Are you old enough to remember the “Large Letter linen postcards,” that looked like little brightly-colored paintings on actual canvas? Or perhaps you had a mother or grandmother who had a stash of them in a box in the attic, that you enjoyed rummaging through?
While vintage postcard collecting has always been very popular, one of the quickest rising interests in this hobby just might be collecting Linen Postcards. Linen postcards’ obvious appeal is their artistic colorful style, multitude of subjects along with a relatively low cost.
Linen postcards are easily identifiable by the type of high rag card stock they were printed on which was produced with a linen finish; a textured pattern distinguished by parallel and intersecting lines resembling linen cloth. The face of the card was the textured side and the reverse was smooth just like other postcards. Due to the use of this paper, linen postcards could be printed with brighter inks creating vibrantly colored images making them a huge advancement over the earlier white border postcards.
Linen postcards’ heyday was from the years of the 1930’s when they were introduced through 1945. They were the principal kind of postcard made during this time because of emerging equipment. It allowed production of linen postcards to be more economical in view of the fact that printing costs in Europe were becoming prohibitive because of tariffs. In the beginning, linens maintained the white border look along the edges of the card. Gradually disappearing as manufacturers started printing the image all the way to the card’s edge.
…One of the best-known publishing firms of quality linen postcards was Curt Teich. Although the company originated back in 1898, they gained recognition with their imaginative depictions used on their linen postcards. One type of card that proved very popular even to this day was their “Large Letter” postcard that spelled out the name of a location, such as, a city or state. Inside over-sized, three-dimensional letters were contained little pictures depicting various aspects of the card’s topic. [Source]
By the time I was a small child with souvenir money in my pocket on trips with my family, starting in the early 1950s, these cards had already disappeared from the gift shops along America’s highways. They had been replaced by glossy cards with more realistic images, like crystal-clear photos of college students on spring break on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale:
I liked buying postcards, because they were the cheapest souvenir you could get! I seldom bought one to send to anyone—I bought them to collect them and look at them over and over later to remember all the places and attractions we had seen. They were souvenirs, but they certainly weren’t “art.”
I grew up, went away to college, and got married in 1965. Some time after that, when visiting my husband’s grandmother, I saw her own postcard collection, and was blown away. She had started her own travels back around the turn of the last century, and thus her collection included many of the old linen postcards, which I’d never seen before. Now those were something to collect! And my favorites were the Large Letter linens, usually spelling out either a city or state. I found out later they sometimes featured the name of an attraction or even a military base (since they were popular during the WW2 years).
No, they weren’t the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but they were indeed tiny little works of art. The colorizing and printing process on the bumpy linen-like paper turned the photos into what looked almost like miniature paintings, fresh off the easel. Buildings and scenery showed up more often than people inside the letters, as the process made the photos quite blurry, and thus tiny people were more impressionistic than realistic—sort of like a Degas painting.
The bright colors were glorious, the antique feel of them classy. We “inherited” Gramma Elsie’s collection, so I have them somewhere in a box in storage. I haven’t looked at them in years, but I got to thinking about them yesterday and looked up some on the Internet. They were as attractive as I remember. And that gave me an idea—I’d go on a little American vacation to visit my personal American past, via Linen Large Letter postcards, and invite you to go along! These postcards below are NOT from my lifetime—they were published for an earlier generation. But they depict all the places described.
I was born in 1946 in the small northern Michigan town of Traverse City.
When I was 3, we moved to Cody, Wyoming, where my dad, who had learned the trade of making neon glass tubing, hoped to get rich on the new craze for colorful neon signs for stores and motels and restaurants.
Wyoming towns were way too small and scattered to support my dad’s grandiose plans, so when I was almost five, we moved back east to his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, where the Wright Brothers had owned the bicycle shop where they built the first airplane.
During our years in Dayton and Traverse City, my family went on a lot of vacation trips all over the country. Oh, not because we were rich and could afford fancy hotels and expensive sight-seeing—but because my dad had a brother in the Navy and my mother had parents who were snowbirds.
When Uncle Merle was stationed in New London, Connecticut we went to visit him and Aunt Ruth and stay with them.
On the way, we were able to take a day for a side trip to see downtown New York City.
Later Uncle Merle was stationed in Arlington, VA, right next to Washington DC. So we visited them and got to see the sights of the Capital.
Granny and Granddad, from wintery Michigan, spent much of their retirement years in Ft. Myers, Florida. So we got to visit them and see the wast coast of Florida.
This was “pre-Disney,” so Florida was still the land of Sunshine, not the land of Magic Kingdom.
For a short period, Granny and Granddad tested out Arizona as a possible retirement haven. They ended up going back to just snowbirding from Michigan to Florida. But during the year they were out west, we got to visit them in Tucson.
On the way there, we passed by El Paso, Texas, and stopped long enough to spend an afternoon going over the border to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where I was overwhelmed as a young teen by my first experience with the aggressive bartering tactics of the folks in an outdoor market place. One young salesman about 12 followed me all over the market trying to sell me a handcrafted crucifix. His starting asking price was about $25…by the time I said NO for the final time, he was down to 75 cents.
I moved away from home to attend Michigan State University in 1964 in East Lansing, Michigan.
I met my husband there and we got married on MayDay in 1965. After graduation, we moved to Saginaw, Michigan for a while.
By 1972 we had our only daughter, and moved as a family to Lansing, Michigan.
From 1992 through 2007, we lived in a couple of small Michigan towns, Charlotte and Allegan, who never were famous enough to merit linen postcards. But in 2007 we moved south to Rome, Georgia.
And just a few weeks ago, we moved from Rome to the Deep South, and now live in Savannah, Georgia.
I hope you enjoyed road-tripping through the American countryside to the places of my life. Now you might want to do the same with your own. It doesn’t take much effort at all! Just go to Google.com, click on the “IMAGE” tab at the top of the page, and type in the search box:
Linen postcards large letter XXX
Substitute the name of a state, city, town, or tourist attraction where you have lived or visited for the XXX, and click the search button. For all but the smallest of Podunks, you should get postcards to view!
If you just like looking at old travel post cards in general, you might enjoy browsing on these two websites.
When I asked my husband for a suggestion earlier last evening for something he remembered from his own past to feature for this blog entry, he insisted I ought to show and write about the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. I think he was partly joking. I believe he visited there as a young boy on a trip out west with family, but I doubt he was all that excited at the time about the palace. But his “tourist” idea did prompt me to do this entry about postcards. And so I’ve decided to end this trip with his suggestion. Thus I present to you–“The World’s Only Corn Palace,” in all its glory. It doesn’t have its own linen postcard online, but it does have a Large Print glossy one from the 1960s.
The original Mitchell Corn Palace (known as “The Corn Belt Exposition”) was built in 1892 to showcase the rich soil of South Dakota and encourage people to settle in the area. It was a wooden castle structure on Mitchell’s Main Street. In 1904–1905, the city of Mitchell mounted a challenge to the city of Pierre in an unsuccessful attempt to replace it as the state capital of South Dakota. As part of this effort, the Corn Palace was rebuilt in 1905. In 1921 the Corn Palace was rebuilt once again, with a design by the architectural firm Rapp and Rapp of Chicago. Russian-style onion domes and Moorish minarets were added in 1937, giving the Palace the distinctive appearance that it has today. It costs $130,000 annually to decorate the Palace.
The exterior corn murals [entirely made from corn and other grains] are replaced and redesigned each year with a new theme [they didn’t replace them in 2006–a widespread drought had made this inadvisable]….It is a popular tourist destination, visited by more than 500,000 people each year. [Wiki]
Learn more at http://www.cornpalace.org/