Voices from the Past

One of the attractions I find in collecting postcards and photos is learning about the past. I’ll pick up a postcard, and something will intrigue me. What are those people doing? Or thinking? What is the location this postcard is from? What is the backstory — what prompted them to go to the trouble to take this picture? A birthday party? Wedding? Funeral? Bridge Dedication? Harvest time? Boredom? A sudden attack of silliness? I think I’ve seen cards with all of these motives depicted.

But another fun aspect to postcards and photos is the message on the back. I’m amazed by the amount of postcards from the turn of the last century which read, “I’ll be home for dinner.” The writer was expecting the card to be delivered within a matter of hours!

Today’s post features a photo and two postcards with messages that have aroused my curiosity.

The first is a small photo of a lady sitting in a library reading a book.  Photo is approx 2-1/2″ x 4-1/4″, and probably from the 1920′s-1930′s.

The message on the back:

“No. 1 LIBRARY-PARLOR-OFFICE-AND FRONT ROOM, all in one. See the lazy thing. Notice the candlesticks. Nathan found them and polished them up the day the Bishop was in town. The Diploma on the left is Madison Normal, top High School. Right is my B.Sc. Degree. Also Uncle Nat’s picture.”

So, the “lazy thing” is actually a scholar. Madison Normal became Dakota State, both institutions were focused on training teachers. Could this lady be a teacher at the College? It is fascinating to think of a woman in those times with such achievements, and even more so if she was indeed a higher education teacher herself!

“Each of us, wish each of you, a Happy Easter, 1915.
This is a real photo postcard. I love the contrast between the sour faces on the front — especially the milk-curdler on the right — and the sweet, warm greeting on the back!

Here is the message on the back of a 1908 real photo postcard of a house:

“This is where Clarence’s trials & tribulations began. The light showing through is the kitchen window. Your sister was too dirty to be seen. Please note how nicely the grass is cut. Yours, J.”

Reading something like this just poses unanswerable questions. What were Clarence’s trials and tribulations? Illness or police investigation?  There’s a light showing through the window?  The grass is nicely cut?  I find it pretty hard to tell if there is a light on or that the grass is nicely cut from this primitive photo.  But, the topper, of course, is “your sister was too dirty”–  could it she got “too dirty” from lighting the kitchen lamp, cutting the grass –or perhaps from working in a coal mine????

It doesn’t look like you will find the answers to life’s big questions on the back of a postcard — just an intriguing pastime!

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Gruss aus

“Gruss aus” is one of the earliest types of postcards. The phrase “gruss aus” means “greetings from”. Many of these early cards were printed with a town view, and the text would include the town’s name. As in: “Gruss aus Schicklegruberville”

This card is in the style of a Gruss Aus card, although the phrase “Gruss Aus” does not appear on it. It has two views of Trimburg / Kissengen. I beleive Kissengin is the site of a spa near Trimburg, in Germany.  It also has the town’s coat of arms.  This particular card is attractive because of the artful placement of the elements, and because of the lovely colors used, in contrast to many of the early cards which were monochromatic.
The postmark is from 1900.  It has an undivided back, and mostly unreadable cancellations.  I really enjoy finding a postcard this old, which is from the time of the postcard turning from a novelty to a worldwide phenomenon.

The card has significant condition issues, including a chipped corner and crudely trimmed edges.  I would value this card from $3-5.

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Boy with rifle and trophiesIn this charming and whimsical turn-of-the-nineteenth-century photograph, someone has posed a youngster to show off either the youngster, the numerous trophies on the wall, or perhaps both.  Folks back then, as now, desired to display an accomplishment (the trophies) a prized possession (the rifle) or a loved one (guess who?).  The advent of the photograph opened up a whole new world with which to do so and as the technological knowledge grew, they could create humorous scenes such as this one.

Duded up like Little Lord Fauntleroy, the young man totes a gun twice his size, a look of consternation on his face.  Behind him, hanging from the wall (or much more likely, superimposed by the photo developer on it) are eight deer with much more complacent expressions on their visages.  I’m only guessing, but I would think that this photo was shot in a local studio and that the studio owner, probably also the photographer, had a say in the layout and composition.  The deer are not hung on someone’s den wall, three of the deer are almost ground level and most folks don’t install fir bough garlands on the den floor and walls.  Hence our question above with the tongue-in-cheek reference to Photoshop.

The photograph is approx 6-1/2″ x 4-1/2″ and after all these many years, the image has “silvering”:  a type of aging characterized by a shiny, silvery appearance, especially noticeable when held at an angle.  The paper the photo is printed on is a thinish, light grey stock used at the time.

I would estimate the value of this photo at $10-$20.

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TODAY’S POSTCARD Night View of Oklahoma City, Linen


As I mentioned in another post, there are four main eras of
postcard publishing that collectors deal with:  The Golden Age,
The White-Bordered Era, Linen and Chrome.  Today’s card is from the Linen Era.  Linen cards have two distinctive features:

  • a quality, high rag or cotton content paper with  cross-textured finish, like a nubbly fabric such as linen
  • and colorization that leaves reality far behind.

This card is a good example of both.  While you might not be able to discern the texture on the web, you can tell the softness of the
image linen cards take on.  The coloring is exaggerated.  Night scenes were common in the Linen era, especially with colored
fountains, searchlights, and in this case, golden balls of light throughout the view.

And there’s a stylized little map of Oklahoma on the bottom!

This card is postally unused, and is in very good condition.  I saw this card online, with an asking price of $10.  Personally, I think that’s a bit high.  With patience, I’m sure you
could get it for less.

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One reason I wanted to showcase this card today is because of its utter gracefulness and loveliness.  The other reason is because I wanted to break into the topic of postcard publishers.

This card features a simply-lined sailboat, reflected in the serene waters beside it; evoking foreign shores.  Many aspects of good design are evident here. There is contrast with the fluffy clouds in a smooth sky against the linear elements of the sails, spars and ropes. The dull colors surround the sail, drawing the eye inward to the red sail and further in to the yellow patch!  The card even has an embossed edge, a frame mimicking a full-size artwork.  My friend calls postcards “little works of art” and this card is surely a testament to that.

The word “postcard” instantly conjures up a vacation view in my mind, just as sure as the word “Thanksgiving” brings up “turkey”.  And by far, the great majority of postcards are views of towns, buildings and scenic spots.  Yet there are multitudinous categories of postcards besides “The View”.  There are “Novelty” cards, which means humorous, or at least attempts at humor.  A very important category is the “Real Photo Post Card” (RPPC), which can have significant museum-worthy historical value.  But today,  I think I’d better stick to the category of “Art” postcards.  Even so, this category is not homogeneous.  Some of these cards are reproductions of works of art in museums; some are works of artists who were successful in other venues, and consented to create works for postcard publishing; and some cards, such as this sailboat, were simply produced with artistic flair.

Okay, I will refrain from ogling this card any further, and get down to identifying and evaluating this card. The design on the back of this card, especially since it is green, suggests that it was produced by John Winsch.  (Every Winsch card I have seen has this back.)  John Winsch is a publisher admired for high artistic standards.  Many of his cards have his name in small letters on the face of the card, and again, many times he will even date the card.  This card has no publishing information, no artist information, no message or postmark to date it.  But according to Metropolitan Postcard Club*, Winsch was active  from 1910 to 1915.  Market value of this card is approx. $4-8.00.

*Metropolitan Postcard Club
This site is a diamond mine of information.  It is my go-to site for publishers’ information.


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