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Guide to the Pictorial Lettersheet Collection
ca. 1840-1890
  PR 144

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on January 03, 2012
Description is in English.

Historical Note

Pictorial lettersheets were an early precursor to picture postcards. Lettersheets were created to comply with, yet cleverly circumvent, postal regulations. Before 1855, postage was calculated based on the number of sheets enclosed in each envelope. Lettersheets became very popular because of their folio format, an 8.5 x 21 inch piece of paper folded in half, which provided four pages on which to write but were considered as one sheet by the Post Office. Some publishers, particularly Charles Magnus of New York and many California stationers, included printed illustrations on the lettersheets to increase their commercial appeal. These illustrations, often bird's eye views or detailed street scenes of cities, usually appeared in a rectangular space at the top of the first page of the folio.

In the United States, this form of stationery was popular mainly in New York and San Francisco, perhaps because of those cities' coastal locations and importance as ports of entry. Magnus, a German immigrant, also produced scenes of midwestern cities, like Cincinnati, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that had large German immigrant populations.

Most lettersheets were printed lithographically in black and white, but occasionally colors were added by hand, or colored stock was used. Charles Magnus often used a photograph as a base to achieve an accurate perspective and architectural detail, adding hand-drawn figures and vehicles.