Digitization Complete for John I. Monroe Collection of Artist-Signed Postcards

This digital collection will prove valuable for researchers across many fields including history, art history, fashion, gender studies, and more.

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Woman in White with Dog, by Mela Koehler, early 20th c. John Monroe Collection of Artist-Signed Postcards. View online

The Newberry is closing out Women's History Month by launching a new digital collection of more than 8,000 vintage postcard images featuring women as both subjects and creators. The John I. Monroe Collection of Artist-Signed Postcards is the latest of the Newberry’s holdings to be made freely available online for study and re-use by researchers worldwide.

Unlike the more familiar “wish you were here” variety of postcard sent and collected as travel souvenirs, artist-signed postcards featured colorful reproductions of original artworks signed by the creator. In the early 20th century, before Instagram, Pinterest boards, or even widespread use of newspaper photography, these postcards served as inspiration for women’s dresses, hats, and hairstyles, among other subjects.

Women Seated at the Beach, by Suzanne Meunier, early 20th c. John Monroe Collection of Artist-Signed Postcards. View online

Despite the frequent focus on women’s fashion and romantic scenes, postcard artists such as those featured in the Monroe Collection were primarily men. Even in the male-dominated scene of the early 20th century, female artists still published exceptional work. They include Mela Koehler and Maria Likarz-Strausz, members of the avant-garde Vienna Workshop collective and forerunners of the Art Deco movement; and Suzanne Meunier, a painter of pin-up art who contributed to French weekly La Vie Parisienne. Others worked as commercial book illustrators, such as sisters May and Ada Leonora Bowley.

In addition to browsing the images online, the Newberry is encouraging the public to take a more participatory role in using this content. The collection is featured in a number of the library’s digital initiatives, including Newberry Postcard Sender, where users can send vintage postcard images as e-greetings, and Newberry Postcard Tag, where online volunteers can transcribe handwritten postcard messages from the Monroe Collection, among others. And for those who prefer a more offline experience, a Monroe Collection coloring book is available for printing and coloring in with your art utensil of choice.

Yellow Hammer, Jay…, by May Bowley, early 20th c. Little Miss Muffet, by Ada Leonora Bowley, early 20th c. John Monroe Collection of Artist-Signed Postcards. View online

"The John I. Monroe Collection of Artist-Signed Postcards is a world-class collection of rare, collectible images from the ‘golden age’ of postcards, including postcards by artists such as Raphael Kirchner, Xavier Sager, and Mela Koehler,” said Will Hansen, the Newberry’s Curator of Americana and Vice President for Collections and Library Services. “The Monroe Collection is sure to be of interest for postcard historians and collectors, but also for researchers in many other areas—fashion, gender studies, art history, and more. The publication of this digital collection shows the Newberry's continued commitment to making its important collections useful and accessible for researchers around the world."

"Postcards are all about connecting people and places and have been since their beginning," said Lydia Pyne, historian and author of Postcards: The Rise and Fall of the World's First Social Network. "The John I. Monroe Collection of Artist-Signed Postcards offers a way for these artifacts from the 'golden age' of postcards to continue to connect people with places as researchers, postcard collectors, and media enthusiasts explore these postcards in their now-digital form."

About the Author

Jen Wolfe is the Digital Scholarship and Outreach Librarian for the Digital Initiatives and Services Department at the Newberry.