Photographs in the Mail

You may notice when examining older postcards that some look like real photographs. In 1902 Eastman Kodak began manufacturing postcard stock on which photographs were directly developed. Other manufacturers of photographic products soon followed Kodak’s lead. These postcards, known as ‘real-photo’ or photographic postcards were very popular until the 1930s. Photographic postcards were created by both professional and amateur photographers, so they can often be rare or unique images.

Main Street looking west, Kirkersville, Ohio. Whedon S. Harriman, who operated a wholesale postcard business in Columbus between 1905 and 1915, produced this photographic postcard, call number P 340.

Amateurs could print photographic postcards themselves or return their cameras with the film inside to Kodak to have postcards developed. Many photographic postcards have captions that are part of the image. Kodak made a camera with a door that photographers could open and use a stylus to write captions directly on the negatives. These captions may include the location and date of the images.

A convoy of Army trucks, known as "Liberty" trucks, moving military supplies through Stony Ridge, Ohio in January 1918, call number SC 1534.

Studio photographers offered customers the option of having their portraits printed on postcard stock in order to mail to friends and relatives.

Studio portrait of a young woman from the Allfree Family Collection, call number AV 26.

Natural disasters, such as flooding and tornadoes, were popular subjects for photographic postcards. Since newspapers did not regularly take and print photographs in the early 1900s, photographic postcards created by local photographers and private individuals were a means to document disasters and share images of the events with people outside the local area.

View of damage on Third Street in Dayton, Ohio after flooding, March 25, 1913, call number SC 375.

As a substitute for news photography, photographic postcards created by professional and amateur photographers were also used to document events such as accidents, celebrations and demonstrations.

Grand Army of the Republic in Bucyrus, Ohio, 1921, call number P 156.

Some of the local events captured on photographic postcards offer insight into social movements, such as the campaign for women’s suffrage. Suffrage parades were often recorded on photographic postcards.

Representatives of county suffrage organizations demonstrate on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio, July 30,1914, call number SC 1492.

Photographic postcards are excellent visual images of life in the early twentieth century.   Please see our online image database, OhioPix , for more examples of photographic postcards.

L. Wood, Curator for Visual Resources

Further Reading:

McCulloch, Lou W.  Card Photographs, A Guide to their History and Value. Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1981. 

Miller, George and Dorothy.  Picture Postcards in the United States 1893-1918.  New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1976.

 Morgan, Hal and Andreas Brown.  Prairie Fires and Paper Moons, The American Photographic Postcard: 1900-1920.  Boston, MA: Davide R. Godine, Publisher, 1981.

Range, Thomas E.  The Book of Postcard Collecting.  New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980.

Staff, Frank.  The Picture Postcard and Its Origins. New York and Washington: Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1966.

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