Postcards as Historical Documents
[Postcard History would like to hear your take on this topic. If you have an opinion please tell us in the comments section below or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
As a collector I am interested in the historic aspect of the cards for two reasons. Starting with the image, it may be safe to say that a high-percentage of the images on postcards have become unique. When taking into consideration that most of the publishing companies that made postcards are long ago defunct and their archives or production records lost or destroyed, the postcard image is the only source available.
For those who collect only used postcards the message is their link to history. I can think of no other way to analyze our ancestors and what their daily concerns were. Just seeing a person’s signature can be an epiphany for some of us.
It should go without saying that nearly every postcard is an historic document since it reflects the time, the place, and the circumstance under which it was used. It may also divulge the relationship between the senders and the recipients.
Photographs stop time for eternity, and the image will live forever but the same cannot be said of the memory. The message enhances the image. It too lasts beyond the memory, but it literally thrills historians as they are now privy to the emotions of the sender and understand what the receiver read.
We should all agree that anyone who writes a message on a card is creating history. The historic concern is whether the message is static or fluid. If the message is static it will be understood only by the recipient. If the message is fluid it will be understood by anyone who reads it – even if it is read 120 years later, like the ones here.
Below you will find seven unmailed postcards that are truly historic documents. Each has a message signed with the initials, M. H. S. It is impossible to know the sender from initials, but from the syntax, penmanship, and apparent level of education, I propose that the messenger is American, female, and likely in her late twenties to early thirties who is vacationing in Europe (seeing the continent as was once the catch-phrase) with some companions with whom she recently graduated from a university and is awaiting a career in nursing or education.
The messages are both pertinent and timely.
The message concerning the death of the Italian king can be verified, but you will be surprised to learn that his death was at the hand of an assassin (a fact unmentioned in the writer’s message). Other descriptions, like the city square, the placement of statues, and the painting in the Council Chamber are easily confirmed. The most amusing is the remark concerning the quietness of a city lacking traffic noise – however the reason for the quiet might be quite different than our modern understanding of traffic noise.