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‘Wish you were here’

If you cared enough to send the very best a century ago, you didn’t send a greeting card, but probably would have sent a postcard home with a very brief message.

Maybe the well-known platitude “Wish you were here” came from the era when you could only write on the picture side of the postcard, prompting a short message so as not to mar the scenic photo being sent.

On Dec. 24, 1901, the government granted private printers permission to produce postcards. The use of printed postcards during this time doubled in volume almost every six months. European publishers opened offices in the United States and imported millions of high-quality postcards.



By 1907, European publishers printed over 75 percent of the postcards sold in the United States. Eastman-Kodak issued an affordable Folding Pocket Kodak camera around 1906, allowing the public to take black-and-white photos and have them printed directly onto paper with postcard backs. This ignited a “photo postcard” era.

Prior to August 1907, there was a government regulation that allowed writing on only one side of a postcard, with the address the reverse. Postcards did not have a divided back.




Then Postmaster General Meyer issued an order effective Aug. 1, 1907, that permitted the face side of a postal card to be divided by a vertical line placed one-third the distance from the left end of the card. The space to the left of the line could be used for a message. The right side of the card would be used for an address only.

A very thin sheet of paper that could be attached with adhesive to the card for the purpose of writing or printing a message was also allowed.

March 1, 1907 to 1915 is known as the “divided-back” era and a golden age for postcards. Large advertisements appeared in The Daily Union from merchants in Grass Valley and Nevada City, announcing the availability of a large variety of postcards.

When Temby’s of Nevada City placed a new ad in the Oct. 18, 1907, edition, the editor commented under the local “City Happenings” column: “Thousands of beautiful postcards including comics, scenic, flowers and principal local views are to be had at Temby’s as his new advertisement this morning relates. They are just the thing to send to friends as a souvenir of this city. Many new kinds are to be added every week.”

R. J. Bennett’s Pharmacy on Broad Street advertised in the same issue an “Immense stock of post cards, views of Nevada City and all points of interest in Nevada County.” In addition, the store carried postcard albums and postcard novelties.

On Sept. 8, 1907, a correspondent who signed his name as “Bailey” sent the following message from Nevada City on a postcard to a Miss Margaret Lewis of Renton, Wash. (Affixed is a 1-cent stamp canceled with a Nevada City postmark.)

“This is a very good picture of Nevada City but is only about2/3 of the town. I am on my way to church and will write when I get back. I am feeling fine today and hope you are same.”

The writer could have been William Bailey Stetson of Truckee, a painter whose name is listed in the Nevada County Precinct Register for 1908.

But the writer of the postcard may have been a tourist passing through the area or one of the many delegates who came to the county on a special excursion train from Sacramento while attending the National Irrigation Congress.

The Nevada County Promotion Committee arranged to have vehicles waiting to meet the special train and bring them to Grass Valley and Nevada City to show the visitors the most famous mines in the two districts. This visit was very important to the county. As one observer said, “Some of the brainiest men in the United States will be here to look at the mines, which the Irrigation Congress has been lauding. Nevada County has the mines to back up every statement made in Sacramento. Her record as a gold producer speaks for itself. . .”

Accompanying the visitors were Hon. George W. Root, C. H. Baker and the rest of the Nevada County delegates to the congress acting as hosts. After touring the mines, a dinner was planned at the Holbrooke Hotel.

Maria Brower is a member of the Nevada County Genealogical and Nevada County Historical societies. She works at the Foley Library in Nevada City.

There will be no general meeting of the Nevada County Historical Society this month. Instead, the society will hold its annual award banquet Sunday at Miners Foundry in Nevada City. Doors open at 4 p.m. for the silent auction. Tickets are $25.


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