I spent a small part of this last weekend ironing my cummerbund for the big dinner tonight, honoring a former Book Fair pricer. I take it he has done more than that to earn the Umanitas Award but that’s enough for me.
I spent more of the weekend working on postcards. (Ironing cummerbunds is not the least exciting: iron one cummerbund and you’ve ironed them all. I’d have been better served spending the time learning to tie a cravat.) We seem to have an alarming number of postcards dropping in this year, and I have not written about them since, oh, my second or third blog (which is missing a paragraph, by the way, if you ever go back to the posts from 2009 and look them over. Someday I’ll tell you about the technical difficulties of blogging, if I ever figure them out.)
The Tourist Postcards predominate: pictures of grand scenery, or noted landmarks, or works of art which can be seen in the city visited. These come from all continents, but cluster especially in Europe and North America. We have that card you bought at the summit of Pike’s Peak (postmarked as proof on the day in 1962 when you made the trip) and that card you wrote from Europe while fretting about what Hurricane Donna was doing to your friends in New England. This was kind of a rarity: less than five percent of the postcards we got in were actually sent. Most were souvenirs of the trip, and tucked away as mementos so that years later you could take them out and exclaim, “What the heck is that?”
One type of Tourist Postcard which we do not get nearly often enough is known, thanks to a number of books on the subject, as the Boring Postcard. This is largely a North American phenomenon (not entirely) and is made up of cards produced as advertising by hotels, motels, and restaurants. Why a photograph of a motel parking lot or a beautiful color shot of a Typical Bedroom At The One Night Inn (two beds, a table, a lamp, and a television set) was expected to bring business flooding in has never been explained, to say nothing of that picture of the sausage and egg breakfast. We have only a few of those in the collection.
There is a smattering of Announcement Postcards. These exist to tell you about a new line of jewelry for sale at Carson Pirie Field’s, or an exhibition of a great new artist’s work at the Valerie Mallory Gallery. There is no place to write a message on these cards, because the back is filled with times and dates. The most collectible of these, of course, are Newberry Book Fair postcards. (I do have a few sets left of the rare series from our first 25th Anniversary Book Fair. Worth their weight in gold-wrapped chocolate coins.)
There’s a modest collection, if that’s the word, of comic postcards, another genre we seldom see. We have the classic cartoon of a horse backed up in a saloon, with the heading “There’s One in Every Bar!” (Horses always back up to the bar so the bartender won’t ask “Why the long face?”) There’s the one where the wife and husband are looking at entirely different people as the wife cries out “Look at that big bum!” There’s quite a nice one involving a blonde in a convertible with nothing risque about the caption at all. What’s startling about it is that back in the days of radio, it was someone’s entry for a segment on “The Price Is Right”. Invaluable for someone’s postcard OR classic radio collection.
We have augmented cards: the native costume card where the clothing is made of real cloth glued to the card, the San Francisco cable car with a squeaker inside, and the Mexican postcard with the tiny guitar attached. We have a few of the art cards which were given away in small displays in restaurants and malls around Chicago back in the 90s. We have oversized cards, shaped cards, map cards, brochures of cards that fold out like a busted accordion, and one card so naughty that the museum which sold it actually sold it with an envelope so it wouldn’t offend postal authorities if you mailed it. (I’ve sold naughtier.)
So if you collect postcards, you might want to come riffle through the shoeboxes at the Collectibles table this year. If you know somebody else who collects postcards, drop them…an email.