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What are Hold to Light Postcards – Types of Vintage Postcards

Video Showing Hold to Light Postcard

A very Unique Type of Postcard that came to Collectors was called Hold to Light View Postcards.,  or “HTL” Vintage Postcards.  The became well know at the St Louis World’s Fair of 1894.  It was a collection and series depicting The Centennial of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.


Hold to light Postcards were a Design of Collector Postcards, that were die-cut in such a way that if you hold them up to the light.  The portions of the cards that were carefully cut out would light up and seem to glow.  Especially highlighted were windows, doors, Christmas tree lights, and street lights, the moon,  the sun, the stars, water ripples, and vehicles.    They would miraculously appear brightly colored and illuminated.  Woolstone Bros, London, Gesetsli and Hagelberg publishing firms, both fine german concerns employed workmen who tediously hand stamped designs into the cards with precision ground cutting tools to achieve the intricate die-cut look.


  • History of Hold to light Postcards (HTL Postcards)

Most of all the Hold to Light Postcards were Printed in Germany.  Mostly From Two Companies.   Many of the examples we find, seem to be created in a series, sometimes 4, which causes the sets to have more Value when finding and collected together.  Different scenes but commonly images of Santa in different scenarios.  They became famously know at exhibitions at the St Louis World’s Fair that was held in 1884.  St Louis Missouri.  Each card has a depiction of a building or person from the Fair that year.  They have different Names to describe the same cards.

    • German hold to light postcards

    • Antique hold to light postcards

    • htl Koehler

    • HTL Postcards

    • Hold to Light Postcards

    • Hold to light Christmas cards

    • Hold to light Postcards from photos

  • Timeline – 1901

Postcard Era Visualization
Postcard Era Visualization


  • Who Invented the Hold to Light Postcards

The creator seems to be an Artist named, Robert  Joseph Koehler – who resided in New York. ( active 1892-1913) Those years he founded a Printing Firm.  They Later began Publishing view cards in both continuous tone and halftone lithography.  He has been well known for their early hold to Light Postcards, mechanicals, and exhibition cards, ever since publishing an unofficial postcard set of 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.  While most companies gave up the more expensive chromolithographic printing method in favor of cheaper halftone process.  Koehler was a pioneer in halftone technology.  Koehler postcards have a different style to them that is why they are sought after so much.  All of Joseph Koehler’s Postcards were printed in Berlin Germany.


During similar time frame, another  publisher name seems to stand out in the History of HTL Vintage Postcards

Samuel Cupples – ( 1831 – 1912 )

Samuel was born in Harrisburg Pennsylvania.  His parent’s names were  James and Elizabeth.  His father was a teacher, educator.  When Samuel was 15 he moved to  Cincinnati, Ohio and began working for Albert Taylor woodenware business.  He moved to St Louis Missouri in 1851 and started his own woodenware business.  Heis business grew and over the years expanded and changed into several more businesses.

As Far as Postcards  Cupples also established the Samuel Cupples Envelope Company

He did very well he built his personal residence on west Pine Boulevard for $ 500,000.  Which was an enormous amount at that time?    In today’s dollars it would look like 15 – 20 Million.  An exceptional set of cards published by Samuel Cupples Envelope Co. on the occasion of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, commonly known as the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The Fair was held to celebrate the Centennial of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Each card has a depiction of a building or person from the Fair. The Dawson/Hochman Encyclopedia describes them as photos, but I am not sure. Certainly, the depictions of persons are photographs, but it is possible that the buildings are illustrations. In some ways, the settings of the buildings, including the people standing by them, seem too “staged” to be photos. If they are illustrations, they are beautifully detailed. The design of the backs is brilliant, showing the official seal of the Fair, a circle with Napoleon and Jefferson, placed “inside” an eagle that holds a globe in each claw, one globe showing North and South America, the other showing the remaining continents.

Sammuel Cupples Envelope Company
Sammuel Cupples Envelope Company



  • Hold to Light Postcards – Wolf Hagelberg, Berlin.

  • Transparency Postcards – E. A. Schwerdtfeger, also from Berlin Germany – the cars were also called “Meteor Cards” his Company was E.A. Schwerdtfeger & Co., Berlin

  • How are Hold to Light Postcards made?

    • Die-cut Postcards

      • These were tripled layers of material sandwiched together,to get a desired effect.  the top layer had the die cut portions removed – usually doors or windows, in real life loohing in at night would appear th be glowing.  Most generally they will be ‘die cut’ in the area where ‘light’ would normally be.

      • The second layer was a thin colored film – to give the glowing effect.   Normally a  thin sheet of cellophane was the medium.

      • Third Lssyer was paper again to form the back, address side of the Postcard. – ending up with a  simple – multi-layered Card.

    • Transparency Postcards

      • Transparency cards followed the same three-layered design, but between the layers, the artist had images that would miraculously appear in the doors or windows when the light was held to the back of the postcard.  the Transparencies would not have a ‘cut out’ or die-cut area on the card.

      • 4 Types of Transparency Cards

        1.   Day turns into Night

        2.    The Color changes – Black to White

        3.     A new Image would miraculously appear.

        4.     A partial image will miraculously appear.

    • Slide Transparency Postcards – These as their name described would have an image – on the transparency ( similar to a slide projector slide)

  • Materials Hold to Light Postcards are made of

    • Paper Card Stock

    • Cellophane

  • Publishers

Hold to Light Postcards from Chicago Postcard Museum

Hold to Light Joseph Koehler From Chicago Postcard Museum
Hold to Light Joseph Koehler From Chicago Postcard Museum











Youtube Video showing Hold to Light Postcards

Video Showing Hold to Light Postcard
Video Showing Hold to Light Postcard


Ebay’s Selection of Hold To Light Postcards  – 1,317