Are you tired and angry with all these closures and lockdowns? Postcard shows are among (to my way of thinking) the most important casualties of all this. You’re probably tired of looking at the same old walls and the same old people. Feel free to rant.

Rant #1 – Some collectors have suggested (maybe with a smile on their face, but unless you’re on ZOOM you can’t see it!) that postcard shows should be deemed an ‘Essential Service.’ Cast your mind back to shows like Allentown, where the buzz begins as you wait in the (long) line (Figure 1) to enter the show. While you wait you chat with the people near you in the line to find out what they are looking for and hear their stories of past fabulous finds. Encouraging and exciting stuff!

And when you get inside there’s all those acres of lovely boxes of cards (Figure 2) and ephemera (also one of my passions) and you can’t tell me that surveying the rows of cards at one of your favorite dealers isn’t more therapeutic even than having a pet for your mental health! Hey, that’s right, this is all about your mental health! If you didn’t have your postcard collection for companionship, you might go crazy. Definitely essential.

Rant #2 – More to the point, when you go through your cards, what are your favorite views? Mine are interiors – not only in my area of Ocean Liners, but also any other cards of interiors, including hotels, restaurants, trains, and other comparable topics. My rant is that most of those cards are sterile views of architecture and design. There are no people shown as using the facility. Part of the appeal – and the value — of some Real Photo cards is that they show PEOPLE.

So, if you can see people in a General Store postcard, for example, they put the size of the floor area and the height of the counters into context. You can see why that ladder to the left of the photo would be needed to reach the upper shelves of the wall display because it’s sooo much higher than the clerk behind the counter.

But then photographers had a financial incentive to take pictures with people. They were all potential buyers of copies of the photograph. With no people in a General Store the only likely buyer was the store owner. Several customers in the picture adds several potential buyers. The same is true of a neat card that I bought from a dealer recently (Figure 3). He scans cards and sends the scans to his customer database. This one is great.

Those women are each potential buyers of one or more copies of this photo. There is no information about these people, but the chinaware looks like it has a CP (Canadian Pacific) logo. Their outfits tell me that this is more likely a crossing of the Atlantic than a Mediterranean or West Indies Cruise. But this displays one of the onboard delights – tea on deck served by a ‘properly dressed’ waiter. The big question – which one of them bought this card?

One of the puzzling questions in my mind is why many of the shipping lines’ own postcards showed empty public spaces when several of their brochures show the same spaces with people dressed for the specific occasion.

Here’s an example. One of the selling points to Americans to take a cruise during Prohibition was the ready availability of booze on board as soon as the ship got outside of American Territorial Waters. I can just picture the queue of thirsty passengers waiting for the bars to open after the ship had gotten underway.

A postcard of the charming Knickerbocker Bar (Figure 4) on board the stylish Empress of Britain, pride of the Canadian Pacific fleet, shows the bottles of liquor and the delightful art by Heath Robinson, but fails to have the impact of the illustration of the same bar in a 24-page Canadian Pacific brochure (Figure 5).

Every reader will be seduced by the image of the stylish woman and the fashionably dressed guy chatting in front of the bar. Is his line “Come here often?” and her reply “You probably say that to all the women on board”. We can only guess. And there are TWO bartenders (no waiting!) in the background and a prominent cocktail shaker on the bar which can mix martinis using booze whose authenticity is guaranteed by the shipping line. It’s not just gin made in someone’s bathtub down the street.

A final example to underscore my rant. Figure 6 is a Hoffman Real Photo card (1211) showing the First Class Lounge on the Empress of Australia. It’s a nice 1930s image, typically Hoffmann quality, and looks OK but not very relaxing. Not sure how you react, but I couldn’t see myself ‘lounging’ there.

From a comprehensive brochure of the same era is an image of the Library Lounge of the Empress of Canada (Figure 7). It looks wonderfully relaxing and a great place to read a copy of the day’s Ship’s Newspaper (the Canadian Pacific Gazette) or anything else that you might read to relax and put your cares at rest. To me, it’s a perfect example of how and where to ‘lounge’. Why couldn’t Canadian Pacific have done the same thing with the images on its postcards?

So that’s my ‘rants of the day’. And it’s about postcards, those little gems that help to keep us all sane and stable! Keep safe. Keep well. Those wonderful postcard shows will return.

Congratulations to author and postcard enthusiast John Sayers on his new book, Secrets of the Great Ocean Liners, published by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England and available from the publisher and other major retailers (Figure 8). John advises that many of the illustrations in the 256 pages draw on his world-class collection of Ocean Liner ephemera and postcards, just like so many of his articles for Barr’s.