Historical Research & Records

Denver Postcard Club

  Sarasota Municipal Hall

Postcards can open a window to yesteryear.  They capture photos and drawings of events, places and people; record personal accounts of history; give clues to cultures and behaviors; and demonstrate humanity's impact on the earth. They form an integral part of our written record and augment other historical media to create a more accurate and complete understanding of history. 

Then and Now Comparisons:  Places and events that have retained their appeal over time are often presented repeatedly in postcards over the decades. Comparing buildings, advertisements, landscapes, clothing styles, home furnishings, and other features from era to era illustrates how landforms, towns, society, and technology have changed over time. Publication dates, copyright dates, and postmarks are critical to establishing the time frame for images and messages, but even without these, postcards can often be dated with additional knowledge about the publisher, printing house, or artist. Identifying changes to a  postcard subject over time and combining this information with other archival materials, written and oral histories, and personal experience can greatly enrich understanding of a historical era, a region, and even a family.

Capturing an Era:  Local, regional, and special interest historical societies often use postcards to develop more complete insights into everyday life, special events, and the march of civilization. Details of photos - particularly real photos - and the messages that accompany them illustrate both the important and unimportant aspects of daily life, and can even convey the decisions and emotions of the time. People often appreciate the humor, concerns, and interests of an individual sending or receiving a postcard more than a dry account of the times. As a result, more historical organizations are using postcards in their research, and their newsletters and magazines feature postcard images and messages.

Historical Preservation and Legal Documentation:  Real photo postcards are useful documentation for historic building preservationist when restoring a building back to a prior time period.  Details of the exterior and interior from vintage postcards can help curators create a near authentic restoration.  Photo postcards can be magnified to show details that may be missed from an initial glance.  Identifying  landmarks in both an early and later photo can establish the existence of buildings or other features that no longer survive. In one instance, a vintage real photo postcard served to document a now-defunct former paper mill on the Willamette River and showed its structure when it was fully operational.