Finding the Magic in Postcards

Aug 20, 2015

Every summer, interns from around the country join us in our work on the TR Digital Library. We often ask them to share their experiences in the blog. Leah Rios reflects on the magic of postcards.

Coming from a background in art, I spent most of my graduate career working in archives at institutions whose focus was primarily in art and photography. So, it is not surprising that I was instantly drawn to the newspapers, postcards, cartoons, and greeting cards because of their visual appeal. While completing a copy-cataloging assignment for the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site Collection, I stumbled upon four postcards that I was drawn to.

While examining these postcards, I had instant déjà vu of a prior experience I had while processing a photographer’s manuscript collection. The photographer’s wife had saved almost every greeting card she and her husband had received throughout their lives. Some simply contained a signature underneath the card’s prefabricated message, while others wrote more personal and sincere notes. The head archivist debated whether to throw them away, while I too wondered what the worth was in keeping them. I discussed this issue with a seasoned colleague of mine and he gave me a very knowledgeable answer. He said to me, “Why would we not keep the cards? It’s only a matter of time before sending mail all together will become a lost art.” 

My colleague was absolutely correct. Similar to greeting cards, postcards are not only useful for documenting messages, but also a wonderful source of social history. This is specifically the case for the postcards I came across. The first postcard is a simple illustration of Theodore Roosevelt in a bathtub with the caption, “A Teddy Bare.” The interesting aspect of this card besides the simple line drawing is the postage space located on the front that reads, “Place a one cent stamp here for transmission to any part of the United States, Canada & Mexico, or a two-cent stamp to foreign countries.” This fair price is the reason the practice of sending postcards become so popular during this time. Thanks to the ease of technology, individuals today are far less interested in sending a postcard for the current postage rate of forty-nine cents, and would rather simply send an email.


Delighted, April 12, 1906. From the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.

The second postcard features a lively illustration of Theodore Roosevelt in his Rough Rider uniform, with the caption “Delighted” inscribed on the card. This card was most likely created in order to catch the attention of the recipient with the bright and comedic image. The third postcard is Christmas themed with a fun and vibrant image of Santa Claus. The caption reads “Gee Whiz! If this keeps up I’ll have to get an assistant. Roosevelt ought to read this!” This line is significant because it highlights the type of language being used in 1908. “Gee Whiz!” is certainly not the type of regular dialect used today, which is another way cards can document society during a certain period of time.

The last postcard I found was different from the others in that it featured a photograph of the White House, and portraits of President Roosevelt, Miss Alice Roosevelt, and Mr. Nicholas Longworth with the caption, “White House Wedding.” Not only does this particular postcard mark an event, it is also serves as documentation of a historic building. Photographs are extraordinary in that they can both document a certain period of time, but also serve as evidence of the change that has occurred as well. 

I enjoyed exploring each postcard and hope that others can appreciate the value in ephemeral items such as postcards and greeting cards. There is no doubt that these items can enrich the value and understanding of a collection by documenting society in alternative practices. 

Leah Rios recently graduated this May from the University of Arizona with her Master's in Library and Information Science with a certificate in Archival Studies. She is interested in working in an archive that focuses in fine art, photography, or fashion.

Posted by Leah Rios on Aug 20, 2015 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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