The invention of photography and the worldwide professionalization and standardization of postal services fundamentally changed communication in the mid-19th century. In 1872, only three years after the first – still pictureless – postcards circulated in Austria-Hungary, they were also permitted in the Russian postal system. The first World Postal Congress – held in Berne in 1874 and attended by more than 22 countries – finally standardized the new medium, and from the 1880s onwards postcards were increasingly printed with photographic motifs, whereby the modern postcard was born. In 1875, more than 231 million postcards were sent, and by 1900 this figure was to reach 2.8 billion. However, the Russian market lagged behind this development. Due to state monopolies that were only slowly dismantled shortly before the turn of the 20th century, foreign companies dominated the Russian market for a long time. Russian companies slowly and then increasingly successfully gained stable market shares. Many small and local printing and photography studios ensured that the range of products on offer in the Russian Empire became increasingly diverse.
However, postcards can not only be read as symbols of increasingly globalized markets and international standardization processes; they also demonstrate how quickly private individuals and various groups appropriated this medium and changed it beyond its commercial or propagandistic purpose. Numerous cultural and social practices emerged: postcards were sent, written on, scribbled on, collected, exchanged, framed, destroyed or turned into bookmarks.
This database makes the postcard collection from the Russian Empire of the Institute of Modern and Eastern European History at the University of Basel accessible to the wider public.
This project is currently only accessible on SALSAH. We are working on making the data available on our user friendly DSP-APP. Thank you for your patience.