Pioneer Real Photographic Collector Andreas Brown
by Jeremy Rowe
A shockwave went through postcard collecting in 1981 when Hal Morgan and Andreas Brown published Prairie Fires and Paper Moons the landmark book, and significant catalyst, in the emergence of interest in the golden age of the American Real Photographic Postcard (ca 1900-1920). In addition to shifting the upper end of the collectors’ market from its focus on artist signed postcards, the book opened the eyes of photographic collectors to the aesthetics and importance of postcards.
In the days before eBay, dealers began to advertise in postcard collecting publications and sent groups of cards on “approval” to collectors across the country. Others like the Antique Paper Guild began to send catalogs offering real photo postcards in phone and mail auctions. Heated battles between east and west coast collectors drove prices up, and “American Social History” and other photographic cards brought prices high enough to encourage pickers to find and offer cards to the exploding market. At shows, dealers began separating out their photographic cards.
I first met Andy while researching my book. Arizona Real Photo Postcards. After writing his shop, the famous Gotham Book Mart in New York, (but not receiving a reply;) I stopped by the store while visiting New York City. Andy wasn’t in but I heard a clerk mention that he’d be back after lunch, so I stopped by later in the day. I caught Andy as he flew through the bookstore and asked if he had a few minutes to talk about photo postcards. He said he was very busy but “could give me five minutes.” We sat down in his office and started talking, and were still going a couple of hours later.
Andy told stories about the days of buying boxes of postcards just to pull a card or two cards for his collection, then passing the box along to other collectors at the show. Brown was born in Coronado (San Diego) and had a special soft spot for images of the region. The Andreas Brown Collection of San Diego Post Cards, is now at the San Diego History Center, and the Andreas Brown American Photographic Collection is at the Getty Research Library.
We continued to correspond and exchange cards for many years after, but his focus on postcards seemed to wane, sadly just as collectors’ interest in his book and real photo postcards grew exponentially. Mutual friends, like Ralph Bowman, helped me keep up with Andy and his escapades – marketing the books and work of illustrator and writer Edward Gorey that were his primary focus. After he sold his building and moved his shop and gallery in 2003, our communication became sporadic.
It is hard to express the impact that Andreas Brown as a buyer, and Prairie Fires and Paper Moons, had as a stimulus to the market for real photographic postcards and vernacular photography. The legendary book seller and pioneer collector passed away on March 6, 2020. If you collect or appreciate real photo postcards, please take a moment to think of Andy as you appreciate your favorite cards.