Snapshot 07A: Old Postcards, Part One …

I’ve been a collector all my life. The big thing has been, of course, as any regular reader of this blog will know, comic books. When I was a kid, my brother and I searched and searched for something to collect. I tried coins, even buying the blue books that had the slots you could put them in, but invariably I’d raid them for what little change I had placed. I thought about stamps, but they seemed a tad boring, kind of like coins. There were baseball and football cards, but I had no interest in sports or the players and all that ERA and TD information on the back was just so much gibberish.

Eventually we figured out we were already collecting comic books … there were so many of them around the house. Finding out about the early days of comics fandom and discovering fanzines certainly helped, too, and once I attended my first bona fide comic convention (in New York City in 1971), I was hooked for life.

But later in life, the collector bug bit again and I started to collect postcards.

I remember taking the bus (I didn’t have a car then) out to South Hills Village mall in Pittsburgh one day. It was one of my days off—a weekday, since I worked weekends then—and I don’t quite remember why I went there, other than it was something to do. It was probably the early 1980s, and I stumbled upon an antiques show going on in the aisleways outside the stores in the mall. One of the first group of tables I encountered had boxes and boxes of old postcards, most individually bagged in little mylar sleeves. I came across a section in one of the boxes labeled “Atlantic City,” and I knew then and there I was in trouble.

Atlantic City was the long-gone vacation spot of my youth. Each summer, from 1964 to 1976, my family would go there for one week in August, my mom’s birthday week. This was in the decade right before casino gambling hit the city (and quite possibly killed it), up until the time the first casino—Resorts International, in what used to be the Haddon Hall hotel, a giant building on the boardwalk near Pennsylvania Avenue and Steel Pier—opened. Right in front of the AC cards was a small group of Asbury Park, NJ cards, too. We went there for summer vacation before we started going to Atlantic City, when I was really young (like ages 3-8).

And that’s how postcards started for me: They were gateways to the past, to places that, in essence, no longer existed. They were snapshots of a particular time and place. “My” Atlantic City and Asbury Park had moved on, for better or worse (mainly worse in both cases) and this was one of the only ways to recapture the places I remembered. A lot of them were commercially-oriented places, including restaurants and hotels.

But as I dug through box after box, I noticed something else: The sheer artistry of these cards. They were produced by the thousands, but there was a certain beauty to them, especially the ones that had almost-garish colors on textured paper. These were called linen postcards and while there were a lot of regional printers and postcard manufacturers, I noticed the bulk of the ones I really liked were produced by a company called Curt Teich and were marked on the back as “Genuine Curteich-Chicago ‘C. T. Art Colortone’ Post Card”. Curt Teich & Company became the world’s largest manufacturer of postcards, pioneering the linen card and the big letter “Greetings from” cards. The linen cards were hand-colored black and white photos, sometimes heavily airbrushed to remove unwanted objects (cars, electrical lines and poles, and—of course—people). The colors added an almost surreal look to the postcards and believe me, after a few hours of leafing through box after box of these colorful cards, the real world looked like it was on steroids: Vibrant colors, puffy clouds, unreal vistas awaited me when I ventured back outdoors. Linen postcards pretty much died out in the 1960s, and Curt Teich & Company closed their doors in 1978, but his work lives on at The Newberry, a museum in Chicago, IL, which houses the Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, featuring over 500,000 separate postcards. For more info, click here.

Eventually I amassed a few hundred cards and—just as eventually—I tired of them and sold off the bulk of them. (What can I say … I’m fickle.) But I kept a small stack of them, mainly Atlantic City and Asbury Park cards, and some of the linen cards that really grabbed me. Here are a few of the ones I love in this post and another to come in a couple of weeks. I’ve included some info on each card, and if someone wrote something interesting on the back, that, too. (BTW, if the golden age of cursive handwriting was taught in elementary schools back then, these cards sure as hell don’t show it. Some of them are impossible to read.)

