The Library History Buff
Promoting the appreciation, enjoyment, and preservation of library history
Library Overdue Notices on Postal Cards
The United States Post Office Department introduced postal cards with pre-printed postage in the United States in 1873. Libraries were quick to take advantage of postal cards and used them for a multitude of purposes. One of the most common purposes especially for public libraries was to notify library users of overdue books and other library materials. Postal cards are generally ephemeral in nature and overdue book notices are especially ephemeral. After all, how many people would want to preserve an overdue book notice. In my efforts to collect postal librariana I have managed to accumulate a collection of over a hundred postal cards that have been used as overdue notices. It may well be the largest collection of overdue notices in the world. The impressiveness of that accomplishment is somewhat tempered by the fact that almost half of them were sent to a single address in Dubuque, Iowa. The dates of the overdue notices in my collection go from 1873 to the 1980s. In recent times, overdue notices are generally sent by email or voice mail.
The postal card below may be the oldest overdue book notice on a postal card in existence. It is an example of the first type of postal card issued in 1873 by the Post Office Department. It was mailed on December 27, 1873 by the Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA. The library was established in 1873 and the card is signed by Ballard Holt, the first librarian. Holt was also hired as janitor for the library.
The postal card below may be the second oldest overdue on a postal card. It was mailed to a student by the Corresponding Secretary of the Parthenon Literary Society at West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV) in May of 1874. College literary societies with a library were fairly common in 18th and 19th century American academic institutions. The overdue notice which is entirely handwritten reads as follows: "Mr. Shields you are charged on the Library book of The Parthenon Literary Society with a book entitled 'American Family in Germany' and by action of the Society it becomes my duty to inform you that the book must be returned or its equivalent as soon as possible." Mr. Shields had evidently forgotten to return the book before going home to Charleston, WV for the summer.
Overdue notice mailed by the Lawrence (Massachusetts) Public Library, May 15, 1875
Overdue notice mailed by Harvard College Library (Cambridge, MA) on Aug. 28, 1884. Overdue notices from academic libraries are scarcer than those from public libraries. "The Librarian begs to say ...". Kind of quaint.
Overdue notice mailed by the Brooklyn Young Men's Christian Association Library on Nov. 21, 1887.
Overdue notice mailed by the North Side Branch Library of the Minneapolis Public Library on Jan. 7, 1892.
Overdue notice mailed by the Providence (RI) Public Library on Nov. 6, 1893.
Overdue notice mailed by the Cambridge (MA) Public Library on Oct. 30, 1896
The overdue notice below was mailed by the Fifty-Eighth Street Branch of the New York Public Library on March 26, 1909. It has a printed signature for Arthur E. Bostwick, Chief of the Circulation Department. At the time it was the largest circulation library in the world with 49 branches circulating 6.5 million volumes a year. Bostwick later became Director of the St. Louis Public Library. The postal card on which the overdue notice is printed is the exact size of a catalog card and was promoted as the best size for a postal card by Melvil Dewey. The postal card has a nice rationale for the lending period limitation for library books.
Overdue notice mailed by the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD on July 15, 1921.
Overdue notice mailed by the Dayton (OH) Public Library on October 5, 1935. It's a second notice.
Overdue notice mailed by the Grand Rapids (MI) Public Library On Sept. 19, 1949.
Overdue notice mailed by the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library, Kennebunkport, ME on July 5, 1952. It is a 3rd notice. The Librarian Lucy A. Maling adds "Please return this immediately" to the printed message.
Overdue notice mailed by the Carnegie-Stout Free Public Library, Dubuque, IA on May 7, 1957. One of over forty overdue notices sent to the same address over a 14 year period. Why did they keep them?
Overdue notice mailed by the Hastings (NE) Public Library in the early 1980s.
For further information about postal cards, there is an organization devoted to the collection of worldwide postal stationery including postal cards. It is the United Postal Stationery Society (UPSS).
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