When was the last time you sent a postcard?

Posted by Jerome Ludwig on Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Novelty postcard, ca. 1946
  • Novelty postcard, ca. 1946
Or received one?

Postcards used to be a common form of communication. Particularly with those of a certain era. I remember getting lots of postcards from my grandparents as a tad. They were the original, literal text message: quicker to dash off than a letter, and cheaper to send too. (My grandparents, having gone through the Depression, were thrifty.) The only downside is that the mail carrier and anyone else who came across it would see the message written on the card. But the message coming from my grandparents was always "Love you and miss you." Who wouldn't want that to be seen?

An informal poll taken of the people in my immediate vicinity revealed the following. The older folks among us confirmed the grandparental use of postcards. But obviously said grandparents had no Internet access back in the day, as the Internet did not exist then. (I was excited when I got an actual enveloped letter from my GPs, as I knew it would often contain a stick of Juicy Fruit gum as a treat.) The younger crowd, eh, not so much. Postcards were most often sent while traveling. "I was here" the postcards say, in effect. (And you're not, they imply.) Here's proof. Check the postmark. (The poll also confirmed that grandparents are still the primary senders of postcards.)

I have also sent postcards from places I've visited, until I realized that I got back home before the postcards did, so it seemed a little less exotic. (Hey, here's a postcard of Brandenburg Gate! I was just here! Kind of deflating when the card arrives after you do.)

In Picturing Illinois: Twentieth-Century Postcard Art From Chicago to Cairo (University of Illinois Press), editors John Jakle and Keith Schule explore the history of postcard art as a form of popular culture. The images are fascinating: for Illinois, the most popular images are of Chicago, to be sure, however there's some loving attention also given to the more neglected areas of the state.

Here's a passage from the introduction:

If Chicago was the great American success story, how could the city and its state possibly escape the focus of postcard representation? From a frontier trading post, Chicago has risen seemingly overnight to become one of the world's largest metropolises. As the twentieth century dawned, Illinois was both the nation's leading agricultural state and its third-leading industrial state. It was part of the prosperous Middle Western heartland, perhaps the most quintessentially American of regions. Around 1900, when the picture postcard craze hit the United States, Chicago and Illinois beyond the metropolis offered scenes variously spectacular, picturesque, and fundamentally American. Indeed, the picturing of Illinois not only fostered a substantial catalog of postcard art, but made Chicago an important production and distribution center for a booming postcard industry.

So, young'uns, if you love your GPs, forego the SMS via your phone and send them a real text message: on a postcard, with handwritten I love you and miss you. Wish you were here!

On to some images from the book:

State Street subway, ca. 1945
  • State Street subway, ca. 1945

The State Street subway in the 40s was much more colorful. And cleaner.

A fireboat on the Chicago River, ca. 1910
  • A fireboat on the Chicago River, ca. 1910

Nothing quite says "Wish you were here" like images of the city on fire . . .

The Beef Dressing Department, Swift and Company, ca. 1915
  • The Beef Dressing Department, Swift and Company, ca. 1915

. . . unless it's dangling cow carcasses.

Lincoln Park, ca. 1905
  • Lincoln Park, ca. 1905

Lincoln Park, steampunk era.

Memorial Stadium, University of Illinois, Champaign, ca. 1930
  • Memorial Stadium, University of Illinois, Champaign, ca. 1930

Apparently in the 1930s, Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois in downstate Champaign was surrounded by lakes and mountains.

Locust Street, Pana, ca. 1940
  • Locust Street, Pana, ca. 1940

And lookee here, there's even one of my little downstate hometown of Pana, Illinois. I think that truck on the right is still parked there.

Picturing_Illinois.jpg

And if you've read this far, maybe you'd be interested in checking out Neil Gale's digital Chicago postcard museum.

Comments (7)

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I sent 13 postcards over the weekend, and got about the same amount last week. That's because I am taking part in the Postcrossing project, that unites postcard lovers all around the world :)

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Posted by Danny Dorfman on 11/05/2012 at 9:08 AM

Today! I sent 5 out today! :-) (and I went to a Letter Writing Social this weekend in Pennsylvania!)

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Posted by maryhassound on 11/05/2012 at 9:14 AM

Go into airport bookstores, and you will not be able to find postcards. I used to collect them for myself for my travel scraptbook. They are harder and harder to find.

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Posted by Robert D. Pruter on 11/05/2012 at 1:55 PM

I send them to people who owe me money on juice loans.

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Posted by FGFM on 11/05/2012 at 2:03 PM

I sent one last week. I love postcards.

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Posted by Heather West on 11/05/2012 at 4:01 PM

Increasingly, I wonder why an entire government bureau exists strictly to bring pieces of paper to my house that I don't want and immediately dispose of.

Last postcards I sent were from Cappadocia in December.

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Posted by Michael Gebert 1 on 11/05/2012 at 4:10 PM

"Increasingly, I wonder why an entire government bureau exists strictly to bring pieces of paper to my house that I don't want and immediately dispose of."

It's all about you, Mike.

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Posted by FGFM on 11/05/2012 at 4:21 PM
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