In 1973, New Jersey's favorite son, Bruce Springsteen, used a linen Tichnor postcard (although with a more generic, and boring, background) for the cover of his first album, making it the most recognized large-letter postcard out there.
From the 1930s through the 1950s, tourists taking their first road trips in their newfangled automobiles would frequently stop along the way to pick up a few colorful postcards to mail to the folks back home. The most popular form of eat-your-heart-out greeting was the large-letter postcard, which had been around since the first part of the 20th century but whose heyday was during what we know today as the linen-postcard era. Made of textured paper rather than actual cloth, linen postcards were printed by companies such as Curt Teich & Company of Chicago, Tichnor Brothers and Colourpicture of Boston, E.C. Kropp of Milwaukee, Beals Litho & Printing of Des Moines, and Dexter Press of Pearl River, New York, among many others. Their souvenir postcards for states, cities, military bases, and tourist attractions were usually heralded at the top by the words “Greetings From,” below which were large, blocky, dimensional letters filled in with illustrations or photographs of the destination’s most scenic or noteworthy sights.
Since 2009, the primary resource for fans of this popular postcard genre has been “Large Letter Postcards: The Definitive Guide, 1930s to 1950s,” written by Fred Tenney and Kevin Hilbert. Published by Schiffer, “Large Letter Postcards” features more than 2,200 examples, from several dozen versions of Atlantic City cards (Curt Teich’s first linen large-letter) to cards for Coney Island, Niagara Falls, and Death Valley. Also included are several examples of how large-letter postcards were created, from the card’s initial sketch to its final design, courtesy of materials loaned to the authors by the Curt Teich Postcard Archives.
While Tenney freely admits that he got into large-letters because he noticed there were a lot of them available for a dime when he was sure he could sell them for a buck, Hilbert is a serious collector, owning, by his estimation, some 6,000 to 7,000 postcards of various types, including the duplicates.
“When I first started out,” Hilbert says, “I wanted to get all the Arizona ones.” That’s how most collectors begin, accumulating cards from their hometown or state (Hilbert lives in Tempe, Arizona). “Then I wanted to get one from each state,” he continues, “then I decided I wanted to get all the Curt Teich large-letters.” That put him on a course to collect the more than 1,000 linen large-letter postcards printed by Curt Teich. Hilbert eventually branched out to Tichnors and cards by other printers, as well as more arcane classes of large-letter postcards, from “folders” (an accordion-folded sheet, whose images on the postcards that make up each sheet can often be matched to the views within each of the large letters on a sheet’s cover) to minis (postcards that are only about 2 1/2 inches tall by 3 1/2 inches wide).
Curt Teich is in a class all its own, employing three distinct printing techniques—the five-color Colortones, which account for 90 percent of all Curt Teich large-letter postcards; four-color American Art cards printed from 1940 to 1955; and the five-color Photo-Colorit process, which was used on only five deckled-edge postcards printed between 1938 and 1948. To date a Teich postcard, look for the number and letter preceding the card’s stock number on the lower-front of the card or running vertically in the center of its back. An “A” identifies cards printed in the 1930s, “B” is for the 1940s, and “C” denotes the 1950s, which means that a cards beginning with “8A” was printed in 1938, “5B” in 1945, “0C” in 1950, and so on.
Since its publication, Tenney and Hilbert’s book has become a must-have among postcard dealers and collectors alike, although sharing so much factual information about large-letter postcards with the rest of the collecting world has had its drawbacks. Gone, for example, are the days when Tenney could pick up large-letter postcards for a dime, and these days when Hilbert buys cards by the lot, as he still occasionally does, the chances that it’ll contain a rare gem are low. “Back before the book,” Hilbert says with a soft sigh, “it was easier to find that kind of stuff.”
(All photos via Kevin Hilbert and Large Letter Postcard Site.)