old Prague postcards

Old postcards of Prague   The History of Prague Picture Postcards


The postal entities that can most plausibly be considered to be the oldest picture postcards of Prague are various types of Austro-Hungarian correspondence cards with pictorial additional prints (mainly on the obverse side). The additional prints were produced privately, or based on private orders, and often had an advertising character. They were monotone, and probably presented the best-known Prague buildings, usually leaving about one-third of the space for communication. There is a problem here because, until recently, the people who were engaged in collecting these types of correspondence cards were predominantly philatelists; these cards almost certainly appear in their collections, though sporadically, even today. The existence of such copies of pictures of Prague is also confirmed by the principal reliable experts on old correspondence cards, so they are not simply products of the imagination. Unfortunately, up to the deadline for finalising this text, we have succeeded in discovering only one such specimen, and that from the year 1886; it shows a view of the former Prague suburb, Smíchov. Even though the advertisement and pictorial additional print on the correspondence card does not belong to a part of old Prague within the city walls, we nevertheless reproduce [picture XIV] and describe it for several reasons.

XIV - An Austrian postal card

XIV - An Austrian postal card

With a picture and text of the Straschnow Steiner Company which was the owner of the First Czech Barley Factory. The postal card announces the arrival of its commercial traveller. The address side has a printed light brown two kreutzer stamp with the double eagle (this type of postal card was issued by the Austrian Post from 1883). The name of the firm was printed on a tape which covered in two places what was probably the name of the previous owner.


It is probable that predecessors of private advertising in Prague (and, in particular, additional picture prints on correspondence cards) were companies’ cards with business communications, often provided with artistically designed emblems of specific companies. A preserved interesting specimen of such a card [picture XV], posted by the well-known Prague company The Town of Paris in 1876, can be ranked among the predecessors of Prague picture postcards.

XV - The first type of the Austrian correspondence card

XV - The first type of the Austrian correspondence card

Sent from Prague to Vienna on May 2, 1876 and stamped on the address and text side with interesting advertising seals of the Prague firm U Města Paříže (The Town of Paris). On the address side in the upper left-hand corner opposite the printed stamp there is a big Czech-German common seal Warehouse of Decorative Goods, The Town of Paris, in Prague, Celetná Street No. 15. On the text side there is a less readable smaller seal of the firm. In addition to that, the name of the firm is embossed in German above the stamp from the address side to the text side.

At that time various, mostly advertising, additional prints already existed in Bohemia, probably also in Prague, and in Moravia (as well as, for example, in neighbouring Germany), side by side with company or other stamps. They were both text and also picture prints, produced by printing houses to order. More numerous collections of these printed items were certainly ordered by larger and more enterprising companies. One of the few preserved specimens of this type is a correspondence card from Bohemia with a printed advertisement for the company Theodor J. Tschiedel on the communication side. This is a black print (maybe a lithograph but I have not seen the original, I am only quoting from a description in the literature), with a picture of a kerosene lamp and information about the company and the goods it offered for sale. It was posted at the company’s base - Jablonec nad Nisou - on November 24, 1878. Because no older copy of this kind from the territory of Bohemia is known, it can be considered to be the oldest Czech postcard with a picture. Another preserved specimen of the same type [picture XXII] was posted by Karl Meltzer from Lánov (near Nový Bor) in 1880.

XXII - An Austrian postal card

XXII - An Austrian postal card

Of 140 x 83 mm, which was issued in different versions and different languages between 1876 and 1882. This postcard with a printed rufous two-kreutzer stamp with the head of Emperor Franz Josef I on light brown cardboard, was intended for Bohemia. On the message side in the upper part there is an advertising heading in German The Glassworks of K. Meltzer & Co. in Lánov near Nový Bor with the modified Austrian emblem. The hand-written text, dated October 6, 1880, has a signature of the firm’s owner. The card was sent out on the same day from Lánov to Tiefanbach (probably above the Desna river in the Jizera Mountains). The stamp of the addressee’s post is illegible.

If the Prague company The Town of Paris routinely provided correspondence cards with open commercial communications and company stamps in 1876, if much earlier (in 1873) the Top of Sněžka existed in the form of an pictorial additional print on a correspondence card, if (in 1878) Tschiedel in Jablonec nad Nisou and (in 1880) Meltzer in Lánov near Nový Bor used correspondence cards with the company’s additional print on the communication side, and if the Smíchov company Straschnow & Steiner did the same in 1886, it is hardly credible that companies in the capital of the Czech Kingdom, Prague, would not have used similar kinds of additional prints during the period 1873-1886. We may be quite sure they did but either they have not been preserved or the preserved specimens are negligibly few in number and unavailable at present.

