Mad in Pursuit Notebook

3A Folding Pocket Kodak camera with men

The Real-Photo Postcard

Jim must have started collecting postcards in the late 70s, when he became fascinated with photographic history. I didn't pay much attention, unless I wanted a retro image for an art project. And when I ran an eBay store, I was forced to learn some things in order to sell his discards. Otherwise, his carefully categorized binders (Transportation, Occupationals, Actors, etc) quietly grew on a shelf in his study.

Now that we're downsizing, now that a dealer expressed interest in them, I was forced to look at them again, if only to decide on a wholesale price. We dragged all 20 binders to the cabin to have a look.

Oh dear. This time it was me who fell in love with them. Nearly all of Jim's (let's say) 800 cards were "real photos." That is, the image was developed from film and printed on a postcard back -- no printing presses involved. The method was popular from about 1900 to 1920, with the rise of popular photography.

They are such neat little objects, passed from maker, to seller, (and if used) to writer, to postal service, to addressee, and saved for a hundred years. The uniform rectangles tell a double-sided story: photo on one side; minimally, a stamp box on the other, which can be used for dating. I like the used ones, with an address and message, a stamp, a postmark, a cancel -- more hands. Often the stamp has been picked off -- the intervention of an enthusiastic stamp collector.

Photographic postcards represent a transition in two areas. Photo postcards didn't have to be mass produced by corporations with large printing facilities. They could now be produced for a place and a time -- capturing a local disaster or town celebration. "On demand." "Niche market." Sounds familiar.

Also photography was moving out of the hands of experts, who had to be both engineers and chemists, and into the hands of small-time craftsmen and amateurs. In the age of the smartphone, we forget the magic that photography once was -- the power to capture and preserve an image on glass or metal or paper. In the early 20th century, anyone with a little techie patience got the power.

Look at that photo postcard above. Jim's note on the back says the camera is a 3A Folding Pocket Kodak, "the original postcard size camera." And damn if that guy holding it doesn't look like King of the Front Porch, holding his power object between his knees like that. A gun might defend, but a camera collects and preserves and elicits squeals of delight.

Anyway, our postcards had to go, but we compromised. I sifted through the binders and set aside a few sets of postcards that wanted to stay with us a while longer. Fourteen binders -- about 500 postcards -- went off with our buyer to find new sets of hands to treasure them, new sets of eyes to learn their stories.



Books by Susan Barrett Price:

THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.



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