Selections from the Postcard Collection

Dublin Core


Selections from the Postcard Collection


Postcards - Virginia - Williamsburg
Souvenirs (Keepsakes) - Virginia - Williamsburg - Pictorial works


The Postcard Collection housed at the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library consists of postcards of Williamsburg and surrounding areas dating from the late 19th-century to the present. It includes examples of early postcards of the town prior to its restoration by John D. Rockefeller Jr. In addition, it encompasses many examples of official postcards produced by Colonial Williamsburg for tourists. A smaller number of postcards of neighboring historic sites, such as Jamestown and Yorktown, are also present.

The selections included here are primarily vintage postcards of Colonial Williamsburg and surrounding tourist attractions ranging in date from 1898 to the 1950s. Early cards in the collection illustrate a range of common postcard types and reproduction techniques. The history of the postcard's development as a souvenir, as well as the growth of tourism in Williamsburg, can be traced via Colonial Williamsburg's Postcard Collection.

During what is known as the Pioneer Era from 1870-1898, the first form of postcard, featuring an illustration on one side and an undivided back on the other, did not allow the sender to include a note, unless it was written across a portion of the image on the front. The majority of pioneering postcard formats served as advertisements up until the 1893 Columbia Exposition, when postcards first appeared as souvenirs for Exposition visitors to purchase.

The Private Mailing Card Era from 1898-1901 is characterized by cards printed with the notice "Private Mailing Card Authorized by Act of Congress on May 19, 1898." Backs of the cards remained undivided and purchasers could mail the cards for a cost of one cent. Several examples of postcards from this era are present in the collection. They include some of the earliest instances of souvenir cards created to promote Williamsburg historic sites, such as the Courthouse, Bruton Parish Church, the Powder Magazine, and the Capitol site. European rather than American printers created many of these postcards due to their superb skills. Chromo-lithograph cards of this era exhibit extremely rich colors.

By the time the Jamestown Exposition took place in 1907, postcard production had entered the Divided Back Era, which continued until 1915. Modified postcard backs offered a segment on the left side for senders to pen a brief message. Production of cards gradually shifted to more American printers. The Jamestown Exposition provided a strong impetus for promotion of other historic sites that attendees might also stop at along the way. A series of postcards commemorating Williamsburg area historic sites in conjunction with the 1907 celebration are excellent examples of very early divided back cards.

The Early Modern Era between 1916-1930 led to an increase in production of souvenir cards relating to the Williamsburg area. One type of format popular in this period is the "White Border Card" characterized by a view surrounded with a white border. Real photo cards also began to appear that featured photographs, rather than prints, of local surroundings. In the era before Colonial Williamsburg operated official gift shops, tourists counted on the Cole News Shop as their source for maps, postcards, travel guides, and souvenirs. Mr. Henry Dennison Cole served as the proprietor. His business stood on the site of the present day Taliaferro-Cole Shop. He produced his own postcards of historic sites in the area being restored by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and other groups of preservation minded citizens. Several examples of cards published by the Cole Shop can be found in the collection and offer a glimpse of attractions popular with early 20th-century tourists, such as the old Masonic Hall and Custis Kitchen.

Once Colonial Williamsburg opened a core group of exhibition buildings to the public in the early 1930s, a new era dawned in which the museum began production of official postcards as souvenirs for visitors. Photographs by F.S. Lincoln, an architectural photographer hired on a contract basis in 1935 to take some of the first promotional photos of Colonial Williamsburg exhibition buildings, appeared on a number of real photo postcards issued in the late 1930s. Both examples of postcards bearing his photos, as well as his actual photograph collection, reside at the Rockefeller Library.

The Albertype Company of Brooklyn, New York, produced one of the earliest official postcard series highlighting Colonial Williamsburg exhibition buildings, costumed interpreters, Williamsburg Inn and Lodge, and Merchants Square. In addition to holding numerous examples of Albertype cards, the Rockefeller Library also houses the corresponding photographic prints used to generate the postcards. Albertype cards are characterized by sepia toned images that show exterior and interior views of exhibition buildings, as well as some of the earliest scenes of African Americans in costume demonstrating colonial cooking techniques.

For further information about Williamsburg postcards, please consult:

Preacher, Kristopher J. "Williamsburg in Vintage Postcards." Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.

Reisweber, Kurt. "Williamsburg in Old Post Cards." Colonial Williamsburg XXI, No.2, (June/July 1999): 52-57.

Collection Items

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Official Colonial Williamsburg Card

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Official Colonial Williamsburg Card 1980s

Official Colonial Williamsburd Card

Colonial Williamsburg 1991

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 1957

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Circa 1950s

Albertype Co. for Colonial Williamsburg Inc. 1930s

Miller, Walter H. 1950s

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 1950s

H.S. Crocker Co., Inc. for Colonial Williamsburg Circa 1950s
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