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Real Photo Post Cards

This exhibit features images of a number of real photo postcards and explores what exactly this terminology means. 

Photo-sensitive printing paper was developed by the Eastman Kodak Company (EKC, below) in 1903, and shortly thereafter a pocket Kodak camera allowed for the creation of the photo postcards discussed in this exhibit. 

One of the biggest focuses of this exhibit is on the dating and identification of different types of real photo cards, which can oftentimes be identified based simply on viewing an image or series of letters (which are often morphed into a graphic design logo of sorts) found in or around the box for the stamp on the back of the card. Some common letters found on real photo cards in this exhibit are:

  • AZO (used 1904-1940s, depending on what shapes accompany the letters)
  • EKC (used 1939-1950)
  • EKO (used 1942-1970)

For a full list of the lettering used on real photo cards, see this table. The table also provides approximates date for when each lettering was used.

Another way to determine whether or not you have a real photo card is to use a magnifying glass or microscope to look at the image on the card. If the card is composed of tiny dots (similar to those seen in newspaper cartoons or the work of Roy Lichtenstein), then it is not a real photo card. This is because the images on real photo cards are produced in a dark room using the negative to cast the image onto photo-sensitive paper. Other cards, in contrast, are printed and that process leaves tell-tale signs. The tiny dots mentioned above are left behind by modern printers; however, older printing techniques (such as wood block printing) don't leave this dots and can be harder to distinguish from real photo cards. If you look at the border of two different colors on a card and find that the line is fairly sharp and doesn't feature dots, then chances are you have a real photo card. 

Of course, the final indicator that you've found a real photo card are the words, "Real Photo," or "Real Photo Postcard," which many companies print on the back of real photo cards. But of course the detective work is, in my opinion, more fun.