August 24, 2013

A Box of Old Postcards

Postcards are souvenirs––remembrances––of places we've visited and things we've seen. Many years ago I bought a box of old postcards, other people's memories, from a yard sale, which now sits on a high shelf in a cupboard. After writing my recent blog post, "Old Things", about poking through antique shops, I remembered the postcards and took the box down to look at them. Flipping through the cards I remembered many favorites, because of color or image, and I thought about how they describe a culture. The preponderance of cards are American, and they tell of travel and the open road, a time when that was all new and fresh. I wish the cards were dated, and very few were actually mailed, but I associate them with the burgeoning car culture of the 1950s. Here are a group of motel and hotel cards, with one Greyhound bus terminal at the upper right. As always, you can click to see the images enlarged. I love the old printing techniques which led to wacky color, and the textured surfaces of some of the cards. The card at the lower right, from a motel near New Orleans is postmarked 1955, and the message says "I think the sun shines twenty times brighter here than at home". On Moore's Brick Cottages a note says "We sleeped here."

There are automobiles pictured in many of the cards, of different vintages, the oldest being the car driving through the giant sequoia in the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite National Park. The interstate highways were begun in the 1950s when automobile travel became part of American "freedom". 

Looking at the color on some of the postcards makes me regret the perfect quality of modern printing processes. We no longer see brilliant red splashed in an unreal way on cactus plants, purple on Spanish moss, and all manner of colors on beach goers and Notre Dame cathedral.

I have several postcard books, with multiple views, generally in an accordion style booklet. The book at the lower left is a regular booklet, bound with staples, of the "treasure state" of Montana. Printed on smooth paper, the color is super saturated and unreal, so very much fun to look through. Above it is the Grand Tetons, and to the right the Hoover Dam, neither as amusing as the Montana booklet. The booklet at top of the Mariposa Grove seems of an even earlier vintage, printed as it is on textured paper.

My favorite small group of cards from one place are those from the basilica of Saint Anne de Beaupré in Quebec, Canada. It is a pilgrimage site and the cards show supplicants on the stairs and the pillars of crutches left behind. The bottom card, intensely colored, shows the relic of Saint Anne, the patron saint of Quebec. I doubt contemporary cards could have near the charm of these.

The box also contained a large selection of old French black and white postcards, beautifully printed in crisply detailed images, that yet appear as out of a dream. The ancient airplane flying above the ruined tower, the storks and the cathedral, are poetic images.

A real treasure is a beautiful booklet of cards, carefully separated by tissue, of the town of Chalons-sur-Marne. The images are of buildings, parks, and landscape of the town. Turning the pages of softly yellowed images and delicate yellowed tissue is like entering into a forgotten memory.  

Most touching of all to me are the figures appearing on the streets, standing quietly as they look at the camera. They are small within this lost world, looking out at us from an imagined past.


  1. Wow, what a great collection! I love old postcards, and I have a few, but nothing as extensive as this. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. I'm not typically sentimental but these images are so evocative and remind me of my 18th year spent hitchhiking through Europe. Treasure trove Altoon. Thanks for the share.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Ravenna and Deborah; I'm glad you enjoyed these postcards. It's nice to look at them only once in a while because then there's the renewed surprise of them. I was lucky to have so many interesting cards in one box, cards you usually have to purchase one at a time.