The Joy of Collecting Heroes’ Postcards

Mar 30, 2023, 12:31 AM
Eufemio Agbayani III

Eufemio Agbayani III


Long before KPop fans collected photocards of their idols, Filipinos had been collecting postcards as a way of remembering their friends and contacts.

When I was young, I would marvel at the nearest bookstore at the stands that displayed colorful cards that showed various subjects such as scenic spots, historic spots, and religious images. What I liked to collect the most are those that showed heroes, presidents, and other historic persons. They are mostly reproductions of artworks with brief biographies at the back, and they add an image to the names and dates that I had to remember as part of my HEKASI (Heograpiya, Kasaysayan, Sibika) classes.

As the years passed, I lost my initial collection and I am only building a new collection now. Only when I was working in the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) did I know that postcard collecting had been done for more than a century.

In the 19th century, those who can afford it exchanged carte de visite, a small photograph taken in a studio on which the subject can write a small dedication. They can also write their address at the back. Thus, it functioned as an improved and more personalized calling card which made remembering an acquaintance easier. The tedious process of taking and developing photographs did cost a bit, so a recipient is expected to cherish it deeply. It was through these cartes de visite that we are able to preserve the likenesses of many historic persons such as Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, and Mariano Ponce.

At the latter part of that century, Filipinos did not have to go abroad to get their photographs taken. Photography houses were initially established by foreigners but Filipinos like Felix Laureano, the first Filipino photographer, soon took up the business.

Under American rule, more postcards would be sent abroad to present the United States' new colony and, sadly, to exoticize our people--especially those belonging in national minorities such as those in the Cordillera and Mindanao. Studios would be established in major cities outside Manila, allowing more people to preserve their likeness into real photo post cards (RPPC) and send them to friends here and abroad.

However, Filipinos also used postcards to foster nationalism by placing the images of heroes individually or as a group. An early 1900s set of postcards featured illustrations accompanying verses to his last poem Mi Ultimo Adios. Later releases of this set had to be edited when the American colonial government banned the Philippine national flag in 1907. Another set by Philippine Education Company featured images related to the life of Rizal and another set. There were also postcards for special occasions such as Christmas and for advertisement of local companies.

In the 1960s and 1970s, postcards featuring paintings of heroes by Rody Herrera and Hugo C. Yonzon became available. Joining them are those featuring the official Malacañang portraits of Philippine presidents. Many no longer had the space for a stamp to be attached and instead had a brief biography--reflecting the shift from sending to collecting and display in classrooms. In the 1980s and 1990s, the names were added in front of the postcards (rather intruding the artwork) possibly because they had to be identified immediately. In the run-up to the Philippine Centennial in 1998, the government itself released a set featuring less-known heroes.

Unfortunately, postcards featuring heroes and historic persons in portraits are now rare and those featuring scenic and historic spots are now available in souvenir shops. With the upcoming 125th anniversary of Philippine independence and a growing interest in collecting and sharing vintage postcards (original or reproduction), I hope the demand would grow such that we can have such artistic postcards again.

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