With our present knowledge, the first picture postcards known to originate in Prague and to require a pasted stamp are picture postcards of the sports organisation Sokol, issued to raise interest in the second nationwide Sokol rally in 1887. At that time, the word meeting was used rather than rally, thus every picture postcard was provided with the following text: see you at the Sokol meeting in 1887 in Slavonic Prague. This event, for which American Czechs also came over to participate, was actually forbidden and only a sports competition in Český Brod took place. But the special picture postcards were printed approximately a year ahead of the event in the printing house of F. B. Batovec, and immediately put into circulation at the cost of Prague Sokol. It was a series of picture postcards that can be divided into three sub-series, taking into account the picture’s motive and the type of graphic technique employed. The first group depicts, in three variants, the Sokol officials - based on photographs (with or without a frame), busts or drawings. At the moment the oldest known posted picture postcard from this series is a portrait of Jindřich Fügner [picture XXIII].

XXIII - A picture postcard with the portrait of Jindřich Fügner

XXIII - A picture postcard with the portrait of Jindřich Fügner

The first head of the Prague Sokol organisation (1822-1865), with an interesting printed text in black. In this case the postcard was used as an invitation to an extraordinary General Meeting of the Prague Gymnastics Club Sokol which took place on October 25, 1886. Similar texts appear quite frequently on Sokols’ postcards.


The second group depicts, in all cases, an athlete with a piece of gymnastic apparatus (beam, dumbbells, rapier, etc.), and the third group shows national and Prague City emblems. Only one specimen specifically concerning Prague is known: it shows the emblem of the Old Town [picture XX). All these picture postcards are printed in landscape mode and, in addition to a heading, they also have the following text at the bottom left, below the picture: For the Benefit of the Jubilee Fund of Prague Sokol. On the right-hand side, below the heading and beside the picture, there is enough space for a communication to the recipient. So far, the known number of these special Sokol picture postcards is ten.

XX - A postcard published on the occasion of the 2nd Sokol rally in 1887

 XX - PA postcard published on the occasion of the 2nd Sokol rally in 1887

But probably issued one year earlier, bearing an emblem which is a part of the sculptural decoration of the Powder Tower from the end of the 15th century. The legend around the emblem is confusing because in no case is it the oldest emblem of the old Town but its third version, used until 1649. After this year the emblem was improved by Emperor Ferdinand III by inserting an armoured arm with a sword into the gate. This improved emblem of the Old Town became the basis of the emblem of the city of Prague after the merger of all historical parts in 1784.


It is possible that older Sokol picture postcards exist, for instance, from the first nationwide Sokol rally in 1882 or from the year 1884, when the first Head of the Sokol organisation, Dr. Miroslav Tyrš, died. According to the evidence, these cards could turn up or might be found among the private acquisitions of former collectors of old Prague and Sokol picture postcards; at the moment, they seem to be inaccessible or already sold or, at worst, irretrievably lost.

Owing to the fact that there are no views of characteristic town features - buildings or scenes from town life - on the Sokol picture postcards, issued on the occasion of the second nationwide Sokol rally, some collectors do not consider them to be the oldest Prague picture postcards. However, this is not an objective or just point of view because the total Czech Sokol Community was by no means merely a gymnastic organization, rather it was a social and cultural institution, which indisputably belonged to the events and life of the capital.

Picture postcards with distinctive Prague themes (streets, buildings, parts of the town) originate in the year 1890. They are in a series of at least three two-toned lithographs, two of which are shown in pictures XVI and XVIII.

XVI - A two-window postcard

XVI - A two-window postcard

The Powder Tower and Na Příkopě Street from Václavské Square. The Powder Tower was reconstructed by J. Mocker between 1875-1886 into the shape reflected in the drawing. The street design in the picture can be dated back to 1886-1890, however rails for the horse-trams were doubled at that time.


A third (unreproduced) lithograph, bears two shots of Prague Castle and the Lesser Town. A picture postcard with the motif of the Powder Tower and Na Příkopě Street was posted on April 2, 1890. As this copy was not available to us, picture XVI shows an unused equivalent.

XVIII - A two-window postcard

XVIII - A two-window postcard

Showing the Church of Our Lady of Týn and the National Theatre from Střelecký Island. In the picture from the Staroměstské Square there are two horse trams that pass each other and gas street lamps with eight arms. In the bottom corner there is a simplified Prague emblem. The National Theatre in the picture does not yet have Schnirch’s trigas which were placed there as late as at the beginning of the 20th century. To the left of the theatre we can see a part of the column of the chain Bridge of Emperor Franz, which was removed in 1898.


Regardless of the postal use of the picture postcards in this collection, both the reproduced copies and the specimen described obviously belong together, and originated in 1890 or possibly 1889, because picture postcards are sometimes posted a number of years after their purchase. When the demand was great, several editions may have been printed during the course of several years, and this may have happened in the decade when the above-mentioned picture postcards were used.

Two other specimens - the Museum of the Czech Kingdom [picture XVII] and the Old Town Hall - were executed by the same technical procedure as the previous three copies. They are one-shot two-toned lithographs on chalk-coated paper, signed by the Berlin company J. Miesler: either all five picture postcards belong together, or the last two belong to a separate series. If we admit they are from a single series, it is probable that they are the products of the same company - J. Miesler.

XVII - The Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom

XVII - The Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom

In the upper end of the Václavské Square built in place of the former Horse Gate between 1885-1890. The terrace of the Museum in the picture was not yet decorated, which may support the thesis that the postcard was issued in 1890 or even earlier. It is decorated with flowers and brier-rose leaves and ornament resembling a renaissance plait.


