The Postcard Project

“Are postcards obsolete?” asked a recent article in the Washington Post Travel section. Well, it depends on who’s answering.

I’ve been collecting postcards since I was a little kid—keepsakes from my own travels as well as postcards friends and relatives have sent me. In fact, they’re the only thing I collect—aside from half-used hotel toiletries—when I’m on the road. That makes me, I found out, a deltiologist.

I file the postcards more or less alphabetically by state and country in a sturdy green plastic carrying case that used to hold collectible wildlife cards that I would get every month in the mail as a grade schooler.

Leafing through my collection, I tab past a postcard of Krakow, Poland, to one from Pennsylvania’s Omni Bedford Springs Resort. I have a postcard dated 1979 showing the scene inside an Atlantic City casino from a family friend (“Please send money immediately. Ha! Ha! Arm is very tired.”) and one from Grenada that I picked up last September.

Yet even I have to admit I rarely send postcards anymore when I travel, much less receive any.

I still buy them for my collection, if I can find them, but mailing one in an actual post office? It’s easier to upload a pic on Facebook.

The Post reported that sales of postcard stamps in the United States have declined significantly; the U.S. Postal Service processed 770 million stamped postcards in 2014, down from 1.2 billion in 2010 (though those numbers are likely skewed by promotional postcards).

The fate of the postcard is also suggested when visiting the places that used to sell them. And where they are still to be found, the variety of the cards on offer seems to be taking a nosedive.

All signs point to the imminent death of this iconic form of correspondence.

But a recent visit to Washington’s Sackler Gallery gave me reason for hope.

A section of “The Traveler’s Eye” exhibit featured vintage dispatches from the turn of the 20th century to the 1920s—the golden age of postcards.

I was intrigued to learn that postcards have served multiple purposes, beyond being pretty souvenirs, over time. Tinted scenes showing exotic, nonthreatening—and newly French—Algeria helped market the country to prospective European settlers. An onboard scene with Mount Fuji in the background advertised the S.S. Mongolia cruise ship.

There were postcards in the exhibition depicting a camel caravan in Iraq, a jinrikisha driver in China, a man being carried in a sedan chair in India. “It’s amazing how many postcards dealt with modes of travel,” Sackler curator Nancy Micklewright told me.

A jinrikisha driver totes two young girls in China in a postcard from early 20th-century China. (Photograph by Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives)
A jinrikisha driver totes two young girls in China in a postcard from early 20th-century China. (Photograph by Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives)

Others were particularly poignant in light of contemporary events, bearing witness to places and things that no longer exist or are in danger of being destroyed, like the citadel in Aleppo, Syria.

Across oceans and decades, postcards have proven more often than not to be as relevant now as when they were first dropped in the mail.

They’ve also been consistent sources of elation and wonder at the world throughout time. Who doesn’t smile when they receive a postcard in the mail, especially in this day and age?

It may be easier to upload a pic on Facebook. But, as Nancy Pope, a senior curator at the National Postal Museum who still sends postcards to friends and family with enthusiasm, notes: “It’s not the thing that you pull out of your mailbox and pin to the wall.”

Maybe postcards aren’t on their way out. I sure hope not. In fact, I’m resolving here and now to rekindle the childlike joy in sending and receiving postcards by paying it forward myself.

Who’s with me?

Mail us a postcard from your travels or even from your hometown for a chance to be featured in National Geographic Traveler magazine or online.

Include your full name and where you live in your note, along with a short paragraph about what makes wherever you are unique. The more specific (and surprising), the better!

Finally, use hashtag #postcardproject to spread the word or to share your postcard on Twitter and Instagram!

Send to:

National Geographic Traveler
c/o Amy Alipio
1145 17th St NW
Washington DC 20036.

Amy Alipio is features editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow her on Twitter @amytravels and on Instagram @amyalipio.

