Picture perfect

Postcards helped us mark important events and chronicle our lives.

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 12/22/21

LOCH SHELDRAKE — “Dear Annie,” Jean Noval read out loud, “Uncle died yesterday. The funeral is at the Methodist Church in Liberty tomorrow.”

The note, written on a …

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Picture perfect

Postcards helped us mark important events and chronicle our lives.

Posted

LOCH SHELDRAKE — “Dear Annie,” Jean Noval read out loud, “Uncle died yesterday. The funeral is at the Methodist Church in Liberty tomorrow.”

The note, written on a postcard, was sent to Noval’s aunt Anna Vantran, who lived in Middletown.

“That was communication in those days,” the Loch Sheldrake resident, 89, said in a phone interview.  “All penny postcards… Everything was done on a postcard.”

Somebody died? Send out postcards. Wanted to say hi? Send a postcard. Sharing a funny card? Mail it. It cost a penny at the turn of the 20th century, and the postcards kept ties strong.

This was especially true at the holidays. In an era when celebrations both secular and religious really mattered, postcards were an easy way to show you cared and mark the day.

“There are postcards for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for Easter,” Noval said.

They could be lovely. “The color work on them is so beautiful,” Noval said.

[See Barbara Winfield’s story on antique postcards for more on the topic.]

Noval inherited the collection from Vantran. “She sent postcards, everyone sent postcards… In the early days, nobody had a phone.”

Postcards got their messages across, and in a timely way. Don’t confuse modern mail delivery with that of the past. “If Annie wrote a postcard in Middletown, the mail train came the same day,” Noval said. You could, in fact, receive a postcard the same day it was sent and make it to the funeral the next day.

Noval’s uncle, a career Navy man, sent postcards from wherever his ship, the Arkansas, went. “Sailing past France tomorrow,” Noval read aloud. The card features a big picture of Napoleon’s tomb.

Whether or not this interests you would depend on your taste in postcards. Carter's Ink company, c1912.
Whether or not this interests you would depend on your taste in postcards. Carter's Ink company, c1912.

Not just about the famous stuff

In addition to holiday images and gorgeous photos of places to see, cards featured buildings. For example, Jean Noval has a number of cards from Johnsonburg, PA, showing the turn-of-the-century architecture there. Local towns, villages and hamlets did a brisk business in postcards of Main Streets and other sights worth seeing, even on a card. (Check antique stores; many of those postcards are still around.)

You can find banks and post offices on postcards as well as famous cathedrals and Roman ruins.

And sometimes you can find the, shall we say, possibly less-compelling subjects. Heavy on the buildings, especially mid-century airports and motels, the book “Boring Postcards” will show you the low-interest end of the postcard world.

People traveled all over, and the postcards sent home documented the journeys and left a record of what they did.

Postcards were also a useful way to keep track of life’s minutiae. “An aunt kept track of expenditures” on trips, she said. “Every expense was on a postcard.”

Vantran was the head seamstress for the Clemson family in Middletown. ”They owned the Clemson [Bros.] saw company and had a house on Highland Avenue,”

Noval said. “In its time it was a wonderful way” to communicate, both picture-wise and message-wise. Postcards told the story of where you were and where you’d been.”

The cards eventually faded from use, and not just because the mail train stopped running. Phones arrived in rural America in the 1930s or ‘40s, maybe even the ‘50s, depending on where you lived. Noval herself worked for the Hurleyville phone company for a short time. “That was a tough, very intensive job,” she said.

She moved over into insurance, where she stayed till retirement, working for Associated Mutual in Woodridge, for the Rhulens, for Marshall & Sterling.

Anna Vantran lived to be 100, her life spanning a century that saw the horse and buggy change to the automobile, saw the invention of airplanes and men walking on the moon. She watched as telephones replaced postcards.

But rather than toss the cards, Vantran kept her collection. And a good thing, too. As a sender of postcards, she chronicled history, gave quick glimpses into her joys and sorrows, her daily life, and the fun of holidays past.

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