The history of postcards, especially on the largest continent on earth, remains largely unwritten. A large number of factors converged to make postcards a popular vehicle of communication across the globe in the 1890s, with much of the initial activity in central Europe. Tourism, an improved postal service, new postal rules and rates, halftone and lithographic printing process improvements, wars, increasing wealth and other developments combined to create the supply and demand for these tiny but precious visual objects. Postcards were among the very first image types collected across many classes and countries. The very nature of the postcard is to transmit itself, and in a handful of years starting in 1898 they became a worldwide phonomena.
Although postcards first became most popular in Europe, in Asia they quickly took on great importance as well. This was especially true in Japan
where a postcard production took hold simultaneously with developments in Germany, Austria, France and the rest of Europe. Artist-drawn postcards were prized in Japan as in France, Austria and Britain. Indeed, advertisements for early postcard shows in Austria mention simultaneous exhibits of Japanese postcards in Vienna. Although little of this has been researched in the English language, it can be assumed that Japanese photographers and travelers throughout Asia in the early part of the 20th century played a major role in spreading postcards throughout the Far East. Indeed, the war with Russia in 1905 - where an Asian power defeated a European one after a long intecession - provided a major impetus to Japanese postcard publishing.
Each Asian country had a different postcard publishing tradition, influenced to varying degrees by colonization. The Dutch nurtured early Indonesian postcards
, and the West Coast American publishers early postcards from the Philippines.
The French published postcards of Vietnam.
British colonies like Singapore
developed traditions that largely depended on German printers, who supplied postcards to the American market as well, so complete did their dominance of the printing industry become before World War I. Non-colonized countries like Turkey,
developed traditions that mixed both local publishers with European expatriates who settled in cities like Istanbul. The Chinese,
occupied in parts by different European powers, developed multiple postcard traditions including ones using paper-cutting unique to China.
The links below are to general postcard history
and a list of Asian historical photography sites; use the links button in the top right to get to the (few) sites that focus more on Asian postcard history.