October’s Postcard Wednesday features the Cabin John Bridge, but I’m not really going to talk about the bridge, awesome though it may be.  Instead, take note of the front of this card – see the message crammed into the margin at the top?  (Remember to click on images to enlarge them!)

“Dear M. I arrived safe and am better. Love to all, your Son Wm.”

William sent this card to his mother in December, 1906. Before 1907, the US Government decided that post cards (it was two words, then) could have only the address and stamp on the reverse.  To emphasize this point, most cards from 1898 to 1906 say something like “This side is for the address” on the back, to keep all that tempting white space from being filled up with greetings and gossip. 

The bit about “Authorized by Act of Congress, May 19, 1898” refers to exactly that: an act that authorized the printing of “private mailing cards,” which could be mailed for one cent.  Before that, cards were either issued by the government (1 cent postage) or as privately printed “souvenir cards” (2 cents postage).  A later regulation in 1901 mandated the words “Post Card” on the reverse; government-issued cards were “Postal Cards.” 

This seems a trifle overcomplicated, but it does make it easier to date unsent cards.  Our Cabin John Bridge example here is conveniently postmarked twice: in Washington, DC on December 11, 1906 and in Dickerson, Md on December 12, 1906.  Presumably William Harris arrived safely in DC, bought a local-scenery* postcard, and sent it off to his mother, who received the good news the next day.  Mrs. A.S. Harris is almost certainly Mary Bridget Taylor Harris (1846-1932), wife of Abraham Simmons Harris (1834-1907) and mother of William (born 1870).  The added “Mt. Ephraim” in the address refers, most likely, to Abraham’s brother’s home Mount Ephraim, which still stands at the corner of Mt. Ephraim and Harris Roads in Dickerson.  Though the history of the house doesn’t make it quite clear who was living there in 1906, perhaps Mary was staying there with relatives for the holiday season.

But wait, there’s more postcard-regulation fun to be had.  Here’s another version of the same card, this one postmarked 1909.

Now we’re allowed to write messages on the reverse!  This is a “divided-back” card, made legal on March 1, 1907.  (Some postcards from the transitional period include “message goes here”-type instructions for bemused correspondents.)  Undivided- vs. divided-back is one of the easiest ways to at least approximately date an unpostmarked card. 

As for this card’s message, it at first seems a little cryptic (even setting aside the peculiar handwriting).  It was postmarked in Washington, DC on April 19, 1909, and addressed to Mrs. A.K. Ritter Stone, Geneva, Ohio.  “Monday morning. You have been good to me – and I knew it this morning when every one is in their fine cloths.  Emily A.”  Huh; an inside joke?  Hard to tell.  However, through the magic of searchable US Census records, I found Anna K. R. Stone in the 1910 census.  Mrs. Stone lived with her husband Eugene and her mother Mary Ritter in Geneva, Ohio.  She was a dressmaker.  I think this card must be from a satisfied customer, visiting D.C. for whatever reason and pleased that her dressmaker has done her proud.

Want more on postcard history? There are lots of helpful sites – postcard collectors are a dedicated bunch – but this one, put together by the Center of Southwest Studies, is pretty straightfoward.

* The Cabin John Bridge – built in the 1860s to carry the Washington Aqueduct over Cabin John Creek, and until 1903 the longest single-span stone arch in the world – is solidly within Montgomery County’s borders, but it was definitely a Sight worth seeing for DC visitors.  Some postcard captons (including the 1909 one shown here) even attempt to claim it for DC.  (Very rude!)