However, pictorial and advertising additional prints on correspondence cards, the Sokol picture postcards, and the Miesler series (or maybe two) are not the only items that have a claim to be regarded as the oldest Prague picture postcards. In this respect, some preserved monotone copies and series must be considered, if their age is estimated predominantly according to the style of their technical execution, since they were mostly not posted. First among these is a series of at least three dark-green lithographs by the artist Antonín Pokorný with very old views of the outer part of the State Railway Station [picture XIX] seen from the Vítkov Hill, Prague Castle with the Šítkovská Water Tower [picture XXI], and Prague Castle including Lesser Town, viewed from the Petřín Hill.

XIX - A view of the State Railway Station and the city of Prague from Žižkov

XIX - A view of the State Railway Station and the city of Prague from Žižkov

In the walls we can notice six gates of train passageways. Municipal walls divided the station into two parts - inner and outer. The buildings of the railway station and the platforms were located in the inner part, and such operations as a heating plant, warehouses and others, in the outer part. The picture can be dated back before 1874. Similarly in postcard No. XXI there are emblems in the bottom left-hand corner. From the left: the chessboard Moravian spread-eagle, two-tailed Czech lion and Silesian spread-eagle. Above them on a cushion there is a mace crossed with a sword and the crown of St Wenceslas.


XXI - A view from the Vltava rafting-yard in Podskalí from the right river bank

 XXI - A view from the Vltava rafting-yard in Podskalí from the right river bank

On the left there is the Jewish Island, in the middle Střelecký Island and above them, at the back of Prague Castle, a part of the Lesser Town. On the right there is the Šítkovská Water Tower, behind it a small part of the National Theatre roof, probably recently completed (1881). The greeting text in French is completely exceptional among Prague picture postcards. We can assume that this picture postcard and the whole series, which it is a part of, was issued in different language versions.


By analysis, it can be found that the views on these picture postcards originate in the period 1874-1888. The oldest picture in this collection, originating from 1874 at the latest, is a view of the station taken prior to the demolition of the Baroque city walls. On the reverse side, both German and Czech names (Correspondenz-Karte, Korespondenční lístek) are printed; starting from 1871, it was permitted in Austria-Hungary to append the name in the local language. This concession applied to correspondence cards, and apparently also to picture postcards, but the Czech word Pohlednice (picture postcard) appeared on the address side quite exceptionally. The upper limit of the given time range is determined by the second of the pictures mentioned where, on the right, behind the Šítkovská Tower, part of the dome of the National Theatre is visible while, on the left, near St Vitus Cathedral, no trace can be seen of the western towers. These began to rise above the roofs of the Castle sometime after 1888 (see picture 37).

The fact that Prague picture postcards (and others, too) often feature shots taken years before the card was issued is not uncommon; mostly, this is apparent from the printed text, for example, in Kaucký’s series of old shots Prague 100 Years Ago and on picture postcards made according to the engravings of Vincenc Morstadt. What was Pokorný’s reason for using old shots which would not correspond to the reality in the time of their issue? Nostalgia? Do these picture postcards really originate in the year 1888, or even before that? Had the picture of the station already been used on an earlier Pokorný picture postcard, possibly even with in a series unknown today, and issued for the second time in the collection of three (or more?) picture postcards some years later? In this case, this picture postcard could aspire to be the very first from Prague. This scenario is possible but such speculation is skating on thin ice; we simply do not know. Strictly scientifically speaking, at the present time, the oldest authenticated found and posted Prague picture postcards demonstrably come from the year 1886.

Other individual picture postcards (and series thereof) of old Prague are incomparably better known than the previous examples. The following two specimens were, until recently, considered to be the oldest and they remain so in the area of reportage Prague picture postcards. These are two picture postcards issued immediately after the disastrous Prague flood, which, on September 4, 1890, broke three of the central arches of the Charles Bridge. The first card is a two-toned lithograph, from the workshop of Alois Wildner; it was issued in two language variants - Czech and German [picture XXIX].

XXIX -The first known Prague reportage postcard

XXIX -The first known Prague reportage postcard

With the demolished Charles Bridge and a text in German. A view from the Lesser Town bank to the northern side of the bridge with ruined vaults, the old Town Water Tower is on the left. The author’s name is missing in the Czech version.


The second picture postcard is a black-white autotype (designer, Jan Vilím; publisher, Antonín Pokorný) made from a photograph - a view from the Old Town side to the middle part of the Charles Bridge, the Lesser Town, and the well- known panorama of Prague Castle with the incomplete St Vitus Cathedral. In the picture part, a photographic picture postcard is reproduced with a similar shot of the badly damaged Charles Bridge (picture 37) (already mentioned in another connection); this was made much later by Zikmund Reach, using a period original. Picture postcards of this sort were issued incredibly quickly, particularly the lithographs; I have had one in my hands which was posted either on September 6 or 8, 1890 (a barely legible stamp).

