Penny Postcards

Pre-Divided Era Postcard - only the address can be on the reverse side

The penny postcard was an effective, inexpensive way to let your friends and relatives know what was going on, even to let family know of the death of a loved one.

When was the last time you received a postcard which wasn’t an advertisement or political appeal?  When was the last time you sent one?  If at all, it was probably before the pandemic since today postcards are usually sent by travelers to crow over the wonderful sites they are seeing.  That wasn’t the case one hundred years ago or more. 

We have many interesting (yes, even some of the “French” postcard type) in our collection. Some commercially produced, but others were made from the person’s own photography.

The first postcards were introduced in the 1860s.  It was an easy, inexpensive way to send a message. They really took off in the 1890s when color printing became economical.  The cards were embraced as greeting cards, business advertisements and “Greetings from….” cards for travelers.

Businesses sometimes sent advertising cards such as the one in our collection for Roche Jewelry on Central Avenue.  Photos show the interior and exterior of the shop with Phil Roche center stage.  It also declares the business to be an agent for Columbia Graphaphones with a full line of records in stock.  Mr. Roche may have embraced postcards for another reason – he was the local postmaster and housed the post office.

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Advertising Postcard for Phil Roche Jewelry

Other businesses were more subtle.  Union Oil of California produced a line of scenic postcards in the 1930s that were given away when gasoline was purchased.  Fillmore’s counterpart was Cash Commercial Grocery.  They issued a series of postcards showing the scenery of the Santa Clara Valley and the Sespe.  It is not known for sure how these were distributed, but it was possibly a free card with the purchase of a specified number of groceries.  Locals sent them around the country with messages for friends and families.  (Hint for anyone wanting to collect local postcards, look for them elsewhere.  They were made to be sent away).

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Cash Commercial Postcard "Acros (sic) the Valley"

Even artists recognized the use of postcards to advance their careers and projects.  Lawrence Hinckley created many cards, especially for his lines of ceramic items.  The postcard advertising the ceramic buffalo featured a photograph by local dentist Jim Bliss, who was also a composer.

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Artists' Barn Advertising Postcard, photo taken by Dr. Jim Bliss, a local dentist

Local photographers would also issue series of postcards. Ray Ealy was a local photographer who also worked the Fillmore Police Department and was certified to take (and photograph) fingerprints. He had a good eye for landscapes and composition of his photographs.

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Tom's Canyon taken by local photographer Ray Ealy

It was not just professional photographers who turned their pictures into postcards.  Amateur photographers could have their pictures printed as postcards and would then use them to send to friends and families.  We have many examples of this, either mailed or not mailed in the collection.

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Mrs. R. G. Cruson, or Susan Crusan, was Kate Crusan Hinckley’s mother, grandmother to Lawrence Hinckley of the Artists’ Barn. Note the address was just, “Bardsdale, Ventura Co. Cal.”

Not all postcards were used for serious purposes.  “French” postcards were mention previously.  The “Doughboys” returning from World War I often brought back racy/semi-pornographic postcards of scantily clad mademoiselles. Hollywood tried but could not really compete.

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Beginning in 1915, Mack Sennett assembled a bevy of women known as the Sennett Bathing Beauties to appear in provocative bathing costumes in comedy short subjects, in promotional material, and in promotional events such as Venice Beach beauty contests. The Sennett Bathing Beauties continued to appear through 1928.

This leads to the next genre of cards – novelty cards.  They are similar to greeting cards we see today.  Often humorous, sometimes bordering on risqué, but designed to put a smile on one’s face.

A final area was the greeting card.  It was much cheaper, 1 or 2 cents, to send a card than something in an envelope, 3 or even 4 cents.  If you were a skilled artist, like Lawrence Hinckley, you could even create your own.

When you receive a postcard from a friend, doesn’t it make you smile just because it was unexpected?  Post cards are still available.  Rite-aid has a rack, and we have some at the Museum.  Maybe you can send one to a friend like Harriet “Petey” Weaver did to Lawrence and Mildred Hinckley in 1939.  Put a smile on someone’s face.

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Addendum

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