Linens And Beyond

Collecting Large Letter Linen Postcards

Originally published in Postcard World Magazine.

The recent publication of the book “Large Letter Postcards, The Definitive Guide 1930s to 1950s” by Fred Tenney and Kevin Hilbert gives all collectors an opportunity to consider and enjoy the most recognizable postcard topic of the 20th century. These striking images are a visual shorthand for the linen postcard era in the United States.

Large letter linen postcards were produced in huge quantities and distributed widely. They have frequently been used for illustrations in magazines, newspapers, and even television commercials. And they were the inspiration for the 2002 United States Postal Service set of First Class (37 cent) stamps honoring each of the 50 states. The USPS also put the images on individual postcards in the “50 State Postcard Collector’s Set.”

Fred and Kevin’s book is a must-have for anyone interested in not only large letter postcards, but in linen postcards in general. The pages of thousands of full color illustrations contain an illuminating section on the history of these cards and how they were made, along with information on the most prominent manufacturers of these cards. I was surprised to find that within the postcard industry the cards were referred to as “big letter cards” or just “letter cards,” while in the postcard hobby they have been known as “large letters.” The section on production contains numerous fascinating illustrations showing the photographic and artistic efforts required to create a few specific cards.

The book is an impressive and thorough effort by two dedicated collectors.
One of the difficulties the authors faced was defining large letter postcards for the purpose of the book. They decided to limit the category to only those cards that show views inside the letters. Unfortunately, this leaves out a number of cards that are in the spirit of large letter design but don’t have images inside the letters (see Spartanburg, SC shown here). However, I do understand the necessity to drawn the line somewhere.

Large letter linen postcards offer a wealth of opportunities for collectors. One of the great things about this category is that because they were so popular, finding large letters does not have to be limited to searching at shows and online. You might come across them at antique shops, flea markets or garage sales. The thrill is in the hunt because some cards can be quite elusive. However, you don’t have to set your sights on accumulating the whole enchilada of the large letter genre. Herewith are some suggestions on how you can focus, along with a card to illustrate each interest:



This is the most obvious subcategory and the one that many people start with. When my wife
Newly and I first discovered these linen postcards, we proceeded to collect one card of each state name and form a grid on our wall. We thought it would be 5 cards by 10 cards to cover every state. We settled for 7 x 7 when we realized that no vintage large letter linen postcard of Hawaii was ever made. The Alaska card shown is the Holy Grail to complete your state collection, and among the various publishers of state names, only Curt Teich made an Alaska card. Kevin Hilbert has created a modern large letter linen Hawaii postcard that compliments the original 49 for anyone who must have a complete “set.”


Cards Within One State

This would include all the variations of the state name, all the cities, military bases, schools, parks, and anything else within the state. Depending on what state you want to collect this could be a very small collection (Alaska only has one) to over 100 different postcards (California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York come to mind, though other states may hit that mark, too). Since I live in New Jersey, I have chosen to show the graphically exciting Camden card, although the best known NJ large letter is probably the “Greetings from Asbury Park” chrome large letter (done in the linen style) that illustrated Bruce Springsteen’s seminal album cover.



As a category, this has some of the finest graphics of all large letters. Unfortunately, many of the large letter military cards are not included in the book because they don’t have views inside the letters. The AAF Navigation School showcases military planes in its letters.



There are only a couple of dozen or so of these. By far my favorite is the Tijuana card with letters in a sombrero.


Claims to Fame

Years ago I did a whole column on just this sub-genre. This includes such gems as “Albany, Georgia, World’s Greatest Paper Shell Pecan Center,” “Dalton, Georgia, Bedspread Center of the World,” “Portsmouth, Ohio’s Atomic City,” and “Austin, Minnesota, Swine Capitol of the World.” It can obviously make for an amusing collection!

Niagara Falls

Most Creative

Probably the group of large letters that fascinates me the most as a former art director are those by designers who thought outside the box, and did some truly creative things. These cards might have unusual backgrounds, names with only one view behind all of the letters, and unusual typefaces (fonts, if you prefer!). I’ve always thought that the name Niagara Falls actually falling over the Falls was a clever interpretation.


Everything But States and Cities

This could include such well know tourist spots like the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, the Badlands, and others. It could also include colleges and universities, regional destinations (Northwest. Southwest, Gulf Coast, Ozarks, etc), expos, and more. The U.S. 66 card shown is one of several different highway/street large letters.

Santa Claus

Unusual Names

It just seems to me that there are some places with very unusual names or at least some unusual sounding names. These might be places whose names probably derive from Native American language: Saugatuck, Shawano, Okefenoke Swamp, or Kokomo. Or maybe just Beantown, Land of the Sky, Dixieland and the Santa Claus, Indiana card shown here.



A number of postcard manufacturers published large letters. The Curt Teich Company alone published over a thousand different large letter postcards. Other publishers include Beals, Colourpicture, Dexter, Eastern, E.C. Kropp, Longshaw, Metropolitan, MWM, National, and Tichnor. For the most part each manufacturer’s cards have a particular look. Curt Teich made most of the best. Dexter did some of the worst. Check out the Iowa large letter by Dexter.


Souvenir Folders

There are linen large letters that the book does not go into for the obvious reason that they are the covers on foldout souvenir folders and are not postcards per se. The reason they are worth noting is that many of the large letter designs on souvenir folders never appeared on postcards. I’m not sure how many of these there are, but the one that says it all is the “See America” folder by Curt Teich.

Many large letter linen postcards are inexpensive and offer a great opportunity to put together affordable collections. There are exceptions that become very apparent when you check out the price guide in “Large Letter Postcards.” Thanks go to Fred and Kevin for focusing our attention on this colorful category of postcards in their beautiful new book.