Until I started collecting my journey into the world of Deltiology, I had never heard of QSL cards. They just weren’t something I stumbled across on the regular. I don’t have any involvement in radio broadcasting, never touched a ham radio in my life.
To say that the first of these cards that I ever found really intrigued me is an understatement. What the hell did I have?
What is a QSL Card?
QSL is a radio Q code that means “I confirm receipt of your transmission” or “I confirm reception”. They confirm contact between two operators, and provide identifying information about the operator and the station that was contacted. QSLs were first sent out as letters, and then, as time went on and more radio operators entered the field, postcards replaced the letters.
Dating when the first of these cards was developed and sent out isn’t an exact science. Multiple stations lay claim to having come up with the idea first, with the earliest known being sent from Buffalo to Philadelphia in 1916.
The standard for QSL cards that lists everything from the date to the frequency is thought to have been developed in Akron, Ohio, in 1919. Imagine creating a system and having it used over one-hundred years later!
Why Collect QSL Cards?
There’s a lot of creativity evident in the design of many vintage QSL cards, and they are still sent out today in the millions. As a radio operator, that simple document is your calling card, so it only makes sense that it represents you—and it was the same for ham radio users of years past. People will collect them because of the designs, because they represent distant locations, or because they’re interesting pieces of radio history.
And if you’re a modern-day radio operator, collecting from stations that you’ve contacted can earn you some operating awards.
The requirements for these awards vary. There are some that require proof of two-way communication with a certain number of countries, or communication with specific locales. One award requires that the operator has established contact with countries on the 21 meridian of Warsaw, for example. Claiming those awards requires sending the QSL cards off to have them confirmed, and then they get sent back.
An expensive venture depending on where you’re located!
Most people collect QSL cards because they’re neat. That’s as good a reason as any.
If you find yourself digging through a lot of postcards and stumble upon any that look like those in this article, maybe consider taking them home. Or, if you have some in your collection and didn’t know what they were, consider yourself fortunate to have found them.
Now, let’s look at a couple more. Before we do, I’d like to direct your attention back to the one above: look at the hand-lettering! Someone put a lot of time into their QSL card.
Another piece from France. This one is from Toulouse!
Although this one isn’t fancy, it’s most interesting to me because of the little personal message that’s been included. The Q code QSO means “contact”, and 73 is a code meaning “best regards”. People could form lifelong friendships through the airwaves in the same way that we do now through the internet or through writing letters.
Do you have any QSL cards in your collection? Tell me about them in the comments!