Comments

  1. Yoyo Banana
    Toronto, ON
    October 1, 2015, 1:17 pm

    Here’s the link for Postcrossing:
    https://www.postcrossing.com/

    It’s fantastic!

  2. Ricky D
    Cleveland, Ohio
    September 21, 2015, 4:10 pm

    I started traveling 44 years ago and have sent myself a postcard from every place I travel. I now have a collection of over 300 cards from most of my 100 countries and many US states. It reminds me of when and where I have traveled (put the date on the card). It has been getting very difficult to do this lately. 1. Find a postcard, 2. Find a stamp, 3. Find a mailbox. Sometimes I have to ask people to mail them for me (these often don’t arrive). But my success rate has been fantastic. Over 300 cards received and only 8 have never shown up (4 because someone else was supposed to mail it.). One card arrived in pieces in a post office bag (they shredded it), a couple have taken four months to get here and one card actually arrived after I asked (tipped) a young boy in Zimbabwe to mail it for me.

  3. Michael Hopkins
    Fort Lauderdale, Florida
    September 20, 2015, 6:35 pm

    Great article Amy, I will post a card for the project. I’m glad to see others getting involved with Post Cards. I have been a PC Collector for years. Just celebrated the third anniversary of my Vintage Post Card Blog. Miss You, Wish you were here. . .
    http://luvlinens.blogspot.com/

  4. Sherrie Miranda
    Chula Vista, CA, USA
    September 20, 2015, 12:24 am

    Does it have to be a recent postcard?
    I’ve been saving postcards for years. I stopped sending them & started keeping them for myself.
    Also, can we send postcards sent to us? I think we would have to put them in an envelope since they would already be filled out.
    Passed this along to all my connections all over the net!
    Let’s bring back the practice of sending postcards, everyone! And here’s a contest to get you edited about it! ;-) <3
    Sherrie Miranda's historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
    http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
    Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:

  5. Lyn
    Australia
    September 19, 2015, 6:47 pm

    I like postcards, but to send them costs now 2,75 AU dollar. Isn’t that very expensive?

  6. Janice Thompson
    Italy
    September 19, 2015, 4:25 pm

    When my husbands mother passed away, we found lots of old postcards among her processions, which had never been sent
    Now when a family member has a birthday we use these cards as birthday cards thus re living her holidays..

  7. Patricia Weidknecht
    Las Vegas
    September 19, 2015, 4:13 pm

    Just saw this blog. I send postcards from everywhere I travel, to family, friends and myself. Love postcards, the scenes, the stamps, and the memories. Have a collection, dating back to the early 1900’s.

  8. Randolph T
    Sacramento Ca
    September 19, 2015, 12:09 pm

    We just concluded our 6th postcard project on Rangefinder forum. We have between 30 and 40 participants each time from all over the world . We send a picture we have taken , made into a postcard to each participant . Lot’s of fun to receive.

  9. Shamu Gopalakrishnan
    Singapore
    August 8, 2015, 11:56 am

    Was flipping through this month’s Traveler and got pleasant surprise. Never expected to see my postcard in print – black and white print of a Kampong (attap roof house common to Malaysia and Singapore) . How amazing! Thank you for making my day :)
    Cheers and keep sensing those postcards!
    Shamu Gopalakrishnan

  10. Linda Lappin
    Rome
    August 8, 2015, 2:38 am

    Loved seeing this blog. I have always been a compulsive purchaser of postcards and often use them as prompts in creative writing classes. Recently though, my publisher vetoed the word “postcard” from a proposed title because he claimed this art form/ genre is rapidly becoming obsolete. Glad to see he is wrong about that!

  11. Bonnie Jeanne
    Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    June 1, 2015, 3:14 pm

    I am SUPER impressed that I got a handwritten postcard response to my mailart. Thank you!

  12. Juliann - Browsing the Atlas
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    April 28, 2015, 2:09 pm

    I always mail postcards when I travel and am still lucky enough to receive some since all my friends and family know I collect them. (I do Postcrossing, too.) I’ve been collecting postcards since I was 5-years-old and got my first one in the mail. In fact, I make postcards a regular part of my blog, too!

