Yellowstone Park Postcards

Yellowstone National Park and postcards are practically synonymous. Yellowstone has been defined through postcards as perhaps no other place on earth. The number of postcards that have been published of Yellowstone Park is staggering. It has been estimated that Haynes, Inc. alone published between 44 and 55 million Yellowstone postcards from 1899 through 1968. The records of the Detroit Publishing Company (DPC) do not survive, so we don’t know how many postcards they published while they were in business. The overall number of North American picture postcards published by the DPC would probably be in the hundreds of millions. They were the most prolific publisher of American postcards from the turn of the century through the 1920s and issued a wide range of Yellowstone Park views.

Yellowstone National Park was established as the first national park in the world in 1872. This date precedes the introduction of postcards. If you are interested in a brief history of postcards and gaining a better historical perspective of Yellowstone postcards read the second article in this series.

The history of Yellowstone National Park postcards transcends all eras of postcards, unlike national parks that were created after the turn of the century. The only other national parks established prior to the authorization of Private Mailing Cards in 1898 were Yosemite and Sequoia. The major advantage Yellowstone enjoyed over these two parks was that concessionaire shops had already been established and were in operation throughout the park. The Haynes Picture Shops were owned and operated by the Haynes family. There were nine of these shops doing business in the park at the turn of the century. Souvenir shops specializing in Yellowstone Park merchandise were also doing business in Gardiner, MT, the northern entrance to Yellowstone, and in Livingston, MT, the gateway to Yellowstone Park. The Northern Pacific Railroad had been servicing Yellowstone Park since 1883 and was a major promoter of the park. The tourism business relating to Yellowstone Park had been developed and promoted via the Yellowstone Park Line of the NPRR from St. Paul, MN to Tacoma, WA, and a number of souvenir shops that sold postcards were in business along this route.

The first postcards published of national parks were two Pioneer Postals published in 1897 of Yellowstone and Yosemite. These early postals were multi-view images published by Albert Kayser of Oakland, CA. The first Private Mailing Cards of Yellowstone, published in 1898 by the DPC, were a series of ten experimental cards. The images on these cards were early photographs by William Henry Jackson. If you would like to know more about the DPC go the link above for the National Park Quilts web site. Private Mailing Cards (PMCs) were authorized by Congress on March 31, 1898, to be effective July 1, 1898. A dilemma regarding Yellowstone and Yosemite PMCs was that July 1 was into the summer season and distribution and sales of PMCs to tourists in these parks at this time of the year would have been problematic. PMCs were new to the market and there was no history as to their use or popularity.

No one realized that postcards would become the most popular collectible in the world and fundamentally change the souvenir industry, especially in national parks. The production of postcards increased dramatically after 1898. Postcard production and sales increased each year through circa 1907-08, which was the peak period for postcard production in the Golden Age. Postcard production and sales remained very strong through 1909-10, when it began to decline.

The passage of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff in 1909 increased the price for imported paper and printed products, including postcards. The increase in cost of imported postcards from Europe had an immediate impact on the overall postcard market. The postcard markets in North America began to shift away from imported postcard to domestic postcards. The German printers were considered to be the finest and most experienced in the world in producing chromolithographic prints and postcards. The high-quality chromo postcards printed in Germany practically came to a stop after the tariff took affect. Haynes had contracted with Louis Glazer in Germany to produce his 100 Series postcards beginning in 1908 (see the Haynes article for more details). The second edition of this series of postcards was printed in Germany in 1909. However, the third and last edition of this series was printed in America. The quality of the 1912 series is much lower than the other two series that were printed in Germany.

The cost of many postcards, including most that were imported from Europe, increased after the Payne-Aldrich Tariff from one cent to two cents or two for five cents. Some of the more labor-intensive chromo postcards from Germany, and from the American company DPC, increased to five cents each. Most of the postcards published in America after 1909 were printed on inexpensive paper with cheap inks and the overall quality was inferior to cards published earlier. The Golden Age of Postcards came to an end with the beginning of World War I, and this had an affect on national park postcard production. The next era of postcard production, especially with respect to national parks, occurred circa 1915-16. I will discuss this in more detail later in this article.

One of the most important reasons postcards became so popular with the public was that a personalized message could be sent through the mail for one cent. Rural Free Delivery was established in America in 1896, and it soon became possible to send and receive postcards almost anywhere in the country, and throughout the world. Postcards, referred to as Penny Postcards at the time because they cost one cent, were the perfect souvenirs. They were inexpensive, could be sent through the mail with a message, and were available with a wide range of images.

Picture postcards were mailed throughout the world and were very influential in shaping the perception of national parks. Postcard messages stating that “it looks just like this” directly influenced how people perceived the parks to be.  Postcards are small windows to the world. The tinting and hand coloring of photographic-based images may not have been realistic, but to the receiver they were taken literally. The colors of the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs were greatly exaggerated on postcards, but very few people knew the difference. The same can be said for the geysers, waterfalls, and landscape views of the park. The one company that did not exaggerate colors, but attempted to produce views that were true to life, was the DPC.

Postcards made a dramatic impact on people’s conceptions of what the national parks looked like, especially in the early 20th century. For the first time in history people could send an image of where they visited to someone thousands of miles away for one cent. Families and friends exchanged postcards. Postcard clubs were started throughout the country and members exchanged cards with members of other clubs. The Postal Craze, as it was referred to, lasted from the turn of the century through the beginning of World War I. This period was also known as the Golden Age of Postcards. Not only were postcards the most popular collectible in the world at this time, they were the main form of communication. Hundreds of millions of postcards were produced and sold from circa 1900 through 1915, and a large percentage of these were of national parks.

Two companies printed and distributed more Yellowstone postcards than any other publishers; Haynes and the Detroit Publishing Company. The DPC is discussed in a separate article (see the link above) and I will write a separate article on Haynes that will be posted on this web site as time permits. These two companies dominated the Yellowstone Park postcard market from the turn of the century until they went out of business. The DPC declared bankruptcy in 1932 and Haynes, Inc. sold to Hamilton Stores, Inc. in 1968. There were many other publishers of Yellowstone Park postcards that prospered and sold large numbers of cards in and around the park. The “Yellowstone Postcard Checklist – Revised Edition” by Michael Frances and Kathleen Burk, July 2006, lists more than 200 different Yellowstone postcard publishers from 1897 through 1950. Unfortunately this checklist is out of print.

I am going to discontinue this discussion at this time, but plan to come back to add information and edit this article. Susan and I have collected Yellowstone Park antiques since we were married in 1978. Susan actually began collecting Yellowstone Park antiques when she was in high school, and we added to her original collection as a couple. The first antique she bought was a boxed set of Haynes postcards. Postcard collecting has been our passion and our private collection of more than 10,000 Yellowstone Park postcards now resides in the archives of the park at the Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner, MT.

Susan and I are members of the International Federation of Postcard Dealers and have collected national park postcards for more than 30 years. If you have any questions feel free to contact us and we will help you however we can. Thank you!