A Guide to Real Photo Postcards

Prized by many collectors, real photo postcards (or RPPC’s) are actual photographs that have been developed on a postcard size photographic paper. The reverse side has normal postcard printing. Unlike mass produced commercial postcards, real photo cards are often unique in their subject matter and serve to accurately capture a specific event or location that otherwise may have gone unnoticed. As the early real photo cameras were the province of the “common man” one can easily find a large number of RPPC’s of children and families available. The more obscure subjects such as buildings and street scenes can be somewhat tougher to locate. As many of these early postcards were not produced in great quantities, they tend to command a higher premium with collectors.

Unfortunately there seems to be some confusion among a number of online sellers as to what exactly a real photo postcard is. In this article we hope to clear up a bit of that confusion.

A Brief History

Though likely not referred to by the same name, real photo postcards made their debut in the early 1900’s with Kodak’s introduction of the No 3A Folding Pocket Camera which was designed to print photos on postcard size paper. A small “door” in the back of the early cameras allowed the user to write a caption with an attached scribe. In 1907 Kodak went on to develop a service called “real photo postcards” which enabled users to create a postcard from any photo they took. While Kodak was the pioneer in promoting real photo postcards, there were also other camera manufacturers who developed cameras made for real photo postcards. Among them was ANSCO, a major rival of Kodak, who produced a number of different camera models in the postcard format. As interest grew in the format, a number of larger publishing houses such as Bamforth and Valentine began to produce commercial real photo postcards and some businesses began to commission RPPC’s for advertising purposes. While still desirable to collectors, the commercially produced cards tend to not hold quite the same interest as amateur produced cards.

Identifying Real Photo Postcards

Many commercially printed black and white postcards can easily be mistaken for real photo cards at first glance. Fortunately there are a number of different ways to determine if a postcard is actually a real photo card.

1) The first (and obvious) way is to look on the back of the card. Many commercially produced RPPC’s will simply state “Real Photo Postcard” or something to that effect.

2) The most foolproof method is to look at the postcard through a magnifying glass. A commercially printed card viewed under magnification appears as a series of small dots (similar to what one would see if looking at a magnified magazine or newspaper photo). A real photo postcard will not have this appearance.

3) Many postcards can be identified as real photo by the designation in the stamp box. A few of the more common names and symbols which appear in the stamp box include, EKC, AZO, Kodak, and Ansco. (see below for more)

4) Amateur real photo cards will often have a handwritten caption.

Dating Real Photo Postcards

Dating RPPC’s can be a bit tricky but a general age range can often be determined. If the card is used the postmark can act as somewhat of a guide. Keep in mind that the postcard may have been produced years before being mailed. The subject of the postcard may also offer a clue to the age. For example, if a 1940 automobile appears in the RPPC, then the card was most likely produced before 1940. In many cases the stamp box will designate the type of paper used and thus provide a guide for determining the approximate age of the card. The list below, while while far from inclusive, includes a number of different photo papers and the date of their use.

  • AGFA ANSCO 1930s - 1940s
  • ANSCO 1940 - 1960 ( 2 stars top & bottom )
  • ARGO 1905 - 1920
  • Artura 1920 - 1924
  • AZO 1926 - 1940s (squares)
  • AZO 1904 - 1918 (4 triangles up)
  • AZO 1918 - 1930 (triangle 2 up 2 down)
  • AZO 1907 - 1909 (diamonds)
  • AZO 1922 - 1926 (nothing in corners)
  • CYKO 1904 - 1920s
  • DEFENDER 1910 - 1945
  • DOPS 1925 - 1942
  • EKC 1939 - 1950
  • EKO 1942 - 1970
  • Kodak 1950 - present
  • KRUXO 1907 - 1920s
  • NOKO 1907 - 1920s
  • SOLIO 1903 - 1920s
  • VELOX 1909 - 1914
  • Vitava 1925 - 1934

There are a number of possibilities for the collector interested in real photo postcards. Collections may be based on a specific time period, geographic location, or subject. Locating real photo postcards of a specific area can be a bit of a challenge. The best options tend to be internet retail and auction sites, followed closely by second hand shops and flea markets. As there are no clearly fixed price guides for vintage postcards, asking prices will generally reflect the quality and rarity of a specific card.

Below we have included a few examples of real photo postcards.

Toll House, US40 west of Cumberland, Maryland
Toll House, US40 west of Cumberland, Maryland
Hotel De Anza, Calexico, California
Hotel De Anza, Calexico, California
Horse Cart (location unknown)
Horse Cart (location unknown)
Memorial Hospital, Cumberland, Maryland
Memorial Hospital, Cumberland, Maryland
Saranac Inn, New York
Saranac Inn, New York
A Souvenir from San Antonio, TX
A Souvenir from San Antonio, TX

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Comments 4 comments

BettyAnn Hickman 6 years ago

I have several old postcards with the words "A Local View Post Card" on them. There are no dots under strong magnification, but they are a bit blurred or fuzzy. Are they considered RPPC?

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marimccants 5 years ago

Great history.

Ephemerania profile image

Ephemerania 4 years ago from San Diego

Nice summary of RPPCs !

Scott Clemens 4 years ago

I give rise to several old postcards with the terminology "A home regard place of duty Card" on them. At hand are rejection dots under physically powerful magnification, but they are a tad blurred otherwise fuzzy. Are they considered RPPC?

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