    It is getting harder and harder to find them. But stores that carry them will always get a purchase from me!

  13. Marion
    Paris
    April 22, 2015, 6:19 am

    Dear Amy,
    I sent you a postcard from Paris 2 weeks ago, hope you liked it :) When will your article be issued? Can’t wait :)
    Greetings from beautiful Paris

  14. Jane Almquist
    Texas
    April 19, 2015, 3:11 pm

    So glad to see so many postcrossers reply here. I’ve been participating for three years. My day always improves when I find a postcard or two in my mailbox. Yesterday, I received a card from Russia to which the sender had taped a tiny piece of amber from a Baltic Sea beach. Postcrossers are such lovely people!

  15. Justin Pamplin
    Terrytown, Louisiana
    April 19, 2015, 11:35 am

    Can I send you more than one?

    I would like to send you one from New Orleans, Louisiana (the town I live by) and one from Mississippi (my parents own a fishing camp in Bay St. Louis, MS).

  16. Evgeniya Slavova
    Bulgaria
    April 18, 2015, 6:27 am

    Postcards from Bulgaria are on their way too. Greetings! :)

  17. Marion Lilly
    Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
    April 17, 2015, 4:26 am

    I have been with postcrossing.com for over a year and love receiving and sending postcards all over the world. It all started when I use to send postcards to my mother when I went on holidays as she collected them. Then I inherited her postcards when she passed away. It is a great way of getting to know people from all cultures and countries. I am looking forward to receiving cards when I haven’t got from some countries yet. It is all part of the fun of increasing my knowledge of our world we live in. I also like receiving the many different postage stamps too. A postcard is on its way to you Amy. Ps: Love reading the National Geographic

  18. Shamu Gopalakrishnan
    Singapore
    April 16, 2015, 8:55 am

    Hi Amy
    Couldn’t agree with you more – postcards are a great to keep in touch with friends and family in far-off places. From choosing cards to writing and affixing the stamps; nothing beats the pleasure of getting a postcard in the mail. I even sent one from Cambodia to friend i met on Pinterest! For me postcards are reminder that I have a life outside of my workstation. So look out for mine – flying out Singapore tonight :)

  19. Amy Alipio
    April 15, 2015, 4:07 pm

    Wow, the postcard community definitely seems alive and well! Thanks, everyone, for your comments and your postcards, which are pouring in and we love it. Thanks, Postcrossing, for posting on your site, I’ll have to check out the site and sign up!

  20. Robert Oleszczuk
    Norway Kristiansand
    April 15, 2015, 3:21 am

    My postcard is just in the way. I love old postcards! Greetings from Norway. Robert

  21. Marianne S. Hosein
    Trinidad & Tobago
    April 13, 2015, 4:08 pm

    Hello,

    This is a fun project as well as postcrossing.

    Look out for some from Trinidad & Tobago.

    Cheers all!

  22. Elma Holt
    Gauteng South Africa
    April 11, 2015, 11:39 am

    Warm greetings from South Africa! Join the Postcrossing movement and we will resurrect the joy of receiving post! Love getting them from all over the world!

  23. Gina C-P
    Nassau, NP, Bahamas
    April 11, 2015, 7:44 am

    Yes, POSTCROSSING! Join us; I’ve been a member for seven years, the first person to sign-up from the Bahamas :)

  24. Jenni
    Raleigh
    April 9, 2015, 6:43 pm

    I love postcards! I usually send one to myself on the last day of vacation. It can sometimes take a few weeks to get back to the US, and by then, I sometimes feel like I didn’t even have a vacation.

  25. charlotte
    marina del rey california
    April 9, 2015, 3:39 pm

    My husband love the night we choose, every vacation, to order cocktails, pull out our Christmas card mailing list and write cards. Sometimes it takes 2 nights to finish, it depends on how fast we drink. The cards get funnier and funnier. People go nuts over them, it’s so much fun. LONG LIVE THE POSTCARD!

