In the midst of the “Golden Age of Postcards”—from 1900 to roughly 1917—leather post cards emerged as a fashionable variation on the postcard trend…and then disappeared only a few years later.
Originally, “postal cards” allowed parties to exchange brief messages at a low cost and, typically, with slightly faster delivery than a traditional letter. At the time, mail delivery services in the United States expanded greatly, and mail would find its way to a resident’s front door rather than “general delivery” at the post office. Our desire to communicate increased, but our wallets did not. These cards allowed a message to cross the country for only two cents.
As the post card option caught on, the modern postcard emerged: an image on one side, and a short message and address on the other. Leather postcards were no different, only instead of card stock, they used thin rectangles of tanned deer hide. The images on these leather cards were similar to paper postcards of the day, playing off contemporary stereotypes or lazy puns. “Immoral” cards were also a hit.
Unlike printed paper versions, manufacturers burned images into these cards, with the more expensive versions receiving dashes of color.
Sending leather cards didn’t last long, but it wasn’t because they fell out of fashion. In 1907, the cost of sending a postcard was fixed at one cent across the nation. One cent for a card without a message, two cents with a message. Naturally, those sending cards assumed the same held for leather cards, but that wasn’t the case.
These leather cards were heavier than paper and substantially thicker. Since they were frequently the same size as standard post cards, they would fall into the mechanical letter sorter used by post offices in cities and large towns, and then cause it to jam. Hours were spent clearing the mess and extracting the leather cards. Considered how easily leather can bend, but how hard it is to tear it apart. Those machines didn’t stand a chance. Leather post cards only lasted until 1907 because the US Postal Service banned them between 1907-1909.
After the postal ban, these cards limped on for a few years as a tourist souvenir at popular attractions. This was short-lived. What’s the purpose of a post card that can’t be posted? Today, interested collectors can find them in abundance on eBay or even in antique shops for only a few dollars each. Because card makers printed so many, very few hold any substantial value.