Postcards: All in the Family

To My Dear Brother, N 701, divided back, posted in Iowa in 1908. All postcards are from the author’s collection

To My Dear Brother, N 701, divided back, posted in Iowa in 1908. All postcards are from the author’s collection

 

IOLA, Wis. – We’ve all heard, and perhaps used, the phrase: “You can’t pick your family.” Good or bad, from an early age we begin learning social behaviors from our family members.

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An American serviceman sent this postcard from the French Riviera city of Nice while on furlough in August 1945.

Postcards: Views of France, from prisons to palm trees

IOLA, Wis. – Traveler’s Digest ranks France as the most visited country not only in Europe, but the world. Renown for fashion, cuisine and an air of romance, the 2014 statistics estimate France has 81.4 million foreign visitors each year. To give an idea of just how fantastic that tourism statistic is, the 2013 census statistics show the United Kingdom has a resident population of 64.1 million, while France herself is home to 66.03 million people – 15 million fewer than the tourists. That’s a plethora of tourists.

France has a turbulent and rich history. The exquisite architecture and views captured on postcards provide evidence of their attraction for tourists. The Palace of Fontainebleau dates to the 12th century A.D. Originally used as a royal hunting lodge, the palace was modified from the 16th century on, with kings and queens, emperors and empresses redesigning and embellishing as they saw fit. The view on the “Fontainebleau. – La Palais – L’Etang aux Carpes. – LL” (Fontainebleau – The Palace – Pond with Carp) shows only part of the exterior; with more than 1,500 rooms, an aerial view is needed to see the entire expanse of the exterior simultaneously. You can see the sprawling enormity of the structure using the satellite imagery in Google Earth. (By the way, there are many common, inexpensive cards that show the extravagant room interiors and features of Fontainebleau, which will be covered in a future column.)

The “Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau / Vue prise au Nord-Est” (View Captured in the North East) shows a slightly off-centered view of the French Renaissance chateau, which was built on the site of a ruined medieval castle between 1518 and 1527. The castle sits on an island in the middle of the Indre River (a tributary of the Loire River).

One of my favorite French postcards, the image of “Ancien Paris. – La Bastille, vers 1780. – ND Phot.” is on heavier card stock with deckled edges. It feels substantial, like the image it holds. The rendering adeptly portrays the intimidating prison. Destroyed in July 1789, during the French Revolution, all we have to feed our imaginations of this justifiably maligned structure are literature and centuries-old depictions. There are plenty of Bastille images because, being a pivotal event in the French Revolution, the destruction of the prison was a popular subject for artists.

At first glance, the Parc Monceau postcard is a bit of an enigma. What are Roman ruins doing in Paris? Actually, the Parc Monceau originated as a 20-plus acre public park in Paris and was completed in 1779. The garden’s designer, Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, sought to incorporate into one garden “all times and all places.” In addition to the colonnade folly (a folly is a scaled down architectural feature) shown on this postcard, Carmontelle also included an Egyptian pyramid, a Dutch windmill and antique statues, among other whimsical features in the park. Today, the park itself is scaled down and holds several private residences.

The “Grasse, Cite de Parfums – Vue sur les Usines” (Grasse, Perfume City – View with Factories) card is unique in this selection of French postcards in that it’s a view of factories, rather than historical architecture. The city of Grasse, on the French Riviera, is considered the world’s capital of perfume. Indeed, the city’s perfume industry far outweighs its tourism trade.

The view of Bordeaux – labeled “Bordeaux. – Cours de l’Intendance” – is a wonderful street view with both early automobiles and horse-drawn vehicles, as well as people in early 20th century period clothing bustling along the sidewalks and crossing the streets. Right down to the ornate iron gaslight street lamps, this is exactly the type of scene I picture in my mind when I think of “Old Paris.”

I saved my favorite card for last: The card with palm trees is a view of Angel Bay in the city of Nice, on the French Riviera. I like this card for a number of reasons: It has palm trees. It’s currently January, and I’m in Wisconsin. I really like palm trees and am dreaming of the tropics. It’s also postally used from a Staff Sergeant stationed out of New York City; the postmark is August 23, 1945. I can only imagine the atmosphere in Europe just a few months after VE Day. And his message: “Hello Evy – Am out here on a furlo,[sic] and am having a good time. This place is sure something to see. Will write later. Eddie.” I’m certain the French Riviera is “something to see.” Maybe someday.

In the simple task of flipping through a few picture postcards, and doing a bit of research, I’ve imagining myself traveling not only across the world but through time, as well. What wonderful, low-tech entertainment and education postcards provide! And, on that note, I’ll take my cue from Staff Sergeant Eddie and sign off with a flourish and a promise: Will write later.

Note: Please pardon any egregious errors in translation; it’s been a long time since I took my last French class.

Karen Knapstein is Print Editor for Antique Trader. A lifelong collector and student of antiques, she lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Joe, and daughter, Faye. She can be reached at karen.knapstein@fwmedia.com.

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Karen Knapstein’s Postcard Ponderings column appears in Antique Trader. To enjoy more of what Antique Trader has to offer, view this complimentary digital issue: http://media2.fwpublications.com/ATR/2015DigitalIssues/Comp.pdf.

 

Hawk’s Bill, Picturesque Wisconsin Dells — 43. Postally used in 1945.

Postcards: Natural beauty of the Wisconsin Dells

Hawk’s Bill, Picturesque Wisconsin Dells — 43. Postally used in 1945.

Hawk’s Bill, Picturesque Wisconsin Dells — 43. Postally used in 1945.

IOLA, Wis. – Long before Wisconsin Dells became known as the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” tourists flocked to the natural attraction to view the famous rock formations carved over millennia by the waters of the Wisconsin River.