In the next few years, the number of picture postcards depicting Prague and its environment increased. On the occasion of the country’s Jubilee Exhibition in 1891, a variety of picture postcards was issued. First of all, there was a set of twelve coloured lithographs by Theodor Böhm, of high quality both aesthetically and technically, and some other colour lithographs, at least four of which originated from the workshop of Antonín Pokorný. All these picture postcards, mostly printed in landscape mode but a few in portrait fashion (Böhm’s series), take as their topic the Prague Exhibition Area in Holešovice, showing either overall views or shots of the exhibition pavilions belonging to various companies. Because the exhibition area is situated outside Prague’s historical districts, we cannot deal with picture postcards of this exhibition in greater detail here; this is also the case for picture postcards from certain other exhibitions, such as those mounted in the years 1895, 1896, 1898, 1902, 1905, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1912, 1913, 1922. Nevertheless, these specimens are important for several reasons. There is no doubt about their time classification, whether or not they were posted. They may therefore figure as reference points in a more detailed history of Prague picture postcards, and they may also serve, especially in connection with technical and other details, for the dating of unposted copies.

Among lesser known picture postcards, supposedly issued in 1891, or soon after the country’s Jubilee Exhibition, another four, so far found, unused copies can be ranked on the basis of their graphic designs and technical execution. They probably come from two series of four-window monotone lithographs (dark brown or dark green) [picture XXX] by Ignaz Hynek) Fuchs - evidently both the manufacturer and publisher.

XXX -A four-window postcard with irregular frames

XXX -A four-window postcard with irregular frames

With well-known Prague buildings. Flowers, pallet and other art accessories line the pictures. All postcards of this series were printed on an oblong sheet of paper


On the occasion of the Czech-Slavonic Ethnographic Exhibition in 1895, at least three sets of picture postcards were issued: one series of at least six multi-shot four-colour lithographs by Antonín Pokorný; one series of five single-shot five-colour lithographs by L. J. Čech; and a series of single-shot three-colour autotypes, in two variants, by L. J. Čech, printed by the Husník & Häusler Company. Further, there exist several picture postcards and one multi-shot colour lithograph by Josef Šváb Malostranský (at least two copies in dark blue autotypes, on papers of various colours). From the time of the Second International Pharmacy Exhibition in 1896, only three picture postcards are known, again published by L. J. Čech; they are also three-colour autotypes. The first edition of colour lithographs by the Dresden publisher Paul Peitz may rank among the oldest issues of Prague multi-shot picture postcards, due to their graphic and technical work-up, regardless of their later postal usage. In 1897, a variety of series and individual specimens were issued; the first large series by Karel Bellmann (executed by phototype) and many other picture postcards appeared, published by domestic and foreign companies. Many picture postcards, predominantly of an artistic type, were published by several publishers in several series on the occasion of the Exhibition of Architecture and Engineering in 1898.

In 1898, the period of the greatest boom in Prague picture postcards began; this was in harmony with the worldwide trend, which, due to the number of specimens appearing, soon began to be too much to handle. Large polygraphic plants, both domestic and foreign, issued numerous series of phototype picture postcards of Prague - black-and-white, coloured, and also hand-painted. The number of kinds of Prague picture postcards increased, from the viewpoints of both printing techniques and thematic areas. The number of publishers (as well as Prague dealers) of picture postcards increased, including several specialist shops; there were demonstrably twenty-eight of them in Prague in 1898. Prague picture postcards were sold, not only in the capital itself, but also in its environment, in a variety of the larger towns of Bohemia and Moravia, in large towns in Austria-Hungary and further abroad.

In collections outside Prague, there are very old photographic picture postcards from the late 1880s, apparently issued by local photographers, which depict both buildings and events. These picture postcards have a brownish shade, with the picture part occupying the whole, a half or a smaller portion of the obverse side. As they were published in relatively small numbers (several dozens), they are extraordinarily valuable today. The sporadic occurrence of specimens outside Prague suggests that they must also have existed within Prague. This is especially true because we can be sure that the first preserved photographs of Prague originate in the 1850s; moreover, even older Prague shots existed as so-called daguerrotypes, but they have not yet come to light. After all, several photographic picture postcards of Prague belong to this type. If we suppose that Prague was almost completely documented photographically in the second half of the 19th century and that, in the course of time, at least a part of this material was transformed into picture postcards, using various printing techniques, then at least a proportion of the photographs must have been used as picture postcards directly. An approximate idea of the extent of the photographic production of old Prague can be gained from numerous later collections of photographic picture postcards published by the well-known antiquarian and photographer Zikmund Reach.

In 1899, special picture postcards appeared when balls were held in Prague, events from which the cards were also posted. In the first two years of the 20th century photomontage picture postcards, both black-and-white and coloured, were in considerable favour for several years. To mark significant events, many reportage picture postcards were issued, e.g. for the visits of the Emperor Franz Josef the First to Prague in 1901 and 1907. Aproximately 200 varieties of picture postcards, both black-and-white and coloured, were issued at the time of the country’s Jubilee Exhibition in 1908, which was arranged to celebrate the 60-year reign of Franz Josef the First.

