I’ve been looking at a lot of old postcards lately. I found my dad’s collection up in the attic: several thousand postcards, going back to the beginning of the 20th century. Turns out that it was once very common to write things on the front, as we encourage people to do for Postal Poetry. Originally, the U.S. Post Office didn’t allow anything besides the address on the back, so the front was the only place where one could add a personal message. Depending on the quality of the sender’s penmanship, sometimes the effect is almost reminiscent of a classic East Asian painting, with calligraphy encroaching on the subject. This practice continued for a while after the advent of postcards with divided backs in 1907. “The Golden Age of American postcards […] lasted until about 1915, when World War I blocked the import of the fine German-printed cards,” according to the Wikipedia.
Here’s a card my Great Great Aunt Mildred Albertson, a Methodist missionary, sent from Japanese-occupied Korea (though it depicts Kobe, Japan) in October 1907.
The message says, in part, “Every thing seems so different here from home. I feel like a baby in every sense of the word. Have a teacher, and am studying the language. Have not heard from any of home folks yet.”