At the top of this page is one of Curt Teich & Company’s famous big letter “Greetings From” cards, this one from lovely California, with the Golden Gate Bridge, an orange grove, and the giant Sequoia tree you can drive through as part of the letters. It’s postmarked January 13, 1948 in Monongahela, PA. The message is absolutely impossible to read, but I’m sure someone had a great time somewhere in California … or else is trying to make it look like they did.

Let’s start with what I think is one of my favorite postcards of all time: This amazingly gaudy and busy card of The Brass Rail restaurant/lounge/cafe/bar in New York City, “An eating place of international fame”. This thing looks to be at least a half-block long and according to the back, it had “4 Dining Floors Distinctively Different”, as if Yoda wrote the copy. I vaguely recall there being a Brass Rail bar at this location in NYC when I started going there, but it certainly wasn’t the extravaganza seen in this postcard.

I don’t recall this hotel in Asbury Park, NJ during our visits there, but this postcard is so warm and inviting, I’d really like to stay here. It was located at Sixth and Ocean Avenues, “Directly on the Oceanfront” and featured “dining and dancing in the air-conditioned Fiesta Room”. This card was unsent. This is a Tichnor Bros. card (“Tichnor Quality Views”), one of Curt Teich’s biggest competitors, from Boston, MA.

“A Daily Scene on the Pike, Long Beach, California”. This is one of those busy, bustling captures of a bygone era. The card is unsent, but someone named Sharon scrawled her name on the back in giant pencil strokes, as if writing it for the first time. The Pike was an amusement park “near the entrance of the famous Rainbow Pier.” This is a Curt Teich card.

In contrast, here’s a very subdued linen card with a view of the Palm Springs Hotel in (you guessed it) Palm Springs, California. I love the pastel colors in this, and I’ve included a bit of the scalloped edges on this card, which was a feature of a lot of postcards. This one is postmarked Nov. 19, 1949 in Palm Springs and again, is impossible to read. I hope Mrs. Craddock in Philadelphia could decipher it … I couldn’t. This card was published by Stephen H. Willard in Palm Springs.

I love the colors and the dreamy clouds in this card for the 7 Seas Restaurant in Miami, Florida. This one is a “Colourpicture Publication” from Boston, MA (might be Tichnor Bros.?). According to the back of the card “Good foods, excellently prepared, are served” and the restaurant is located “Adjacent to Miami’s largest parking garage.” This card was unsent.

A much-less gaudy presentation in this lovely postcard for the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. I love the soft colors in this architectural rending type of illustration. This card was unsent and was published by a company in L.A. whose name is impossible to read.

Another very different hotel card treatment, with this pen and ink illustration that looks like an engraving. “The Westlake . . . Rocky River, Cleveland, Ohio . . . A metropolitan hotel amid the charm of lake and stream,” featured the “air-conditioned Silverthorne Bar”. This card was sent and features one of my all-time favorite messages:

“Jan. 17th, 1946 … Dear Betty, How are you? I am fine. Best regards, Hulda.”

This card was published by the Letterhead and Check Corporation of America, St. Louis, MO.

Two unusual portrait (vertical) cards. The La Salle Hotel (“Home of the famous Lotus Room with its celebrated food service”) in Chicago card looks like a New Yorker magazine illustration; Mike Lyman’s Grill in Los Angeles is one of those busy, colorful cards that I love, especially that Mike Lyman’s sign font. “The most beautiful restaurant in America” it says on the back, but it’s hard to beat “Where the West Eats the Best”, slogan-wise, on the front. The Lyman card is a Curt Teich card, the La Salle card doesn’t list a publisher.

Not sure what “The Man in Green” thing is, or why it’s trademarked or why Ripley’s Believe It or Not found it so fascinating, but this unsent card for Berney’s Restaurant, Bar, Mirror Cocktail Lounge and “Package Store” in Jacksonville, FL is (according to the back of the card) “Not Just Another Restaurant But A Real Place to Dine.” This is a Curt Teich card.

Tune in for part two of this look at my postcard collection, coming soon.

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