In subsequent years, the publication of topographic Prague picture postcards showed no sign of diminishing but the cards became less colourful and, after 1915, their quality decreased (paper, print). This style of picture postcard unequivocally came to depend on black-and-white photography without any decorations, making the product as cheap as possible, although some exceptions have been noted. Some publishers (see below), who cared about the reputations of their companies and their profession, maintained the highest standard of product as was possible in the war years. It can be said that photographic picture postcards already prevailed in the twenties. The production of topographic picture postcards has continued this trend up to the present time, but it has never returned to the quality and diversity that was characteristic of the Golden Age of picture postcards.

During the war years, the general focus of picture postcard design shifted to the frontlines, battlefields, and to the rear-guard troops. Hardly anyone was concerned about the appearance or life of the town. After all, most of the mature citizens of Prague, including the employees of the companies designing and producing picture postcards, were running about in gas masks in ploughed fields at that time with fixed bayonets on rifles or hiding in shell craters.

For the creation of a picture postcard, three people are essential: an artist (painter, draughtsman, graphic artist, photographer); a printer (printing house, polygraphic or photographic institution); and a publisher (to provide finance). Two, or even all three, of these functions were often concentrated in a single company or even person. Consequently, it is often difficult or impossible to classify a company or an individual according to professional affiliation. Among the best-known and most significant domestic Prague companies and private entrepreneurs, who participated in the design, production, financing and distribution of Prague picture postcards, were (including those already mentioned) - F. B. Batovec, E. Beaufort, Karel Bellmann, L. J. Čech, Emanuel Čížek, Josef Farský, Karel Fischl, Ignaz (Hynek) Fuchs, Grosman Svoboda, Husník & Häusler, F. J. Jedlička, Ludvík Kaucký, A. L. Koppe, D. Kosiner, Pavel Körber, Václav Krátkoruký, Lederer & Popper, Minerva, Monopol, Václav Neubert, Antonín Pokorný, Zikmund Reach, Unie Praha, Josef R. Vilímek, F. Zuna, H. Z. Zuna, O. Zůna, and a boundless number of others.

There were also companies outside Prague: J. l. Bayer in Kolín, Theodor Böhm in Nové Město nad Metují, František Hoblík in Pardubice, V. Kupfer in Poděbrady, J. Slovák in Kroměříž, Tietze in Ústí nad Labem, Theodor Venta in Louny (later in Prague), etc. The important foreign companies mostly operated in Germany; among the best-known and most securely established were: Louis Glaser in Leipzig, Knackstedt and Näther in Hamburg, J. Miesler in Berlin, Paul Peitz in Dresden, Regel & Krug in Leipzig, Römmler and Jonas in Dresden, Edgar Schmidt in Dresden (with a branch in Budapest), Carl Schwager in Dresden, Hermann Seibt in Meissen, Stengel & Co. in Dresden and Berlin, Dr. Trenkler & Co. in Leipzig, Winkler & Voight in Leipzig, Ottmar Zieher in Munich and others. Additional foreign companies were, in particular, in Austria: W. Halberstadt in Vienna, Schneider & Lux in Vienna, Karl Schwidernoch in Vienna. There was also, inter alia, a Swiss company Brothers Künzli in Zürich.

The list is far from complete (it comprises a mere 10 per cent of the companies, but the most important are certainly included) but it will hardly ever be finalised, as there was an incredible number of publishers. From 1885, everyone who had or had gained financial means, and permission from the authorities, could issue correspondence cards and picture postcards. But official approval usually only served to confirm existing practice, so that, even before 1885, one could find many privately produced specimens.

To deal in detail with just the companies mentioned above and their products is impossible in this publication. Only a few must be selected, those possessing the most merit of having contributed to the documentation of the city and whose products are of the highest quality and most attractive.

These are:

• Karel (in German Carl) Bellmann, (1820-1893)

The owner of a printing house and a plant for phototyping and photography. In 1893, Artur Bellmann-Maschka took over the company. In 1912, Bellmann’s company merged with the enterprise of Jiří Koppe, and a new company Koppe-Bellmann was formed. In 1925, this was purchased by the publishing house Melantrich, a company which had the first specialised workshop in Prague for phototyping, a printing technique with which Bellmann was experimenting intensively from about 1858. Anyway, it is certain that he pursued photography, but the greater part of the shots of old Praguethat later appeared on picture postcards bearing his name were taken by other photographers. After initial problems, his phototype workshop became a much-sought-after reprographic institution. The company began to deal with the design of picture postcards during the time when Bellmann’s son Artur led the company for several years. Nevertheless, all the signed picture postcards bear the name of the founder of the company, Karel Bellmann. This company probably issued the largest amount of Prague picture postcards made by phototype, the first copies appearing in 1897. It was a large series containing up to maybe 400, or even more, cards. It was much extended in the following years, and repeatedly re-issued in a coloured version. The quality of Bellmann’s picture postcards varies from indistinct to beautifully sharp shots but, in this book, we present a selection of just the highest-quality examples. Bellmann’s picture postcards have a three-fold numbering, starting from 1899: the year of publication (e.g., 99, 900, 901, 907, 909); the number of the shot; and (probably) the number of the printing plate. The numbering of shots is entirely arbitrary, in contrast to some companies which designated their shots according to a logical sequence of streets and districts.

