The return of historic postcards.

Here we see a postcard depicting a Middletown, Ohio horsecar, circa 1914. Yes, 1914. As traction historian Harry Christiansen wrote of this remarkable little line: “Horse cars were unheard of, except as history, in World War I days, and travelers stood in amazement at Third and Main to watch the driver unhitch the mule from one end of the car, and then hook the animal up to the other end.” The line closed in 1918 and was, he noted, probably the only one “that went directly to buses without long intervening electric trolley operation.”

The golden age of the picture postcard coincided very neatly with the heyday of street railways during the early 2oth Century. Street scenes from communities large and small — and not just tourist attractions — were among the most common subjects. 

Not surprisingly, then, postcards prominently depicting trolleys in their natural environment are highly prized by enthusiasts and historians. Name a community that had a trolley line and chances are a postcard picture showing the cars still exists, somewhere. Sometimes the trams are little more than stylized blobs dotting the distance in heavily retouched landscapes that look like little more than cartoon charactures. The most desirable cards for those in the railfan fraternity are those on which the cars figure prominently and clearly. The very best of all, some of us say, are therefore those in which the trams themselves are the subject (and those are certainly among the most expensive).

Last year, I presented essays on 12 postcards from my own collection as part of what I called my Wednesday Postcards series. While the series lapsed after only three months, I have repackaged that collection of vintage images and historical commentary on a new Historic Postcards page which can be accessed here, or via the tab above. 

While I don’t expect to revive the weekly feature, my hope is to add new essays on an occasional basis. Heaven knows I have enough postcards to keep me writing for a few years.

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