Leather Bound


Ever heard of a leather postcard?

Leather postcards were first made in 1903. They were a novelty that appealed to tourists. When stitched together, they could be used as a pillow cover or wall hanging. The holes along the edge could also be used to attach fringe. The cards were made of deer hide and the pictures burned in. The U.S. post office banned leather postcards in 1907 because they jammed postage-canceling machines. Leather cards continued to be made as souvenirs until about 1910.

An avid antiquer on Ebay elaborates:

During the Victorian Era, the term pyrography was coined to describe the artistic use of fire to create graphics on numerous materials such as wood and leather.

It was particularly popular during the latter part of the 19th century for ladies to create hand crafts using this technique.  This process was often also referred to as pokerwork.  It is out of this interesting creative movement that grew a brief and exciting period in postal history.

Beginning in about 1904, leather postcards decorated using pyrography became a popular novelty in the United States.  After a decade, though, the excitement diminished and the fad had nearly disappeared by 1915.  Throughout their short appearance in our postal history, though, the leather postcard had great influence.  Artists such as W. S. Heal created wildly successful cards that were often based on humor derived from period stereotypes.  His cards of this genre, as well as those of other artists, are among the most highly sought after leather post cards available.  Categories that prove very popular among collectors also include souvenir cards, vice or sin cards, puzzles, and cards that express affiliation with organizations.  Other unique qualities, such as color and odd shapes or calendars, add to the desirability of these wonderful historic relics.

The range of subject matter within the field of leather post cards is great as has been noted, but so is the process.  The cards can be as simple as a piece of leather burned by an individual in their own home to production line pieces stamped in a heat press.  Some leather post cards are even inked, and not burned at all.  Purists will seek their own niche within the various forms. As with any collectible, condition is important with regards to the field of leather post cards.  Surprisingly, however, many fine examples were made into quilts and pillows.  Holes are not uncommon in these rare cards.

The leather postcard is an overlooked, but significant, art form remaining from the arts and crafts period in America.

Update from a reader:

Have I heard of a leather postcard? Why yes … I just mailed one to a friend!

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I love “real mail” and mail about 5 postcards/letters a day, so this was “bound” to happen.

(Photo of leather postcards from the Albany Rare Book Fair taken by Chris Bodenner)