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Guide to the New-York Historical Society Postcard Collection [graphic]
circa 1898-1965 (bulk, 1900-1950)
 PR 54

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jennifer Lewis (2002) and Joseph Ditta (2018-2021).

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on June 16, 2021 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Scope and Contents

The New-York Historical Society Postcard Collection is an artificial collection, built up over time. It contains approximately 62,000 postcards which depict geographic views, buildings, historical scenes, modes of transportation, holiday greetings, and other subjects from about 1898 through roughly 1965. A variety of printing processes and postcard types are represented in the collection, including photographic, lithographic, photomechanically printed, and novelty cards, included scattered examples of hold-to-light cards, which typically depict buildings with windows that shine when the card is held to a light source.

The majority of the postcards are in excellent condition; approximately half were never mailed. Those that were mailed usually communicate simple messages that share experiences and connect the senders to family and friends.

About 10,000 cards come from the stock file of the Brooklyn-based Albertype Company. Other major publishers represented in the collection include the American Souvenir Card Company, the Illustrated Postal Card Company, and the Detroit Publishing Company.

Arrangement

The New-York Historical Society Postcard Collection is divided into four series:

Series I. Geographic Locations | United States (except New York), dates from ca. 1898 to about 1965 and contains about 22,000 cards that generally depict popular tourist destinations, vacation resorts by the sea and in the mountains, prominent buildings, businesses, civic institutions, modes of transportation, and street scenes. Well-represented tourist attractions include the Grand Canyon, and the mountains of New Hampshire. Typical city souvenir cards show attractive urban life in views of public courthouses, libraries, spacious parks, expositions, and architecturally impressive office buildings and bridges. Prominent residences, historical sites, and scenes of nature are also abundant. General sections can be found at the end of most states, larger cities, and some other subsections. These include cards that show unidentified or only generally identified views.

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Series II. Geographic Locations | New York, is divided into two subseries:

Subseries II.A. New York State includes cards from popular tourist attractions like Niagara Falls. A General section at the end of New York State includes views along highways, rivers, and train lines that are not geographically specified. The collection documents the changing landscape and architectural history for the areas represented. It may also be valuable source for social historians interested in researching the history of tourism, transportation and cultural identity. Some of the postcards were included as a result of the New-York Historical Society's effort to collect cards with representations of less common views of New York State, such as real photo postcards that document towns or events too small to appear in formal publications. Postcards commissioned by restaurants, hotels and other businesses also provide valuable visual documentation of sites not otherwise represented in the collection.

Subseries II.B. New York City, fills boxes 40 through 60. Cards pertaining to the city as a whole come first: general "Greetings from" cards, Bridges, Celebrations (includes the 1939 and 1964-65 World's Fairs), Future, History, Humor, Islands, and a sizable number of souvenir foldout mailers. Cards pertaining to the five boroughs come next, with the lion's share belonging to Manhattan (boxes 42-56), followed by Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. See the container list for detailed subjects included, which are typically arranged in alphabetical order. Generally, the cards depict churches, prominent named buildings, monuments, parks, squares, and circles, banks, department stores, hotels, museums, restaurants, schools and colleges.

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Series III. Geographic Locations | International, contains approximately 2,000 cards relating to Europe, the Caribbean, Canada, and other North, Central, and South American countries. Cards are arranged alphabetically by region, country, and thereunder by city, town or geographical feature. The cards focus primarily on tourist destinations such as historical sites, beaches, lakes and parks.

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Series IV. Subjects, contains cards dating from ca. 1898 to 1965 which are arranged alphabetically by topic: Activities & Occupations, Advertising, American Art, American History (events, sites and memorials of historical significance in the United States), Comic, Holidays, Portraits (includes African Americans, Native Americans, and Human Curiosities), Sentimental, Transportation (largely ships and trains), and Unusual Postcards (includes cards on leather, cards on birch bark, a card on a cross section of a tree, embroidered cards and cards on fabric, cat cards, cards with feathers, cards that are drink coasters, embossed cards of New York City and State scenes, accordion-folder cards that pull open, and a lenticular print card, which, when tilted, displays alternate images of Theodore Roosevelt and the White House).