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What's written on the back?

by Jessica Bardosh

A telephone call today is equivalent to the postcard of the early twentieth century. Postcards were used to convey everyday messages. This occurred not only in large cities, but also in small towns, such as Beverly where people communicated primarily with postcards. A scribbled message was worth a thousand words, as a whisper is worth just as many interpretations.

In one such postcard dated 1942, questions arise as to what was really meant by the author's quick message, "Will see you in about 1 week for Easter. Hope your mother is well. Are you satisfied with the way you are treating me?" followed by a "kind regards to all"? [1] There appears to be evidence of irony in this conversation. We only catch a glimpse into their world, and find ourselves being detectives, trying to uncover the mystery of their lives. Is there a deeper meaning? Perhaps a secret code derived by friends or lovers, to prevent strangers from unrevealing the hidden message within the lines? Yet our first impulse would be to ask who would go through all that trouble to scribble this onto a postcard, when wouldn't it be more private to speak of such matters in person? However, whoever wrote this message was without the luxury of a telephone.

The backs of these sometimes-plain postcards carried messages, whose real meanings may have remained a mystery to all except those whose eyes were meant to read them. Their words ranged from boring, ordinary how-do-you-dos to exciting, life altering news, worth the attention of the maids. One friend wrote to another in Boston, "Dear Isie- I Am in Salem at present, but Billy Taft wants me to visit him next. Don't you wish you knew him too? Be good and have a handsome time." [2] However, messages as such were not so common. The usual message asked the recipient how they were, what they have been doing, and then told a brief description of their present life, nothing out of the ordinary, for the most part.

Punctuation, grammar, and spelling were paid less attention to, as postcards became more and more popular. People began to favor a less formal message system, rather than one of stiff letter writing, especially by the younger generations, who did not quite know how to follow the strict regulations of the proper form and etiquette of a formal letter. [3] It became acceptable, and almost appropriate to converse using this simple way of communication. "Your photo received ok. We think it very good intended to see you before this but will some time soon." [4] A quickly scribbled message, not restricted by punctuation or clear thought; an acceptable postcard in 1911.

Communication by postcards was not always so simple. When first introduced, the postcard was used more frequently as an advertising tool, rather than a communication device, and followed many strict rules related to size, form, and dynamics. Prior to March 1st 1907, the postal law stated that no words other than the address were to be written on the back of postcards. However, society was much too eager to be restricted by this limitation, and did not dawdle in their want for change. They insisted on using the space intended for the lovely picture on the front, as their letterhead. This appears to answer the question of why any postcard found before 1907 has no split back, and why words are often scribbled across Beverly's scenic treasures. [5] This also explains why some postcards contain no words, but are simply mailed to a friend, for the benefit of the card, to add to one's collection.

To classify postcards into systematic time slots, there are more than merely dates, which are capable of this task. The language, for instance, used during the turn of the century, was more carefully laid out and enunciated, than the diction of individuals during the mid-century. [6] A postal written in 1909 reads: "Perhaps we won't see you as we are at Pres. Taft's home for the day." [7] It's language flows elegantly, like a poem. A look at a more recent postcard shows the change of cultural ethnicity, written to a friend between the late 1970's to the early 1990's. "Hey Erin what's up! Im having fun down here just chilling in the sun maxing. The beaches are gorgeous around the area you should come down and see. Well. By yours truly DEL.H" [8]

It is sometimes hard to decipher what a person wrote one hundred years ago. [9] A slang word, which may have been everyday then, is now a complete mystery today. The cursive of today has strayed away from the Old English language of a few hundreds of years ago; however, it was still visible during the early twentieth century, especially how a capital " F " or "J " was strung. A jumble of letters to us, formed a word to them, or perhaps an abbreviation, which is no longer used.

The telephone is the center of our universe, connecting millions of people from all corners of the planet. We communicate, taking this luxury for granted. When the postcard was first introduced, people's thoughts could be passed from one to another without leaving one's home. Just as we do, they took this new communication for granted, as theirs words were like the voice we now hear on the other end of the telephone, or even more recently, the pop-up chat box online.


From various Beverly Public Library postcards

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