How to Look at Postcards

© Copyright Kirsty Taylor, Ryerson University.

Toronto Postcard front and reverse side
Kirsty, Taylor “Toronto Postcard” Photograph. Ryerson University. 10 February 2018.

The first postcard was printed in 1870 (Smithsonian History), meaning that postcards have been around for 148 years. They have survived two World Wars but in the age of social media they are becoming a dying art form. Postcards are typically rectangular, and can be portrait or landscape (see Fig 1). They tend to have an image of a tourist attraction on the front, and sometimes a small rectangular box on the top right corner (for a stamp). They often have a few lines on the right side, to write the receivers address. You can find them in many shops, typically on spinning racks that are becoming more and more filled with dust in recent times.

Postcard that reads 'Been there, done that! Toronto'
Kirsty, Taylor “Been there, done that! Postcard” Photograph. Ryerson University. 10 February 2018.

Postcards are often looked at in society as a tourist trap, and a way of letting your loved ones know you are thinking of them. However, the reality is that they are actually often used as bragging rights. Similar to people who place materialistic items behind them to show off their wealth, postcards act as a way to show how well travelled you are. Another example of this is postcards such as Fig 2 which literally have the words ‘Been there, done that!’ printed on it, and then checkboxes tick off, to then send to your friend/family member to show how many cool places you’ve been to that they haven’t. Often the phrase written in postcards is ‘Wish you were here’. Although some people mean it literally, others mean ‘Ha ha, you are not here because you can’t afford to be’

However, there is of course more than one side to every object. Many people collect postcards, this is called deltiology and through researching this project I found out that I am indeed a deltiologist. People often collect postcards as mementos, whereas others collect them in a business way so they can sell them off for more money as they are become rarer. Many people just keep them for themselves as a souvenir, and most people now do their bragging on social media. According to CBC News the amount of domestic letter mail has dropped from five billion pieces in 2006, to around four billion in 2012, with 30 percent of that decline occurring in 2012 (CBC News). So imagine how low it must be now in 2018.

The good news is that Toronto hasn’t given up on the postcard yet and, as mentioned above, still has them available for visitors. It also has its own ‘Toronto Postcard Club’ that has an annual show. However, these are collectors, rather than “senders”, buying for their own pleasure rather than sending them to give someone else pleasure.

It would seem that the original purpose for postcards is gradually dying out. However, what would you rather receive: a postcard or your friend signing into Facebook? it’s still more personal, and shows that (even if there may be a little bragging involved) they are thinking of you. It also takes more effort so you are going to feel more special, as you are one of the few that have been sent a postcard.



Works Cited

CBC News, Canada Post: Mail volume, costs and other quick facts, CBC Radio Canada, December 2013.

© Copyright 2018 Taylor, Kirsty. “Toronto Postcard” Photograph. Ryerson University. 10 February 2018.

© Copyright 2018 Taylor, Kirsty. “Been there, done that! Postcard” Photograph. Ryerson University. 10 February 2018.

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Smithsonian History, Postcard History, Smithsonian Institution Archives,

The Toronto Postcard Club, 37th Annual Toronto Postcard Club Show, The Toronto Postcard Club, 2018.


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.