• L.J.Čech

Was one of the first Prague publishers, the owner of a paper-mill, who probably subcontracted the printing of picture postcards to other companies. He had a small stand at the Ethnographic Exhibition of 1895, where he sold his picture postcards. The peak of his production, however, falls within the period around 1900, when he published phototype picture postcards in series with large numbers of shots. They are mostly made by black-and-white or black-brown toned phototype on ivory-coloured paper. In Čech’s output, the pictures mostly do not fill the whole of the obverse side (there is always sufficient space for communication), they are not sharply demarcated (they diffuse away), and they often have rounded corners.

• Karel Fischl

Was probably primarily a publisher but, maybe, also a designer of Prague picture postcards. He subcontracted the work-up and printing to other companies, apparently mostly to the German company Brothers Mühlstein in Offenbach am Main. These picture postcards are characterized by sharp, high- quality shots, executed by black-and-white phototypy, usually on coloured paper, for instance light yellow and pink. Fischl’s picture postcards are interesting because of their spontaneity and often the unusual angle of shot. In addition, the shots show less common subjects (little-known lanes, architectural details, street traffic, etc.). They were published in small editions, and this may well be the reason that not many of these picture postcards have been preserved, so that they are relatively rare today.

• F. J. Jedlička

Was a publisher and the owner of a graphic workshop. After the Bellmann Company, he was the most prolific publisher of Prague picture postcards. Both companies published some entirely identical shots suggesting that the same photographer was engaged. The paper and the toning of Jedlička’s phototype picture postcards mostly have identical toning with the products of the L. J. Čech Co. but the shots are often modified by painting-out, i.e. by reproducing the picture in a half-circle or other regular or irregular area. In contrast to some of the products of other companies, the colours of Jedlička’s phototype picture postcards are moderate, they do not affect the sharpness of the shots, and they are faithful to the tints of the subjects. When Jedlička numbered his products, he used the same principle as Bellmann. Later on, he designated his picture postcards with a small fir tree (the literal meaning of his surname). The company also published picture postcards executed by other printing techniques, e.g. by four-colour autotype. (These include reproductions of oil paintings by Jan Minařík and others.).

• D. Kosiner and Co. (David Kosiner)

Was probably only a publisher, who produced high-quality colour and black-and-white picture postcards with the so-called short addresses. All Kosiner’s picture postcards are numbered logically, according to streets and districts. Kosiner’s colour picture postcards are distinguishable at a glance by their characteristic colouration, reminding one of high-quality colour photographs. From the technical viewpoint, this is the result of a combination of black-and-white auto-type (sometimes painted-out) with coloured area printed lithographically (yellow, red and blue). All the items in this series are lacquered, which means that a high-quality paper was used.

• Lederer & Popper (Josef Lederer & Rudolf Popper)

The company designed, and probably also produced, black-and-white, coloured, and photomontage picture postcards with stamped embossed lithographic frames, etc. The collection of Prague picture postcards issued by this company is among the most extensive. They are usually marked by the sign, L. & P. or L. & P.P., (the last letter denotes Prague). In particular, the hand-coloured picture postcards from this renowned company are perhaps executed in the most satisfactory quality of all the picture postcards of old Prague; the hues are usually muted, approaching authenticity.

• Edgar Schmidt

A German publisher and editor, was located in Dresden with a branch in Budapest. The best-known Prague edition of this company is a large series of single-shot numbered picture postcards, executed in dark-blue phototypy. The whole series was issued in several colour variants - with a dark-green tone, with a brown tone, and also plain black-and-white. In all cases, only German texts were used. The photographers of the Schmidt Company knowingly incorporated street traffic and town life into their shots. The extant posted copies admittedly come from the beginning of the year 1899, but it is evident from the character of the shots that they were taken around 1895, maybe even earlier. The competitive pressure of domestic companies apparently very soon caused this and other German companies substantially to restrict the production and supply of Prague picture postcards to the Czech market, so today they are rare.

One of the most original characters among the publishers of photographic picture postcards of Prague was Zikmund Reach

• Zikmund Reach

A collector and publisher, and a great admirer of old Prague. His second-hand bookshop, finally at No. 9 Skořepka, was crammed with books, maps, engravings, picture postcards, newspapers, stamp albums, photographs, and everything imaginable concerning old Prague. Reach bought picture materials from photographers of the old city - Fridrich, Maloch, Eckert and others; he also bought up residues of estates, etc. It is said that, in the 1930s, his archive contained around 7000 photographs of old Prague. Over 500 of them, from cabinet to huge sizes, found their way into the Prague City Museum, together with 3500 negatives. The quality of the old-Prague photographs published by Reach as picture postcards (with lines on the address side) varies. Absolutely sharp shots were evidently made from original negatives, either from the archives of Prague photographers or from Reach’s own collection. Many technically high-quality shots are signed by the photographer, and often also by Reach. Many of the negatives for his published picture postcards were actually duplicates, prepared by photographing original photographs for which he had no original negatives. This procedure did not always work well technically but, in spite of that, some of these shots are very valuable because no better reproductions have been preserved. It is not generally known that Reach’s lifelong activity is of extraordinary significance as an archive of Prague records.

