Unless you go straight to this blog and never look at anything else on this website (an attitude I can applaud as a writer but which I must point out is not really the plan), you are probably aware that the Newberry received a postcard or two from the Lake County Discovery Museum. That would be about two and a half million postcards, plus all the documents related to producing them and selling them, along with other items that joined them along the way. (I’ve seen a picture of the postcard projector, but I’d like to know how it worked. And what is was for.)
Among the souvenirs thus acquired was a healthy collection of a magazine called Image File, a really difficult name to deal with, as I will explain later. This was a magazine published by the Lake County Discovery Museum itself to try to acquaint the public with the treasure trove represented by a collection of many, many postcards. Starting as a four-pager in the eighties, it grew to a slick, sixteen page item by the current decade, featuring news about new postcard donations, reviews of books about postcards, notices of new books published using images from the collection (this is a common practice among research collections: if you use a picture from our treasures, send us a copy of the book), and feature articles which try to show the experienced postcard fan and the novice what kinds of things you can DO with a million or so postcards.
It’s a question which comes up, of course. “Why would the Newberry WANT a bunch of postcards?” Image File goes a goodly distance in answering that.
One thing the Teich (or Curteich) folks did was produce advertising postcards for small business across the country. This issue of Image File shows off half a dozen or so photographs of what these storefronts looked like, from the plain windows and doors of a shop with the staff proudly standing out front to the restaurant which has constructed its parts to look like huge carryout boxes, or the roadside café with the two-story bottle of Ocean Spray Cranberry beside the front door. (This not only shows you one business owner’s ingenuity but also tells you Ocean Spray was once sold in what looked like ketchup bottles.)
This issue over here discusses the beautiful collection of woven silk postcards the museum received, but delves into the life of the inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard, who just after the turn of the nineteenth century invented to computer key punch card. (The story’s a little more complicated than that, but read the article for yourself). This enabled him to mass produce woven silk designs, leading, years later, to the beautiful woven silks in the Lake County collection. (These are also now in the Newberry.)
Here is an article on postcards featuring alligators, what we can learn from postcards featuring people with tattoos, the lessons to be derived from the images of African-Americans on postcards of a hundred years ago, how football imagery has changed on postcards (and why there are more football postcards than baseball postcards). When you have this many postcards (and two and a half million is the tiniest percentage of all the postcards produced in the history of the medium) you can make connections in millions of different ways. Some scholars, looking at postcards which have actually been mailed (of which there is also a goodly collection here), are fascinated by the simple question “Does the message on the back have to have anything to do with the picture on the front?)
This is what Image File, under the cover of simply being fun to read, tries to explain. To one person, the alligator postcards can provide a guide to what we thought of animals at a certain time in our history, while to others, they show us something about the history of the Seminole in alligator country. All these postcards which feature motorcycles can provide information about travel in America, technology in America, sex roles in American life…the possibilities are limited only by the researcher’s imagination.
The Book Fair has had the occasional issue or two of Image File, but circulation was never huge, and, as a result, copies are not readily available. (In any case, that’s my impression. Try Googling “Image File” and you will get a lot of advice on how to manipulate photographs on your computer: difficult title.) There should be a goodly collection in the Antiques section this year, unless you buy the ones we’re listing online in the meantime. Some of the alligators are kinda cute.
(Note: Yes, the Newberry kept a set for the collection. No, I do not have a complete set for sale. Yes, someday we’ll all know what the postcard projector was for.)