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What are Court Postcards

Example Court Postcard from Wili

Table of Contents

There are different types of elements in this world. And the most important reason why you need to understand how one thing differs from the other is so that you will have a better comprehension of how they operate. We’ve been hearing a lot about cards ever since we were like kids, but what most people like me, failed to understand was that there are other types of cards, other than the cardboard we all know. And I’m talking about types such as court cards. So, what is a court card? And how did it come into existence? Who first used it and why? These and many more we shall be addressing as we go further in this write-up.


Origin of Court Cards

Court card or what is sometimes known as court-sized card, was the name given to a postcard, with a size of a picture. Primarily, records have it that it was used in the United Kingdom, measuring approximately 4.75 x 3.5 inches, with a believed standard size of 5.5 x 3.5 inches. Basically, court cards were known to be smaller in size, with a square looking shape, a bit higher than later cards. And it is also believed to have been used from about 1894 to 1902.  In keeping with the regulations of the time, court cards had an un-divided back, which was meant for the address only,  and the message had to be written on the ‘front’ of the court card. But, even though court cards were primarily made use of in the UK, a lot of them were printed by Germany’s chromolithography. Today, a lot of clear examples of these type of cards still exist, and are in high demand from philatelists and postcard collectors.


An Overview of Court Cards

Though most of us are quite used to seeing court cards virtually everywhere these days, from souvenir shops to card stores, to museum gift shops, and even at the grocery store, court cards are a relatively recent invention. However as stated earlier, the oldest court card, and what is believed to be the first, was sent in 1840 in England. Generally, most court cards are instantly recognizable because of their square-like shape and thick card stock paper, which is often made for writing and mailing something without an envelope. Of course, there are novelty exceptions to the shape and material with court cards; however, the standard court card type remains the same. Plus, there is even a branch of study today which is focused on collecting and studying court cards, known as deltiology.

Ever since postal services began in various parts of the world, there have been the occasional people who write messages on cards and send them without envelopes. These early examples were always handmade and not of standard size and material construction. What is considered the first official court card as we know them today was a hand-painted design on a card that was created by writer Theodore Hook in London in 1840; he mailed the card to himself, using a black penny stamp. It is believed he created, and mailed the card as a joke to the post office, as the design he painted on it was a caricature of postal workers in a post office. This first court card is now in the hands of a private collector, having sold at auction in 2002 for £31,750, $ 41,275  todays Conversion Rate

The court card made its way to the United States in 1848, with the sending of a card depicting printed advertising. It was a handmade card, like its British predecessor, court cards began being commercially produced in the United States in 1861. The first producer of them was John P. Charlton in Philadelphia, who obtained a patent on his court card design. Charlton soon after sold the rights to his patent to Hyman Lipman. Lipman sold court cards with decorated borders, but no images, and labeled them “Lipman’s postal card.”

In issuing official court cards, England was not far behind the United States. The British post office began issuing court cards without images in 1870, and included a stamp in the design, so buying additional postage was not necessary; the price of the stamp was built into the cost of the court card. There were originally two sizes of cards offered, but the larger one was found to be too difficult to handle by postal workers and was soon discontinued. Thus, the smaller card came into use.

While people had been designing images of their own on-court cards for a while, the first court card sold with a commercially printed image on it was made in France in 1870, by Leon Besnardeau at Camp Conlin. This was a training camp for soldiers who were participating in the Franco-Prussian War. The design of the court card included a picture of piles of weapons on either side of a scroll. The scroll was topped by an image of the arms of the Duchy of Brittany.

In a nutshell, court card postcards can be today be portrayed as the emailing system we operate on now, with the only difference being the internet and interface ( yahoo, Gmail). Prior to the advent of high-class technology, where things such as the internet and smartphones got invented, the art of mailing one another was carried out through the use of court card postcards, which often carried the message and the date at the back of the card. So, if you’ve never seen a court card postcard before, you can logon to postcards gallery websites online like the and check out tons of them there.

Given that they are highly historical, with some of them often being auctioned at a good rate, it is always an amazing sight/plus experience, when you go through the series of ancient court card postcards, with their messages and names written right across the front page of the card. Check them out, and let us know what you think about them in the comment section below. As usual, I wish you happy surfing.

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