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History Corner: Let’s Do It Again…

History Corner: Let’s Do It Again…

1906--Grassy-Hill-Now this is only MY opinion but with technology, we have lost some of the finer elements of our society; communication without a cell phone, iPhone, iPad etc. When we travel today, we use our phones to document our trips, the scenery, the whales jumping in the air and other wonderful sites and when we get home, we gather around the dinner table to view the slide show taken by the travelers. I saw a group of teachers, huddled around an iPad the other day enjoying whatever was being shared. Believe me, there is no reason to despair about this but there was a time when events would be shared by mail to include the homebound member in the travels and joys of an adventure.

So, what AM I talking about? Postcards. Yes, those wonderful little pictures of far-away places that made going to the mailbox a true adventure to light up the faces of the recipients to see and read about places far away. There are postcard clubs throughout the United States collecting these wonders of the many companies that published cards of every description from local hometown scenes to cartoons, art collections…you name it there is a postcard out there to suit everyone.

Take the very famous Hummel figurines for example. Three publishers are credited with postcards of her work, with some of the cards being worth many times more than the postage needed to send it. A great deal of history can be learned from reading old post cards and in some instances getting a good laugh out of the way things were said and what was said. A postcard from Will Rogers says “am I happy! Well, I should say yes – too happy for words, hence via this postcard I can tell you that I didn’t get in on the fighting – but I was sure there when it came to yelling!” This card was sent the day after the World War I armistice, November 12, 1918. The historical society owns a post card sent from the Orange country fair around the 1920s where the writer is telling someone of his day and that Orange is “a queer little town”.

Can you imagine today’s price of a postcard sent from England just before boarding the Titanic? Obviously any postcards onboard are long gone but any sent from another location would surely have been received in the United States at some point.

With communication so rare before WWI, postcards were the face of the nation and the world being kept in shoeboxes along with the letters sent from loved ones. It was a lasting view, not subject to erasing or deleting. Postcards are valuable, mostly to historians who can document events by the pictures and the messages written on the back or, in some cases, on the front.

The amount of people who remember Savin Rock is dwindling, but the mass of postcards available shows the many aspects that trigger the memories of those who rode the Thunderbolt. Who remembers eating at Wilcox’s Pier Restaurant of walking on the boardwalk? Unless the visitor was armed with a camera and several rolls of film, most of Savin Rock’s visual history can be found in the many post cards produced at that time. When we talk about postcards, we see a small 4×6 card with a picture on one side and writing on the other, but can you imagine a postcard made out of wood, stamped and delivered through the postal system? Or how about a card made out of a piece of leather, passing through the mail? The historical society has both. Any number of oddities came out after WWII including a card from Salt Lake, Utah with a little bag of salt attached to the card. If that isn’t odd enough, postcards from the St Helen’s eruption carry packets of ash.

The Christmas theme is a wide selection of cards, some of which carry a hefty sale price if in pristine condition. Raphael Tuck and Ellen Clapsaddle are well known to postcard collectors for their holiday themes and Miss Clapsaddle makes her cards distinct with her signature, so tiny and so obscure that one must look very carefully before pricing a holiday postcard too low. Raphael Tuck has a mistake for a New Year’s card out there where the wish for a happy new year is up side down to the date, in large letters across the card. We talk about the penny postcard; well there were machines, dispensing cards at a penny apiece with one of its more rare cards being Lillian Russell.

The first post card appeared around 1874 with their novelty provoking some fault finding being made fun of as stingy and unsafe. They were cheap and people used them but they had two enemies; the man who received a dun* and the manufacturer of writing paper causing a decrease from 12 million to 15 million dollars in sales.

The first cards were made in Holyoke, Mass. with 40 men employed for their manufacture and one million cards being turned out per day. Our very own Elbert Scobie had cards printed of Orange in 1909 using a German printing company. Although there are many towns in Connecticut with many more scenes, the Scobie cards are quite collectible outside of Orange as their themes span a variety of themes.

Take the card entitled “Starting for the Fair” for example; a highly sought after card because of its country fair connection, train and train station depiction and an early 1909 card of Orange. The numbers are low but they are “ours” and depict parts of town previously unknown to 20th century collectors. The historical society owns several cards depicting Orange Center Road when it was South Main Street and North Main Street. Although this information can be found with research, the little old shoebox of postcards has given collectors more information in less time than arduous research. I bet you don’t know where lover’s lane was or, for that matter, still is. Maybe the illustration will help you.

In attending several post card club events, our staff has become aware of the many types of cards being collected and especially certain towns within known towns such as Soundview, CT which is in Old Lyme, Mashapaug in Union and, of course, Devon in Milford. There was a time when postcards were sent to the E.B. Clark Seed Company with a Milford address and delivered to Orange. These postcards are especially interesting as it gives a brief history of the comings and goings of this Orange/Milford company. A collection of cards for the B.B. Hill Bell Co. in East Hampton made for an interesting read with the variety of bells that were ordered from around the state and the country. These were the traditional penny postcard with the 1 cent stamp reproduced on the front for the address and the company sending the order imprinted on the back with the order or in some cases complaint, handwritten.

Lighthouses are a big collection as well, ships, automobiles, children, and the ever popular antique airplanes. The Tin Goose, a Ford Tri-motor was built between 1926 & 1933 and postcards exist for the production models of the Goose. A recently sold postcard of New Haven Airport would, at first glance not be of great value except for the fact that it had a 1943 Eastern Airlines flight plan, written by the pilot on the back. There he wrote the ground and air speed, their destination which was Miami and a stopover at West Palm Beach. This card is now in the possession of the pilot/manager of Tween New Haven Airport.

Interested in starting collection? Come see us at the Academy for some suggestions. We are open every Saturday from 10-3. For information, call 203 795-3106.

*dun- to make persistent demands for money.

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