Dating Vintage Football Photographs

Chris Hornung
March 30, 2015
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Example #2
Example #3
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Originating around 1901 and produced until the mid-1900's, "real photo post cards," or "RPPCs" were produced as a means of distributing personal images to loved ones over long distances. Printed directly onto photographic paper, RPPCs were a common media for vintage football photos of individuals, teams, and in-game action. For vintage football collectors, vintage RPPCs are an outstanding source of information on equipment and uniforms at a fraction of the cost of a period cabinet card or studio image. In addition, the opposite side of a RPPC typically contains information that can assist in dating the image.
Real Photo Post Cards
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If a RPPC is not postmarked, a range of dates can be estimated by observing the stampbox marking and layout of the reverse of the card. The table below, reprinted from, lists common stampbox markings and the dates of manufacture for each mark.
In 1861, the U.S. Congress passed a bill allowing privately manufactured cards, typically referred to as "mailed cards," to be sent through the U.S. mail. In 1873, the U.S. Government began production of its own "postal cards," which could be mailed for 1 cent compared to the 2 cent postage required for mailed cards. In 1898, the U.S. Congress passed legislation approving the 1 cent postage for mailed cards, thereafter referred to as "Private Mailing Cards." While the Private Mailing Card Era is generally recognized as 1898-1901, examples of cards printed after 1901 bearing Private Mailing Card exist, such as the example below from 1905. Mailed cards and private mailing cards were required to reserve the back of the card for addressing only. Therefore, most cards of this era have blank space on the front of the card for messages.
Private Mailing Card Era (1898 - 1901)
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Private Mailing Card, 1905
Undivided Back Post Card, 1906
In 1901, the Postmaster-General issued an order allowing the term "Post Card" to be printed on the back of private mailing cards. Sometimes referred to as the "Undivided Back Period," the post card era ran from 1901 until 1907, when the Universal Postal Congress and U.S. Congress began permitting messages on the left half of the back of post cards.
Post Card Era (1901-1907)
The most common form of vintage RPPCs found today are "divided back postal cards" printed after 1907. The right half of a divided back post card was reserved for the address while correspondence could be written on the left half. While post cards collectors recognize several other post card eras, such as the "White Border Era" (1915-1930), the "Linen Era" (1930-1945), and the "Photochrom Era" (1945-present), these eras refer to production and printing techniques that were not typically used in real photo post cards. The use of RPPCs for team and individual photos generally fell out of favor in the mid-20th century.
Divided Back Era (1907- )
Divided Back Post Card, 1908
Updated June 1, 2015
Smithsonian Institute Archives. Postcard History. Web. 17 May. 2015.

The2buds. Dating Real Photos. Web. 17 May. 2015.
Works Cited
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