I grew up close enough to the popular tourist area that each year our school safety patrol took an overnight trip to enjoy the attraction. The trip included the famous duck boat tours – which have been running since 1946 – to see the formations of the dells up close. It was an unforgettable experience.

The collection of postcards shown here were mostly produced by Curt Teich of Chicago and copyrighted by H.H. Bennett Studio of Wisconsin Dells, Wis. The exception is a “Hawk’s Bill, Picturesque Wisconsin Dells-43” card made by E.C. Kroppe Co., Milwaukee.

This example, the only one in the group that is postally used (Scott 804; Wisconsin Dells cancel), was sent to the Munitions Building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., in August 1945. The sender informed the recipient, “We have had much change of scenery this trip & the air here is very much to our liking.” It’s unfortunate there is cancellation ink defacing the front of the card, but the colors and the image are still bright and enjoyable.

Of the Curt Teich cards, I find the “Stand Rock” example the most enjoyable. Looking closely, the artist has rendered a man jumping over the gaping expanse between the cliff ledge and Stand Rock. I believe the artist was an optimist, because it looks as though the jumper will actually make it. The card description explains, “It is a huge table, supported by a single water-torn, rather irregular shaped column of rock, about 46 feet high. The top is a great sandstone slab, some 18×24 feet in area and practically level. The top is 5 1/2 feet from the main cliff.” Research suggests the artistic rendering is based upon an old photograph.

Today the Stand Rock location is a popular campground with more than 100 acres of nature and hiking trails. As an added attraction, specially trained dogs jump across to the formation and back.

The “Fat Man’s Misery” card shows the plank trail leading through the narrowest point of Cold Water Canyon. The view “In Cold Water Canyon” has such wonderful perspective you want to just step onto the path to explore the ravine.

“The Path in Witches Gulch” is even more spectacular. This card, copyright 1931, explains, “The path in Witches Gulch leads along the tortuous way, over miniature water falls and between the towering rock walls of this mysterious gorge.” It truly makes me want to tie on some comfortable walking shoes and take a hike.

Other popular scenes included in my small but colorful collection include “Visor Ledge;” “The Toad Stool;” “The Jaws;” illustrating Romance Cliff and High Rock; “Hornet’s Nest;” and “High Rock from Romance Cliff,” which, as the card explains, are the “Lower Jaws of the Dells and the first high cliffs on the Upper Dells.”

I believe the reason these cards resonate with me is that when I was in sixth grade and touring with my fellow safety patrol, I didn’t have a camera. I can remember how much fun it was riding in the ducks, what the wooden plank trails were like (I remember stumbling at least a couple of times), and have a recollection of what the sandstone rock formations looked like. These artfully rendered cards, with their scenic views, bring those nostalgic recollections back into focus.

Contemporary postcards don’t have anywhere near the following that vintage postcards had back in their day, in part because every person who is carrying a smartphone has a camera at their fingertips; they can capture their scenic setting at will and file those images away to review at any time. Why should travelers spend a dollar on a postcard when they’ve probably got a memory card filled with vacation images. As a result far fewer postcards are produced today than were produced in the Golden Age of Postcards. Because fewer are printed will the postcards of today be valuable 100 years from now? Nope. Because, as we’ve seen countless times, “old” doesn’t automatically mean “valuable.” Supply still has to outweigh demand. There are probably still plenty being produced to satisfy the history and esoterica buffs of the future without them having to compete for them.

Personally, I still buy new postcards when I go someplace special (in addition to the photographs I take, of course). I have gorgeous contemporary cards from Hawaii and state parks that I visit. The vantage points and the clarity of the images are far better than anything I could accomplish. My hope is they will help keep those cherished memories of family trips in focus – not only for me, but for my family, as well.

The vintage Wisconsin Dells postcards pictured here are but a small sampling of the plethora that have been produced through the decades. Since the renderings and print runs are plentiful, prices are next-to-nothing to purchase examples like these. Most cards can be had for several dollars or less.

If you’re just interested in sightseeing from the comfort of your easy chair, and not actually acquiring cards for yourself, you can view hundreds more vintage Wisconsin Dells rock formation-themed postcards online at http://www.vintagewisconsindells.com/rock-formations.htm.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE
Hawk’s Bill, Picturesque Wisconsin Dells — 43. Postally used in 1945.

Hawk’s Bill, Picturesque Wisconsin Dells — 43. Postally used in 1945.

 The Path in Witches Gulch, Dells of the Wisconsin River (Copyright 1931, H.H. Bennett Studio; 1A17).

The Path in Witches Gulch, Dells of the Wisconsin River (Copyright 1931, H.H. Bennett Studio; 1A17).

The Jaws, Entrance to the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River (4A-H1936).

The Jaws, Entrance to the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River (4A-H1936).

Visor Ledge, Dells of the Wisconsin River (123856).

Visor Ledge, Dells of the Wisconsin River (123856).

The Toad Stool, Dells of the Wisconsin River (5494-29).

The Toad Stool, Dells of the Wisconsin River (5494-29).

In Cold Water Canyon, Dells of the Wisconsin River (4A-H1938).

In Cold Water Canyon, Dells of the Wisconsin River (4A-H1938).

Stand Rock, Dells of the Wisconsin River (4A-H1939).

Stand Rock, Dells of the Wisconsin River (4A-H1939).

Fat Man’s Misery, Dells of the Wisconsin River, (5491-29). The narrowest point of Cold Water Canyon.

Fat Man’s Misery, Dells of the Wisconsin River, (5491-29). The narrowest point of Cold Water Canyon.

Hornet’s Nest, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin (OB-H16).

Hornet’s Nest, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin (OB-H16).

High Rock from Romance Cliff, Dells of the Wisconsin River (6A-H2069).

High Rock from Romance Cliff, Dells of the Wisconsin River (6A-H2069).