  26. Pascale
    Antwerp, Belgium
    April 9, 2015, 1:32 pm

    Here also a postcard lover who’s also taking part to postcrossing.com for six years now. Every one who likes postcards should check this site and sign in. Sending you a postcard!

  27. Vivian Murray
    Edmonds, WA
    April 9, 2015, 1:09 pm

    Great idea! And, I still send postcards, just not as many as I used to. Just last week I sent one to each of my two grandchildren when I was in Shanghai. And, I received one from my 6 yr old granddaughter, with her parent’s help, from her vacation on Maui. Keeping the tradition alive!

  28. Randi Thomson-Story
    Richmond California
    April 9, 2015, 11:04 am

    The main reason I don’t send postcards anymore is because the price of post cards goes up between each of my trips so I never have correct postage and added one or two cent stamps won’t fit on the postcards. How about some FOREVER post card stamps?

  29. Ellen Johnson
    Jeffersonville, IN
    April 9, 2015, 8:57 am

    Great I’dea! Just recd one this week!

  30. Jessica
    Reuver, Netherlands
    April 9, 2015, 6:06 am

    I am so addicted to sending postcards, I even had a few of my own photos professionally printed as postcards. And I am a very active member of postcrossing :-) And when I am on holiday, I spent way too much money on postcards and postage…

  31. M Hopkins
    Olympia, Washington
    April 9, 2015, 4:16 am

    Your comments are heard loud and clear with the Postcrossing community. 20 million postcards sent and received; perhaps by the end of 2015 the 30 millionth card will be featured as to who sent it and who is the lucky recipient. Please join this wonderful group and feel right at home immediately. We are all hooked on postcards like yourself. Likely now your desk will be flooded with postcards from all over the world. Lucky you!

  32. Louise G. Tuladhar
    San Diego, CA
    April 8, 2015, 8:30 pm

    the best postcard I have received has a piece of Berlin Wall attached on it, protected by a plastic capsule :) When is the dealine for this? Will be travelling to Philippines in 4 weeks and want to send u one

  33. Grethe
    johannesburg, South-Africa
    April 8, 2015, 1:00 pm

    Sending you one from South-Africa

  34. brenda
    Lelystad, the Netherlands
    April 8, 2015, 12:53 pm

    Ever heard of starring you . Look at facebook or instagram starringyouworldwide.

  35. brenda
    Lelystad, the Netherlands
    April 8, 2015, 12:52 pm

    Just posted one. Curious to see how many you get.

  36. Gustina
    München, Deutschland
    April 8, 2015, 12:36 pm

    I will gladly send a postcard from Germany! Though, it will not be german one, because originaly I am from Lithuania. Still having some lithuanian ones in my ready-to-send colection.

    I started sending postcards and being interested in snailpost in my early teens, through a postcrossing.com project, which helped me to discover so many places withouth going further than my mailbox. And I met my pen pals there. I find postcards truly amazing!!!

  37. Marion
    Paris
    April 8, 2015, 11:01 am

    I send you one from Paris today, thank you for this project, I am a postcrosser

  38. Danielle Morris
    Jersey City, NJ
    April 8, 2015, 10:43 am

    I love postcards! I put a lot of thought & care into which postcards I buy and who I send them to. I hunt for good ones when traveling but I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like so it’s wonderful to receive them from friends traveling and/or living elsewhere! I also send many from my hometown; I will be sending you one from Jersey City!

  39. Beate Di Guardia
    Sicily/Itlay
    April 8, 2015, 10:23 am

    sending one from the wonderful island Sicily :-)

  40. mali
    United States
    April 8, 2015, 10:10 am

    I joined postcrossing.com less than a year ago and have both sent and received over 150 postcards globally. Getting a postcard in my mailbox is a Happy Mail Day for me! I am happy to send you one.

