postal card in 1869, the United States Post Office Department issued a 1¢ postal card in 1873 with an image of Liberty imprinted in brown.
A special reduced rate for postcards was authorized by an Act of Congress in 1898.
Some recent U.S. postal cards resemble postcards and, in fact, are sometimes referred to as "picture postal cards."
One example is shown in Figure 3 from the 1996 Endangered Species picture postal card set.
As the illustration shows, each postal card has a large illustration on the picture side, similar to the illustration used on the 32¢ Endangered Species postage stamps. A 20¢ stamp is imprinted on the message and address side on the card, again with a design similar to one of the 32¢ adhesive postage stamps.
Although the current postage rate is 20¢ for postcards and postal cards, the Postal Service sells its Endangered Species postal cards for $11.95 for the set, which figures out to about 80¢ for each card.
First-class postage rates for postcards and postal cards have increased over the years much in the same way that first-class letter rates have.
To qualify for postcard rates, the card must meet specific size regulations. Although the exact sizes have changed slightly over the years, a postcard mailed today must be rectangular in shape, not less than 3.5 inches high, 5 inches long and 0.007 inch thick; and not more than 4.25 inches high, 6 inches long, and 0.016 inch thick.
These size requirements are described in the USPS Domestic Mail Manual dated Jan. 1, 1998. The DMM compiles many of the mailing regulations followed by the Postal Service.
Cards that exceed the maximum guidelines must pay the standard first-class letter rate of postage and, according to the DMM, must not bear the word "postcard."
A commercially produced picture postcard that violates the Postal Service regulations is shown in Figure 4. It measures 3.82 inches high, which is within the guidelines, but is 8.875 inches long, nearly three inches beyond the acceptable maximum length.
It was mailed with a 20¢ stamp, but received a postage due marking (at left) indicating that because of its excessive size, an additional 12¢ payment was needed to fulfill the first-class letter rate of 1 ounce or less.
Along with the standard 20¢ postcard rate, there is also a reduced first-class rate for mailers who send out a large quantity of cards that are presorted to meet USPS automation requirements.
A postal card does not exist to fulfill this reduced rate, so mailers who take advantage of it usually mark their postcards with a permit statement in the upper-right corner where a stamp is normally found.
Some mailers, however, use special first-class presorted postcard postage stamps that are available from the Postal Service.
Only one postage stamp, the nondenominated Auto Tail Fin coil stamp, currently fulfills this postage rate. The stamp is manufactured in three varieties, including a self-adhesive version (Scott 2910) that is shown on the postally used commercial postcard in Figure 5.
Although the stamp may be used in combination with other stamps to pay postage for other types of mail, a commercial postcard like the Figure 5 example properly shows the intended use of the Auto Tail Fin coil stamp.
The stamp has a nominal value of 15¢, but it is used to fulfill postage rates ranging from 14¢ to 18¢ per piece, depending on the degree to which the mailed postcards meet Postal Service automation requirements.
For standard first-class postcards, there are several available stamps, including the 20¢ Blue Jay design seen on the Figure 4 example, a 20¢ Cog Railway stamp from the Transportation coil series, and a 20¢ Harry S. Truman stamp from the Great Americans definitive series.
A number of different postal card designs are currently available from the Postal Service as well. A new 20¢ postal card honoring the University of Mississippi is expected soon.
A postcard/postal card collection may begin with postally used examples from each postcard rate, and can expand to show different stamps and postal cards used to fulfill each rate. As always, it's up to the collector to decide which way the collecting will take him.
blogWhen this cover was listed on eBay in mid-September, it didn't take long for some knowledgeable collectors to recognize this piece of postal history for the gem that it is: an early trans-oceanic survey cover for a Pacific route that included Midway Island, which would become famous as the location of a pivotal 1942 naval battle during World War II. Read More ›
blogThis month marks my fifth anniversary writing the monthly auction report for Linn’s Stamp News. That’s 60 columns, totaling more than 100,000 words (enough for a decent-sized novel), all about our favorite hobby. Read More ›
blogIn mid-September I traveled to London, England, to attend Autumn Stampex, one of two British national stamp shows sponsored by the Philatelic Traders’ Society, Great Britain’s national stamp dealers association. The show took place Sept. 16-19 at the Business Design Centre in Islington (central north London), a comfortable and attractive venue for a stamp show. Read More ›
September 28, 2015 03:30 AMAfter the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, postal workers not only saved the mail, they saved the new post office building. Read More ›
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News senior editor Denise McCarty discusses current events that relate to the stamp hobby, including the relocation of a stamp show in Sweden due to the Syrian refugee crises, and new stamps honoring Pope Francis and the British monarchy.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke talks about a record fifth win for wildlife artist Joseph Hautman in the federal duck stamp art contest, and see the painting that will appear on next year’s federal duck stamp
Watch as Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz questions Bolivia’s choice for the design of a 2013 stamp honoring the country’s efforts to protect its migrants in foreign lands.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News managing editor Chad Snee discusses the discovery of the upright Jenny Invert pane received in an order from Stamp Fulfillment Services in Kansas City, Mo., and also reports on the Confederate Stamp Alliance.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.