How to tell if it’s a real photo postcard

From the Tropical Postcard Club Newsletter
How to tell the difference between a Real Photo postcard and a printed postcard.

There is some confusion on what Real Photo Postcards (RPPC) are, and how to differentiate from a printed postcard. Real Photo postcards are photographs that are reproduced by actually developing them onto photographic paper the size and weight of postcards, with a postcard back. There are many postcards that reproduce photos by various printing methods that are NOT “real photos”… the same methods used when reproducing photos in magazines and newspapers. The best way to tell the difference is to look at the postcard with a magnifying glass. If the photo is printed, you will see that it is made up of a lot of little dots, the same as a photo printed in a newspaper. A Real Photo postcard is solid, no dots.

In 1903 Kodak introduced the No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak. The camera, designed for postcard-size film, allowed the general public to take photographs and have them printed on postcard backs. They are usually the same size as standard vintage postcards (3 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches). Also known by the acronym “RPPC.”

Kodak’s 3A camera pioneered in its use of postcard-size film but was not the only one to make Real Photo postcards. Many other cameras were used, some of which used old-fashioned glass plates that required cropping the image to fit the postcard format.

While Kodak was certainly the major promoter of photo postcard production, they didn’t seem to originate the term “Real Photo,” and used it less frequently than photographers and others in the marketplace from 1903 to about1930. But it has become the popular term nowadays to distinguish photographic postcards from commercially printed, mass-produced postcards of the same era. Old House Journal states “Beginning in 1902 Kodak offered a preprinted card back that allowed postcards to be made directly from negatives.”

Real Photo postcards may or may not have a white border, or a divided back, or other features of postcards, depending on the paper the photographer used. Many current Real Photo postcards are reproductions of earlier historic photos. If you want to know if it is authentic or a reproduction: look at it under a magnifying glass. If it is authentic “it will show smooth transitions from one tone to another.”

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