As far as their technical realisation is concerned, picture postcards were printed by all the basic reproduction techniques, at least from 1897 but probably from much earlier. The most often used were typography, phototypy, autotypography, lithography and their combinations. Most of the picture postcards reproduced in the present book were printed using these methods.

• Lithography or stone-printing

Is one of the planographic techniques. A picture is drawn with greasy ink or chalk on a printing plate which is a lithographic stone; the design is the mirror image of the original. The principle consists in the property of the printing plate accepting rolled-on greasy ink in certain areas while repelling it elsewhere. For the production of a multicolour lithograph, as many printing plates are necessary as there are colours. To achieve a perfect colour reproduction an absolutely precise register of colours is essential. A characteristic feature of lithographic picture postcards is dotting of various densities when seen in close view or under a magnifying glass. Lithography was expensive for the production of picture postcards. It was possible to produce about 400 reproductions of a drawing from one printing plate, maintaining approximately uniform quality.

• Phototyping

Is a planographic technique also known as albertotypy. The basis of phototypy is the transfer of a photographic negative onto a gelatine layer on a glass or metal plate. On drying, the layer displays rugose (corrugated) graining, which renders phototype easily distinguishable. The quality of phototype picture postcards is characterised by a broad range of changeable half-tones (between white and black), and by the exact reproduction of the original. In contrast to lithography, cheaper (yellowish) half-cardboard was used for phototype picture postcards. The cards were typically black-and-white or brown-, green- and blue-toned. A large fraction of the Prague phototype picture postcards was issued in coloured variants, the colouration being performed either manually, with or without special stencils for every colour, or by printing appropriate colours on predetermined areas. Colour photoype appears on picture postcards rather seldom but it was sometimes used by the Bellmann Company and, quite exceptionally, also by others.

• Autotypography

Is one of the variants of relief printing, generally called typography. Its principle consists in the fact that only the raised regions on the metallic printing plate participate in printing; these both accept and release the coloured ink. Characteristic of autotypography is a grid which decomposes the copy into points of various sizes and shapes; their fusion gives the reproduction the better quality, the denser the grid. Autotypography facilitates reproduction of even the finest details of all shades; it exists in single-colour and multicolour forms. Since about the middle 1890s, three-colour autotypography (yellow, red, blue), later also four-colour autotypy, has found its place in the design of picture postcards.

Picture postcard collectors already existed in Prague at the beginning of the Golden Era of picture postcards, and presumably some years earlier; this fact is authenticated by an interesting text on a picture postcard [picture XXV] from 1898. Collectors had not yet formed an organisation but picture postcard collecting was a fashion, indeed a passion, at that time. Several of them, of both sexes, were already specialized in Prague picture postcards.

XXV - A five-window postcard with a text which reflects the collection mania

XXV - A five-window postcard with a text which reflects the collection mania

At the turn of the century. It was sent out from Prague to Maglaj in Bosnia to Antonín Piťha. The sender wrote: Dear Sir, Fortunately the illness we both suffer from is not serious. I am happy that the epidemic of postcard collection, which has spread all over the world, is treatable and we will be OK again. I fully believe in that. Sincerely Adolf Sury, Prague, Křížovnická Street No. 97.


On May 11th, 1899, a Club Day was organized in Prague by the Central Club of Collectors of Picture Postcards of Nordhausen, a German town at the foot of the Harz Mountains, east of Göttingen. This very active club was one of the first in Germany; from 1898, it published its own journal, and also club picture postcards on the occasion of various events [picture XXIV]. One of those was a special picture postcard [picture XXVI] for the Prague Club Day.

XXIV - A picture postcard of the German Central Club of Postcard Collectors

XXIV - A picture postcard of the German Central Club of Postcard Collectors

With portraits of officials and a sample of the first issue of their magazine from April 1, 1898. The Club had a permanent seat in Nordhausen in Prussian Saxony. It had its secretary, two chairmen and two treasurers. It is interesting that the second Chairman was MUDr. A. Knížek from Liberec (his portrait in the upper right-hand corner), and A. Metzner, publisher of this postcard, was its secretary (in the picture in the bottom left-hand corner).


XXVI - An occasional postcard on the occasion of the Federal Day

XXVI - An occasional postcard on the occasion of the Federal Day

Organised in Prague on May 11, 1899, by the Central Club of Postcard Collectors from Nordhausen. It was important because of the exchange of experience between organised German postcard collectors and non-organised Prague and Czech philocartists. We can assume that they also exchanged postcards and organised an unofficial exhibition of postcards of German and Czech collectors.


