Up until 1907 in the United States – a few years earlier in England, France, and Germany –postcards were characterized by their “Undivided Back,” meaning they did not include a partition to separate the message from the address. In fact, by law, writing was not permitted on the address side on any postcard. Personal notes were written across the front of the card directly over the picture or artwork.
On March 1, 1907 (in the U.S.), the “Golden Age” of postcards began with the advent of the “Divided Back.” For the first time the back of cards was used for both the address and personal message, leaving the front of the cards unmarred, showing only the lovely artwork or photography. This development helped postcard collecting became a national pastime.
An integral part of that pastime was Samuel Lorne Schmucker (1879-1921). Schmucker’s postcard images are some of the best from the Golden Age. His whimsical illustrations, with their intense colors and expert composition, have long captivated postcard aficionados. Schmucker used his wife Katharine Rice Schmucker as the model for his distinctive wide-eyed woman.
Although collectors have admired his work for years it is only while conducting research for the book, Picture Postcards in the United States: 1893-1918, during the 1970s, that Dorothy Ryan and her co-author George Miller linked the artist to the artwork. By researching copyright records and observing the veiled initials, ‘SLS’, on a few cards, Ryan and Miller made Schmucker’s name famous among postcard devotees.
Schmucker, born in Reading, Pennsylvania, received professional training in Philadelphia in both fine arts and practical illustration. The influence of both styles can be seen in his work. By 1905, Schmucker had proved himself as a commercial artist. For almost ten years Schmucker’s work was printed by two of the largest postcard publishers in the United States – the Detroit Publishing Company and then the John Winsch Company.
Apart from Schmucker, the Golden Age of Postcards was influenced by other artists, with many of the highest-quality postcards coming from Germany where some of the world’s best printing methods were employed. Unfortunately, WWI brought the supply of postcards from Germany to a halt. This wartime circumstance, combined with the rise in popularity of the home telephone as a means of communication, led to the demise of the “Golden Age” of postcards, which came to an end around 1915.
Let’s reflect on Samuel Lorne Schmucker’s work with this gallery of vintage Halloween postcards of his design.