San Francisco postcards

souvenir_958.png weidner_134.png

I have collected San Franciscana for decades: books, stereoviews, and ephemera, much of it related to the 1906 earthquake and fire. Eventually I stumbled onto a few old postcards, one card led to another, and now I have a collection of a couple hundred cards. This page gives a brief illustrated introduction to my collection. You can display all the cards by date, by publisher, by subject, or as a slideshow (type q to quit).

Click on any image to view a full-resolution version, then use the Back button to return.

sf_card_109.png sf_card_109_b.png

The Private Mailing Card Act of 5/19/1898 allowed private companies to publish postcards; previously, only the Post Office could issue postcards. The backs of cards were required to say "Private Mailing Card" and could only be used for the address, so the front often included blank space for messages. San Francisco is the subject of this lighthearted Private Mailing Card postmarked 3/27/1905, but the card was mailed from Portland OR to Chicago. My collection includes a few other Private Mailing Cards.

weidner_008.png weidner_008_b.png

The government relaxed the "Private Mailing Card" restriction on 12/24/1901, allowing cards to use "Post Card" on the back instead. This card published by Goeggel & Weidner is postmarked 4/15/1903, the earliest postmark in my collection. San Francisco photographer Charles Weidner published hundreds of postcards (see my Weidner postcards page). Weidner's cards were printed in Germany, as German color lithography was far superior to American printing technology at the time. My Weidner family page contains information about Weidner and his family.

britton_449.png britton_552.png

The earliest 15 dated cards in my collection predate the 4/18/1906 earthquake (4/15/1903 through 3/10/1906). The cards above are postmarked 4/07/1905 and 12/28/1905. Collecting "postals" was an extremely popular hobby in the first decade of the 20th Century, now called the Golden Age of Postcards.

unknown_03.png rieder_u01.png unknown_04.png

The 4/18/1906 earthquake and fire was big news, and postcard publishers rushed to capitalize on it. Local conditions were obviously difficult at best, but poorly printed b+w earthquake-related appeared postcards very quickly after the event. These three cards were mailed within a month of the quake (5/12/1906, 5/26/1906, and ca. 5/1906), with texts that describe the sender's personal experience (transcribed here, here, and here). The quality of the b+w cards varies substantially: many were badly printed on poor quality stock (Kendall 7) and some contained incorrect information (the Ferry Building tower was not destroyed), while some later cards are excellent (Behrendt 213). A San Francisco Call editorial of 05/20/1906 complained about disaster postals as "Pernicious advertising": "Are we not damaging the city with every one of these views we send away? ... Why not forget it as soon as possible and cease to keep the fire alive by fanning the dying embers?

weidner_211.png pacific_375.png

These cards (Weidner left, Pacific Novelty right) are dramatically different renderings of the same b+w photo. The "General view of ruined city" refugee photo above is taken later from the same location. My Mint Hill 1906 page shows more images from Mint Hill before, during, and after the fire.

behrendt_238.png weidner_241.png

Better quality color postcards showing earthquake damage became available a few months after the earthquake. These postcards of the collapsed Valencia St. Hotel use the same b+w photo taken by M. Tanron on the morning of the earthquake, cropped and colored quite differently. The Weidner card at right (postmarked 9/21/1908) is of much higher print quality than the Behrendt card at left (postmarked 4/10/1907). My Valencia St. Hotel page gives more information about the hotel, including many other postcards.

weidner_001.png weidner_001_b.png weidner_001a.png weidner_001a_b.png

Starting on 3/01/1907, the Post Office allowed divided back postcards (message left, address right), freeing the entire front side for the image and ending the "undivided back" era. Weidner reissued many of his earlier cards with divided backs, usually changing the front layout slightly and often adding earthquake-related captions to pre-earthquake images (e.g., No. 134).

weidner_207.png weidner_205.png weidner_218.png

Earthquake-themed cards remained popular for years after 1906 (the card at right is postmarked 6/06/1910, four years after the quake), even outside of San Francisco (like the Fairmount Hotel [sic] card mailed from Connecticut to Maine on 10/23/1910).

weidner_596.png pacific_391.png newman_V324.png

Don't trust your eyes... These cards are all based on the same post-earthquake Chinatown photo. In the Weidner card at left (probably closest to the original photo), one man looks into a shop window at left; the Pacific Novelty card at center has two men rather than one at left, plus a man at right who is either cropped out in the Weidner or added here; and the garish Newman card at right (postmarked 7/14/1913) shows two different men at left. The Weidner card is by far the best of the three in print quality. The "Grant Avenue" caption of the Newman card is incorrect: the photo looks west on Washington Street from Washington Place ("Fish Alley", now Wentworth Place, just above Portsmouth Square), and several of the buildings still stand today.

newman_V163.png mitchell_044.png mitchell_262.png

Sutro Heights was a popular tourist destination, with pedestrian Palm Avenue leading from the entrance (Geary/48th Avenue) to the parapet overlooking Ocean Beach; these cards all look northeast toward the entrance. The left sides of the cards at left (Newman) and center (Mitchell) are clearly the same image, but the right sides differ. I'm particularly fond of the photographer standing at his tripod in the Newman card.

cardinell_u02.png cardinell_u02_b.png weidner_ppie_06.png

Campaigning and publicity for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition long predated the event; the card at left and center is postmarked 11/11/1910, and the 1/08/1912 postmark on the divided back Weidner Cliff House card shown above advertises the Exposition, then still three years in the future. Visitors in 1915 could buy a souvenir postcard showing their family aboard the "Frisco-Expo" train or a beautiful hand-colored card like the one at right, a 1915 PPIE Weidner photo published by Albertype. Charles Weidner remained active as a photographer in San Francisco until the late 1930s, but he stopped publishing his own postcards before 1915.


This lovely panorama of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition is from the Pacific Novelty Co. folding postcard booklet Jewel City, mailed on 8/11/1915.

crocker_C04.png piltz.png crocker_C14.png

The futuristic Golden Gate International Exposition took place on Treasure Island in 1939.


I'll close with one of my favorite earthquake images, taken at the Stanford Quad. A passing professor remarked, "I always admired Agassiz more in the abstract than in the concrete."

SF postcard collection:

Related pages:

About postcards: