Postcards From the Edge...
of the Canyon
July 02, 2012
Yellowstone Park Foundation
|Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking down onto San Francisco’s Lombard Street, surveying New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, touring a great American chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania, observing crocodiles and alligators coexisting at Flamingo in Everglades National Park, in the middle of a history lesson on torture in the Tower of London, on the beach in the Abaco’s while listening to Jimmy Buffett’s quintessential postcard song, “The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful,” you suddenly think, “oh dear, Grandma.”
With that thought you rush to the nearest gift shop or bookstore and buy three postcards for a dollar—one to send to Grandma and Grandpa, one to send to your best friend and one to send to your neighbor who makes you cookies. From that moment, a tradition is born. With the United States Postal Service seemingly on life support, we need to remember to write more and show some respect for the postcard.
In the fast-paced world of communication today we expect an almost immediate response to every message. With our smart phone in hand, we rely heavily on communication mediums such as email and text messaging, and have little (if any) patience for a delayed response. With these modern conveniences, it’s nice to occasionally slow down and remember the handwritten note. A handwritten note means the sender took the time to sit down, compose thoughts and write something. They did not just whip out the iPhone and fire off a quick, grammatically incorrect, abbreviated message while sitting at lunch with friends. Postcards are an excellent way to keep the tradition of the handwritten note alive.
The standard three and one-half inch by five inch postcard has quite a celebrated past. Developed as an easier way to send correspondence, the first postcards were created in the United States in 1873. Original postcards were very plain, addressed on one side and the message written on the reverse, but by 1907 this changed. These cards were divided into two panes on the back, one pane for address and the other for the actual message, with a hand drawn illustration on the front. It was not until the late 1930s that color photographs began showing up on the front side of the card, which is what we envision as a typical postcard today. Throughout the history of the postcard, one thing remains constant; the stamp charge to send a postcard is less than the stamp charge to send a letter.
Collecting postcards, or deltiology, is believed to be the third largest hobby around the world. There are several types of postcards to collect, however the most popular type depicts “town views.” These postcards are most often collected from one particular town or region of the country throughout time. Many collectors looking for a wide variety of postcards look to Postcrossing, the postcard crossing project. The idea behind Postcrossing is it allows a collector to receive postcards from all over the globe for free. The collector joins postcrossing.com and then sends a card to someone around the world with the premise that they will send one back. Since its inception in 2005, more than ten million postcards have been sent by their members.
There is far more to postcards than history and collecting. They are a great way to introduce children to the art of note writing; a necessary skill to teach and instill in your children, as they will find it useful throughout their lives. Many parents begin by presenting note writing as a fun exercise. As children, it was tradition to always send a postcard to Grandma and Grandpa while on vacation, telling them where we were and how much fun we were having. My Grandma kept all our cards, and it is a real treat to go back through them and read the notes from all of our childhood vacation adventures.
From postcards sent chronicling vacations to letters home from sleep-away camp asking for a care package of candy, thank you notes for dinner parties to celebratory notes to a dear friend who just announced her engagement, note writing is a skill that is perfected over time and with practice. Unlike email, postcards and personal notes are essentially unforwardable intended for only one recipient. Today that’s special unto itself.
History, mysteries, relationships have been defined and details understood by parceling together postcard trails. It’s an art, a hobby among many to document and track ancestors, friends, persons of interest, activities, travel and thoughts by sequentially tracking and chronicling postcards.
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