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About this Site

North Carolina Postcards is a project of the North Carolina Collection, located in historic Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives holds more than 12,000 North Carolina postcards contained primarily in two collections: the North Carolina Postcard Collection and the Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards.

This digital project contains a selection of materials from the North Carolina Collection's postcard collections, including at least one image for each of North Carolina's one hundred counties. Staff members at the North Carolina Collection encourage users to check back regularly to view the latest images, as they will continue to add postcards to the digital collection. The North Carolina Collection invites comments and suggestions about North Carolina Postcards at

Cataloging Information

Every postcard in North Carolina Postcards is described using a standard set of descriptive fields, which are described below. Users can search for information in specific fields by going to the UNC Library Digital Collections search page at and clicking on "Selected Fields."

The Title of the postcard is most often taken directly from the front of the postcard. In a few instances, the title comes from information on the back of the card. Whenever a title is supplied by the library, it is given in brackets.

The Caption field contains everything that is printed (not handwritten) on the back of the card, with the exception of extremely common phrases such as "Post Card," "Place Stamp Here" and "Address on this Side." For many early postcards, only the name of the publisher or printer is included on the back of the card. Later postcards have more descriptive information about the picture on the front.

The Transcription field contains everything that is handwritten (or, in rare cases, typewritten or stamped) on the back of the card. This is usually a short message and address. The original spelling and punctuation has been retained in the transcription. The date of the postmark also appears in this field. Those words that could not be clearly deciphered are given in brackets.

The Creator field contains the name of the individual responsible for creating the image on the front of the card - usually a photographer.

The Publisher field contains the name of the individual or company responsible for publishing the postcard. This is often different from the printer, who is noted in the Description field.

The Date is determined from a number of different clues, including the postmark, handwritten or printed information, or contextual clues in the image itself. A date range is given when a precise date could not be determined.

The Description field contains a brief summary of what is pictured on the front of the card, and also mentions any publishers' number or letter codes that appear on the front of the card.

The Subject field contains subject terms describing the picture on the front of the card. North Carolina Postcards uses a standard set of subject terms from the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials developed by the Library of Congress.

The Subject - Name field lists the proper names of businesses, individuals, or institutions pictured on the front of the card. Not every business or person has been listed here, rather, only those organizations that appear on a number of cards (such as universities or large textile mills) are listed in this field.

The Subject - Topical field lists broad subject headings that describe what the card is about in general. In most cases the only subject heading here is "Postcards - North Carolina."

The Subject - Geographic field lists the locations depicted on the card. Whenever possible, both the city or town and the county are listed. The places listed in this field are described according to standards developed by the Library of Congress.

The Local Identifier field contains the collection number and any additional call numbers assigned by the North Carolina Collection.

How to Date Postcards

If a postcard has not been mailed, or if it does not show a specific event, it can often be difficult to tell when it was printed. For undated images in North Carolina Postcards, several standard date ranges were used.

Private Mailing Card Period, 1898-1901
In the early days of private or postal mailing cards, only the address was allowed on the back of the card. Senders wrote their message in a small space provided on the front.

Post Card Period, 1900-1910
In 1901 the USPS allowed the words "Post Card" instead of "Private Mailing Card" or "Postal Mailing Card." Messages were still not allowed on the back. This is commonly referred to as the Undivided Back Period. German printers, whose work was regarded as the best in the world, printed most of the cards sold in this period.

Divided Back Period, 1905-1915
In 1907 senders were allowed to put their messages on the left side the postcard's back, leaving the entire front for the image. Postcards reached the height of popularity during this period, which is known as the "Golden Age" of postcards. More than 677 million postcards were mailed in the United States in 1908. At that time, the total population was only 88,700,000.

White Border Period, 1915-1930
American printers took over the domestic postcard market with the outbreak of World War I. The higher costs of post-war publishing combined with inexperienced labor resulted in the production of poorer-quality cards. The white border was introduced as a cost-cutting measure because it reduced the amount of ink used in production.

Linen Period, 1930-1945
"Linen" postcards were printed on paper with a high rag content that gave the appearance of textured fabric. Postcards in this period often used bright, sometimes gaudy, color. These cards were the quintessential tourist postcards, many of them featuring images of motels, cafes, and other tourist stops found along highways. One of the premier postcard publishers during this era was the Curt Teich Company in Chicago. The website for the Curt Teich Postcard Archives contains a very helpful guide to dating Curt Teich postcards:

Photochrome Period, 1940-Present
These modern photochrome postcards first appeared in 1939 in Union Oil Company service stations in the western United States. These high quality cards were easily produced and quickly took the place of both linen and black-and-white postcards.

Permissions and Reproductions

Please see the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives page on Requesting Reproductions for information about ordering high-resolution digital images or prints of materials in North Carolina Postcards.

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