Historic Postcards

The golden age of the picture postcard coincided very neatly with the heyday of street railways in the English-speaking world during the early 2oth Century. Street scenes from communities large and small — and not just tourist attractions — were among the most common subjects. Because they were so popular as a means of interpersonal communication, postcards could be useful marketing tools for showing off a community’s civic achievements: Have a look at our bustling downtown, our tidy parks, our modern hospital. 

So valuable have such cards become to local historians that a librarian in Niagara Falls, N.Y., once lamented to me: “In every other city in America they mailed home pictures of Main Street. Not here.” 

Rochester, N.Y., circa 1907. Click to read more in August 2010 postcards.

Not surprisingly, then, postcards prominently depicting trolleys in their natural environment are highly prized by enthusiasts and historians. It was in that spirit that last year I launched what I hoped would be a regular weekly feature on this blog, my Wednesday Postcards series. The posts which resulted were more than mere captions, but short essays which intertwined the relevant system or vehicle history with notes on the larger cultural and historic aspects of communities depicted on the cards. It was some of the most rewarding writing I have done in connection with this blog, allowing me to quarry my own vast library of postcards and tramway literature while doing secondary research into the communities depicted, touching on everything from architecture and local businesses to place names and population trends. Alas, this also was some of the most labor-intensive work I have done on the blog. Sadly, producing a weekly installment proved a bit too ambitious given other commitments in my life at the time and the feature lapsed after October.

Derby, England, circa 1904-1910. Click to read more in October 2010 postcards.

Derby, England, circa 1904-1910. Click to read more in October 2010 postcards.

I must give due credit to the inspiring work of two other bloggers who have long maintained regular features highlighting trams on postcards. Christine Heycke’s The Daily Postcard blog is a great place to find trolleys on vintage cards, including her popular “Streetcar Sunday” features. (Christine also was a frequent and encouraging commenter on my blog, which I greatly appreciate.) Then there is John Prentice’s Tramway Information site, which includes resources on the history of British, French and international tramways, an impressive collection of scale modelling information and a longstanding Postcard of the Month page.

Links to my own original Wednesday Postcard essays can be found below (with one page for each month). While I don’t expect to revive the feature on a weekly basis, I do hope to add new essays on an occasional basis as time permits. In the meanwhile, I am pleased to reintroduce the following 12 essays. Any feedback — corrections, clarifications, additional information — would be most warmly welcome.


August 2010

  • Aug. 4:
    Toronto — King Street looking east from Yonge Street, circa 1916.
  • Aug. 11:
    St. Marys, Ohio — East Spring Street, circa 1902-1911.
  • Aug. 18:
    Rochester, N.Y. — Unspecified downtown location, circa 1907.
  • Aug. 25:
    Melbourne — Town Hall and Swanston Street, circa 1890-1910.

September 2010

  • Sept. 1:
    Philadelphia — Eighth and Market, circa 192os.
  • Sept. 8:
    Elmira, N.Y. — Lake and Water Streets, circa 1900-1910.
  • Sept. 15:
    Buffalo, N.Y. — Main Street downtown, circa 1902-1910.
  • Sept. 22:
    Adelaide, South Australia — King William Street, circa 1909-1910.

October 2010

  • Oct. 6:
    Philadelphia — Market west from Tenth, circa 1900s.
  • Oct. 13:
    Sheffield, England — Angel and High streets, circa 1930s.
  • Oct. 20:
    Middletown, Ohio — “Rapid transit,” circa 1914.
  • Oct. 27:
    Derby, England — Victoria Street, circa 1904-1910.

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