Sunday, May 23, 2010

Postal Cards

On May 23, 1873 Postal cards & Exposition cards sold for the 1st time.

Many expositions were held in the post-Civil War years to highlight specific regions and promote commerce with them. The 1873 Interstate Industrial Exposition in Chicago, held after the great fire, was the first to issue cards but little attention was given to them. The focus of these early cards was on advertising and few examples remain. It wasn’t until an image of the Eiffel Tower was printed on a souvenir card for the Paris Exposition of 1889 that the world took real notice. By 1893 one hundred and twenty different images of Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition were printed on government postal cards by distributors. Privately printed, these exposition cards required two cents postage to mail but it didn’t hurt sales as hundreds of thousands were purchased. The most notable of these cards were the official chromolithographs of Charles W. Goldsmith. For the first time many cards were not just purchased for correspondence but collected as souvenirs. The high demand inspired similar cards to be made the following year for the California Mid-Winter Exposition in San Francisco, followed by Cotton States in Atlanta, the Tennessee Centennial in Nashville, and Trans-Mississippi in Omaha. The sets produced after Chicago were printed in smaller quantities and are quite rare today. The images on these cards usually took up a relatively small portion of the front to leave plenty or room to write a message. Montages of multiple scenes surrounded with decorative flourishes were very fashionable on both cards and illustrations of this period. While sets of official exposition cards continue to be printed to this day, they now have little to distinguish them from an ordinary postcard.

Photographs were another popular item sold at expositions. While their subjects were as carefully controlled as those printed on official postcards they often had great differences between them. Possibly the most popular image to be sold at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 was not found within the official postcard set but on a card photo depicting the performer Little Egypt. Her talent consisted of what we would now call a belly dance displayed live at the exhibit A Street in Cairo. While many were horrified by this unchristian act, the great draw it had speaks for itself. It was a permissible representation of a woman at the cutting edge of accepted female roles because of its lack of nudity and presentation by a non-white performer. This trend of depicting sexualized women would continue for many years and can be best be seem in the many photos and postcards made of performers, actresses, and foreign types. While these women were largely looked down upon for their independence, postcards of them would be highly sought after and sold in great numbers.

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