  41. Casey Boswell
    Jacksonville, FL USA
    April 8, 2015, 9:09 am

    Your article was just posted at Postcrossing. You about to get tons of postcards from all over the world. :)

  42. Gina C-P
    Nassau, NP, Bahamas
    April 8, 2015, 7:42 am

    Decisions, decisions. Which one to send?

  43. Julie
    United States, NC
    April 8, 2015, 7:39 am

    I’ll be sending one your way. Please check out Postcrossing.com. We are sending millions of postcards around the world. Make this part of your article!

  44. Cor Pons
    Netherlands
    April 8, 2015, 6:19 am

    Ever heard of Postcrossing.com? Take a look at the site.

  45. Mari Lehtonen
    Finland, Tampere
    April 8, 2015, 5:43 am

    Sending one from Finland, Tampere :)

  46. Avani
    India
    April 8, 2015, 4:03 am

    Can I send postcards from India? I mean is this a world wide contest? Also what is the deadline for the same?

    • Amy Alipio
      April 15, 2015, 4:04 pm

      Avani, there’s no deadline, this is an ongoing project (not a contest actually), and postcards from all over the world are definitely welcome!

  47. Teena SF
    San Francisco, CA
    April 8, 2015, 3:26 am

    Save the postcard from the fate of cassette tapes and pay phones! I send them whether on business or leisure travel. It’s quite the task, as postage stamps aren’t always easy to acquire (and the costs – it’s up to 2.30 Euros to mail to the US). I agree that at some shops, it looks like the photo & font are from the 70’s, but that just makes me smile. Support this form of correspondence – send a postcard, people do like to get them.

  48. Yanita DC
    Indonesia
    April 8, 2015, 2:17 am

    Just write you one. It’s gonna take some time to reach you ^_^ Thanks for the chance. Greetings from Indonesia :)

  49. Mike
    Thailand
    April 7, 2015, 9:40 pm

    Great article and idea.

    Lots of us do it already on http://www.postcrossing.com

  50. Duncan Adams
    United States
    April 7, 2015, 8:52 pm

    Hello Amy, keep doing this for a few years and you’ll get some from North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Lebanon from me! It starts with North Korea next march.

  51. sartika
    yogyakarta, indonesia
    April 7, 2015, 7:33 pm

    A postcard from Indonesia is coming

  52. Carissaà
    Indonesia
    April 7, 2015, 7:04 pm

    I still have a soft spot for postcard, will send it to you asap.

  53. Alison
    Washington DC
    April 7, 2015, 4:35 pm

    just sent my card today! I love sending and receiving post cards.

  54. Sharlene
    Brooklyn, NY
    April 7, 2015, 3:50 pm

    I’ve experience this quite a lot. https://instagram.com/p/ksRXvnhEgX/?taken-by=shar0ck

    Also, sending postcards can be a crap shoot as I’ve sent quite a few to friends and family that have not received them and vice versa. #keeppostcardsalive

  55. Desire Amojedo
    Amsterdam
    April 7, 2015, 3:14 pm

    Sending you some in everyday place I go! Hère in Greece for a week..

  56. Hrvoje Petrovic
    Croatia
    April 7, 2015, 2:32 pm

    Will be sent tomorrow, but It’s not only about postcard, It’s aldo about postal stamps who tell a story too.. ;)) of course, fantastic idea!

  57. Allison Buchtien
    United States
    April 1, 2015, 11:57 am

    Sending one your way from Texas!

  58. Anne Flinn Powell
    Cayman Islands
    March 30, 2015, 10:34 pm

    I’ve been distributing postcards in the Cayman Islands for over 15 years. They are still in high demand and relevant there! It’s the distribution that’s difficult and printing prices have gone up but customers still want to buy them for 25 cents! My kids love collecting, sending, and receiving them. Long live the postcard!

  59. Chris Hill
    Seattle, WA
    March 27, 2015, 10:55 am

    Just sent my postcard!