It is probable that the club performed a kind of missionary activity, and this certainly contributed to the decision of Prague collectors to start their own journal and, subsequently, organization. On August 25, 1899, the first issue of the journal Postcard Collector appeared; it was published irregularily and ceased to appear after the fourth volume in 1903. During December 14-24, 1899, the first Prague exhibition of picture postcards took place in the exhibition rooms U Štajgrů in Vodičkova Street; 37 collectors and 15 companies participated. The Picture Postcard Collectors’ Club was founded on May 12, 1900, and, four days later, it arranged its first congress; for this occasion, a picture postcard [picture XXVIII] bearing an invitation was issued.

XXVIII - A postcard with an invitation issued on the occasion of the First Conference of the Postcard Collectors Club in Prague

XXVIII - A postcard with an invitation issued on the occasion of the First Conference of the Postcard Collectors Club in Prague

The set was sent by post and folded with picture and printed text inside and protected against opening by a piece of paper adhesive tape. The addressee usually separated the invitation from the postcard which he then included into his collection. This exemplar is complete and the refore very unique. The conference was held on May 16, 1900, in the National House in Královské Vinohrady. After having gone through the agenda in the morning, the participants met to have lunch together. In the afternoon they set out for a walk together in the complex of the Prague Exhibition Area in Stromovka and in the evening they attended a festive programme with members of their families.


Among others activities, the club started a club album of picture postcards and sometimes issued its own cards. The club’s first meeting place was at the Café Corso in Na Příkopě Street, later on the Schöbl restaurant in Ječná Street. The members had rectangular rubber stamps with their personal card numbers; the club itself had a round-shaped stamp [picture XXVII].

XXVII - Stamps of the Club of Postcard Collectors

XXVII - Stamps of the Club of Postcard Collectors

On the reverse of a colour lithograph of Vršovice which was sent to the Club by its member T. Geisselreiter, membership card No. 47 (he was also an author of booklets with a description of national and highland dances). It seems that members of the Club were obliged to send new postcards from their towns the Club collection. The overprint of the original name (Correspondence Card) on the address side and its change into Form is also interesting. It was made by a rubber stamp which saved the sender 1 heller on postage (normal postage for a postcard amounted to 4 hellers, later 5).


After the First World War, the informative role played by the picture postcard slowly died away and, at the same time, interest in philocartia started to decline. The rapid spread of amateur photography had its undeniable effect, as did also the decline in postcard technology, which became restricted to single-colour photogravure and black-and-white photography. The Prague Club of Picture Postcard Collectors still existed for some time after the extinction of its journal but is not known exactly when its activity stopped. The boom of the whole picture postcard industry around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries never returned.

At the same time, most of the band-wagon collectors dropped away. Nevertheless, some individuals always existed, for whom philocartia never lost its attraction and charm. Some time ago, the philocartist Dr. Antonín Kočenda, who began to collect picture postcards as a student in 1919, was still living in Bučovice (Moravia). In 1979, his collection contained 2,143,400 cards! What happened to the collection after his death is not known. Collector’s material often disappears in the subsequent generation. Where are all the albums of former collectors, such as our grandmothers and grandfathers? Unfortunately, a large amount of the material was destroyed in the second half of the 1950s, when a substantial segment of the population moved from the country into tenement houses on housing estates. These were designed uniformly and insensitively, with prevailingly limited and cramped floor and storage space. For this reason, most tenants in the new housing estates decided to get (or had to get) rid of inessential items. At that time, waste paper was bought up by the enterprise raw materials recycling and, thus, heaps of rejected picture postcards were dumped. According to the testimony of a voluntary worker, later a philocartist, the cards were turned over with a pitchfork before going into a pulp press and, later on, served for the production of toilet paper, for example.

As far as topographical picture postcards are concerned, no town in the former Czech Kingdom was depicted on more picture postcards than Prague. Collectors who specialize exclusively in old (i.e. up to 1918) Prague picture postcards, will always have the scope to search for further items. The actual number of Prague picture postcards issued up to that time will probably never be known. The fact is that every Pragophilocartist is always coming across something new, and he can be sure that his collection will never be complete.

In contrast to a philatelist, he will often not know precisely what was issued or when. This is one of the charms of not only Pragophilocarti but of philocartia in general. At the present time, no catalogue of Prague picture postcards exists, neither is it likely to exist in the foreseeable future, because its compilation may be beyond the potential of a single individual. In contrast to philately, philocartia neither knows the exact numbers and types of specimens which belonged to an individual series, nor are prices uniform but rather they are arbitrarily estimated. In addition, the price is often illogical as neither the various middlemen nor the collectors themselves have any idea of the rarity of specific shots or of the real value of individual specimens. This is why collectors are often governed by instinct and contemporary fashion trends. This attitude has, under-standably, its positive and negative features at purchase and exchange, when prices and values differ every time. It is well known that in every Pragophilocartist collection, in addition to many common specimens, there is always something which is entirely different from other collections. Only by merging several collections, as at exhibitions or in the present book, can a new, more comprehensive and complex, view of the incredible variety, quality and quantity of the old Prague picture postcards emerge. The following collection of pictures presents but a modest illustration of this multiplicity, focussed, in this case, especially on the topography of old Prague, its architecture, its vanished buildings and their details.

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