Many postcards, postal cards, trade cards, and photos that are truly rare and/or exceptionally interesting go untraded for years among collectors, or unsold for years in auctions, or at websites, or in dealer boxes at shows. The principle reason why good cards do not move is ... lack of research!
Today's subject is but one real photo postcard, but it illustrates several advanced research techniques -- so you owe it to yourself to pay close attention. Because it illustrates multiple techniques, it will be told in narrative form. Also because it contains multiple techniques, it will well repay your study.
NEARLY MUTE EXAMPLE
Here is a very interesting looking sepia-tone real photo postcard showing children watching a digging effort.
It bears no caption or writing on back which would explain it: where it was taken, why it was taken, what buildings are shown, who is depicted, or what specific kind of digging activity is taking place. Without research, therefore, it is a dust-gatherer. All we know for starters is that it was mailed in 1909 from Murray City Ohio. Those are only two clues with which to begin the investigation.
My starting hypothesis or theory for any real photo postcard which is almost mute about the location shown is to assume it is actually from the town of mailing, or from a location within walking distance of that post office. That supposition does not always work, but it is very often correct; so I suggest you commit this principle to memory.
Murray City was not known to me, even though I have long lived in Ohio. So I had to read its Wikipedia article first. I learned it is a village in the Ward Township of Hocking County, with perhaps 400 to 500 souls. Many of its inhabitants were and still are poor. Not much else was learned. When I guessed this was a mining operation, I added to the Wikipedia search box so it read: Murray City, Ohio mining. I learned from the returns that coal mining was indeed important there. Could this be above-ground coal mining? [If so, the children are waiting for the workers to go home, so that they can snitch a few lumps of coal for their poor families' stoves.] That supposition, weak and speculative as it was, became my embellished hypothesis: certainly not my final word on the subject, because I was willing to be persuaded otherwise.
To a dealer, time is money. So when I have an embellished hypothesis about which I am truly unsure, my trick is to expose it to as many people as possible, quickly, so that it can become the subject of some constructive criticism. [This strategy takes a special frame of mind. You have to be willing to admit you are wrong. A little humility goes a long way. You have to admit that others may possess vastly superior knowledge that is germane or pertinent to the subject.]
The reason this method works is that most people like to show off their knowledge, and most people like to be critical of others. [I remember having a boss who would get small meetings off to a lively start by announcing the subject of the meeting and writing near-nonsensical or speculative things on a chalkboard pertaining to that subject. His subordinates then chimed in critically, each striving to out-shine the others -- so such meetings were off to an efficient and useful start.]
Having no such chalkboard, I had to put my suppositions in front of as many eyes as possible, as quickly as possible. Through an auction agent, I listed the postcard on eBay as a Murray City Ohio real photo above-ground coal mining postcard in a 7-day buy-it-now-possible auction, replete with my detailed but speculative hypothesis.
A couple of days were all it took to smoke out a self-described "local historian", whose specialty was apparently Murray City and the surrounding Hocking County Ohio area. He contacted my auction agent and assured him that the view was not Murray City. Instead, he placed the scene at Buchtel Ohio. He said he could spot the Roman Catholic Church there, and some housing he called 'Hungarian Row'! He went further and said the digging activity was not actually mining but rather the creation of a "river"!
CHECKING IT OUT
I went to my favorite distance calculator on the Internet, to see how far Buchtel was from Murray City. [That useful site, by the way, is TravelMath.com. If you are not familiar with it, you should be. Go there soon.] That site quickly revealed the distance between is 4 miles or 7 kilometers--walking distance, in other words! [Remember the starting hypothesis?]
A quick visit to the Buchtel, Ohio Wikipedia article was then in order. They were in the same coal-mining area, for sure, partly in Hocking County, partly in Athens County. But no "river" was mentioned. Instead, their geography write-up specified that Buchtel is located on the Snow Fork tributary of Monday Creek. Not familiar with either that Fork or that Creek, I read (still in Wikipedia) that Monday Creek connected to the Hocking River.
Now only one question remained. What was the river digging all about? I put 1909 in my browser's Find command, but 1909 was not mentioned specifically in the Wikipedia article. Back to Google, I searched for "Buchtel, Ohio 1909". I read several articles and eventually learned that Buchtel began producing oil and gas in ... wait for it ... 1909! So this new oil and gas production might well have necessitated improvement of the local access to water transportation -- i.e., a wider or longer path.
Still trying to nail everything down, I Googled: "Hungarian Row" Buchtel. The picture I got at https://littlecitiesarchive.org/ showed the workers' housing and the Parish of St. Patrick now St. Mary of the Hills -- in other words, the Catholic Church mentioned by the local expert!
I was now convinced that the local expert was correct, so I completely rewrote the description of the real photo postcard as follows:
BUCHTEL (ATHENS COUNTY & HOCKING COUNTY). Uncaptioned sepia-tone real photo postcard showing a digging effort to improve access to the Hocking River (via the Snow Fork tributary of Monday Creek), including a few children watching. The buildings clearly visible are the Buchtel Catholic Church (once Saint Patrick, now Saint Mary of the Hills) & the nearby worker housing called 'Hungarian Row'. Mailed at nearby Murray City Ohio (about 4 miles away) in AUG 1909 (lightly inked COL. & ATHENS R.P.O. hand cancel) to Miss May Connor in Guernsey Ohio, lightly toned back, minor corner & edge wear. A possible reason for the digging activity was to improve water access due to the commencement of oil & gas production at Buchtel in 1909. Obviously one-of-a-kind: no caption, no attribution of the photography or the publisher.
Big difference! A saleable postcard had materialized.
Do not under estimate the power of criticism. People love to do it. To elicit knowledgeable criticism about a relatively mute real photo postcard: take the few available clues to make your starting hypothesis; then embellish them as best you can with plausible detail; then submit it quickly to as big a group as you can -- an auction site, a local club meeting, whatever. If you are wrong -- and you might well be, given that you started with very little -- don't take offense, just learn the valuable lessons of their research!
To get the most out of these columns you can and should give me feedback. Your comments and suggestions are welcome by e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you may write to: Bill Judnick, Judnick Postcards, PO Box 12248, Columbus OH 43212-0248.