How do I cite a postcard?

Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

To document a postcard, look for information printed on the card, which usually appears on the back, and determine whether any of the MLA core elements apply to it. The information given may include the name of an artist, the title or a description of the work depicted on the postcard and its date of composition, the institution holding the copyright of the image, and the copyright date of the card. In this case the institution holding the copyright is the publisher, and the copyright date is the date of publication.

Works-Cited-List Entries

Let’s say you want to create a works-cited-list entry for a postcard depicting Vincent van Gogh’s painting The Olive Trees and find, on the postcard, the original date of composition (1889), the publisher of the postcard (Museum of Modern Art), and the date the postcard was published (2001). The works-cited-list entry would look like this:

Van Gogh, Vincent. The Olive Trees. 1889. Museum of Modern Art, 2001. Postcard.

Both the original date of composition (1889) and the term Postcard appear as optional elements. Postcard is added at the end of the entry to clarify that you are citing a reproduction of the painting, not the painting itself.

If the artwork is anonymous, start the entry with the title of the work or, if it has no title, with a description of the work in roman type:

Fragmentary colossal head of a youth. 2nd century BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2016. Postcard.

If no publication information is given on the card, describe the card in your prose, including as much information about it as you can:

In one postcard, featuring the 1950 cover of The Great Gatsby and postmarked from Chicago in May 1952, Sam wrote to his wife, cryptically: “Too soon to tell.” 


If the bibliographic information needs to go somewhere other than a works-cited-list entry–for instance, if you are showing the images to an audience as part of a presentation–it can go in a caption that accompanies the image on the postcard, following our guidelines for formatting captions:

Vincent van Gogh; The Olive Trees; 1889; Museum of Modern Art, 2001; postcard.

The bibliographic information appears in the same order in the caption and in the works-cited-list entry. The only changes are the order of the author’s first and last name and the punctuation separating the elements: periods in the works-cited-list entry are replaced by semicolons in the caption.