roseopt.gif (8507 bytes) Special Collections Division
the University of Texas
at Arlington Libraries

Vol. XIII * No. 1 * Spring '99

Wish I Were There
The Jenkins Garrett Postcard Collection, 1903-1996

Interurban carTen years ago Jenkins Garrett visited an antique show at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife, Virginia. Little did he know that this shopping trip would eventually lead to a collection of 13,438 Texas postcards whose subjects span the twentieth century. That day he acquired four postcards from an antique book dealer that pictured early views of the Tarrant County Courthouse and Fort Worth buildings, such as the old post office, that no longer exist. That dealer informed him that there were "millions" more similar postcards on the market. Garrett always knew that graphics were historically important, and he decided that postcards would be valuable support for the printed materials in his vast Texana collection, which he had donated to Special Collections. So the hunt began.

Garrett purchased postcards primarily at postcard collectors shows and from antique dealers everywhere. However, James R. McMillin, a local postcard dealer whom he met at that first antique show, was particularly instrumental in helping him locate cards and develop his collection. He is most appreciative of McMillin’s keen memory and knack for discovering postcards that he did not already have--especially the classic antique cards produced before World War I. Garrett particularly likes view cards because they record both time and place. These cards show views of realistic images--buildings, events, main streets, people, places, and landmarks. Starting with Fort Worth cards, he went on to acquire cards of other Texas towns. Although the collection does not contain a postcard of every Texas town, approximately 320 cities and towns are represented.

Light HouseAmong the thousands of images it is difficult for him to choose a favorite, but street scenes prior to 1915 give Garrett the most pleasure. These are the views that illustrate the rapid development that Fort Worth and Texas have made in Garrett’s lifetime. They transport him to the past. The most unusual card in his collection depicts a lynching in Dallas in 1910. Among the cards showing various events, people, and views are prized cards by British publisher, Raphael Tuck and Sons. The firm was the world’s largest postcard publisher in the early 1900s. Continental or modern cards that measure 4" x 6", and odd size cards produced after 1980 represent perhaps only ten percent of the collection. Bright colored cards of Texas country scenery; advertising, topical cards, Texas-Mexico border scenes; and map postcards of other states are included in these more contemporary cards. The bulk of the city and town view cards date from circa 1903 and continue through the 1950s. Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio are well represented with more than 900 postcards each. Larger cities, the state capitol, and tourist destinations, such as Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Galveston, Houston, and Waco, are also well represented with an average of 300 cards each. Small towns, however, such as DeLeon, Farwell, Gail, Hico, Ozona, Post, Sour Lake, Tulia, West, and Ysleta are also included, even if only with one card. Actually views of the smaller towns in the early 1900s, while less common than the larger tourist attractions, have a higher value.

The first postcards, issued in 1869 by the Austrian government, served as an economical way to send a brief open communication. This postal format was an instant hit and rapidly spread throughout Europe, reaching the United States in 1873. Souvenir cards for the Columbian Exposition of 1893 were the first widely distributed privately printed picture postcards in the United States. These cards required the higher postage of letter mail and are known as "Pioneer Era" cards. "Souvenir Card" was printed on the majority of these cards and that may have saved many from the trashcan. In 1898, the passage of the Private Mailing Card Act eliminated the distinction between privately printed cards and government postal cards. This act allowed privately printed cards to be mailed at the same low rate as the government postcard. Private printers then increased their offerings to include view cards, holiday greetings, topical, and artist-signed picture postcards in color and black and white. Millions of cards were issued after 1901, when the U.S. first allowed the use of the word "Post Card" on privately printed cards. These cards had undivided backs that permitted space for the name and address only. The craze for mailing and collecting picture postcards caught on during the years 1901 to 1907. By 1907, Europe (primarily Germany) supplied the United States with nearly 80% of its postcards. Printing a divided back was permitted in 1907. This allowed space for a message on the backside with the name and address. Thus the card’s face remained clean and free of writing, which collectors appreciated. U.S. Post Office statistics for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1908, cite 677,777,798 postcards mailed in this country at a time when the population was approximately 88,700,000. This figure does not include the vast number of cards collected but not mailed!

The postcard hysteria faded by the time World War I began. Most cards between 1915 and 1930 were printed in the United States. Because of their crude early lithography these U.S. cards are considered of poor quality. Many were reprints of earlier divided back postcards and are distinguished by their white border. High tariffs on European imports, poor quality U.S. cards, and the advent of folded greeting cards sold with envelopes resulted in fewer postcards being produced from the 1920s to the 1960s. Thus these later cards are sometimes more valuable than many of the antique postcards. Improved printing technology, larger size cards, and creative contemporary designs brought a resurgence in the popularity of the postcard in the 1970s and 1980s, especially for a visually literate public raised on television and an array of electronic products. "Modern chromes" or "photochromes" were introduced in 1939 and are still made. These cards are produced in beautiful chrome colors and appeal to collectors.

View of Paris, TxThe most popular postcards of all and usually the most valuable are the real photo cards produced as early as 1900. This type is made directly on photographic paper with a postcard backing. These images were taken by professional photographers and just as often by amateur photographers who happened upon an event, such as an accident or disaster, but they also depict people in everyday situations. Unless these cards were used and stamped they are difficult to date. An increasingly fast-paced society now finds the postcard a convenient communication format. In the coming century, however, with the advent of digital cameras, computer scanning and digitizing images, and computer e-mail greeting cards, postcards may again decline as a communication device.

Jenkins Garrett’s postcard collecting centered on historical images of Texas towns and cities to support his book and manuscript collection. Approximately fifty percent of his cards are postmarked or stamped and have a message. Early postcard views coincided with a period of growth and boosterism. Many towns produced postcards locally. Views, such as the new high school, a bank, or hotel, though not remarkable, showed off what the town considered its best structures and landmarks. Many of the buildings shown in these early views have disappeared. Historians studying tourism, geography, Main Street U.S.A., and boosterism find them a valuable graphic source. Genealogists can discover homes, landmarks, or events connected with their ancestors. News media and museums commonly use postcards for exhibitions, historical displays, and special centennial or anniversary events.

Postcard collecting is still very much part of our popular culture. There are local, national, and international postcard collecting organizations that sponsor annual shows for buying, selling, and showing every imaginable type of postcard. Postcards are colorful, inexpensive, easy to find and store, and often have interesting stamps and postmarks. Their messages can transport one instantly into the past. Contemporary postcards still provide tourists with wonderful images that amateur photographers would be unable to capture. The postcard allows the traveler to quickly share an image with family and friends, relate the enjoyment and the scenery, and wish them the same travel experience. No wonder "Wish you were here" is the most universal postcard greeting. Postcards preserve memories of travels, but interests vary. People tend to specialize in collecting a type of postcard or a particular subject. For whatever reason, it becomes a passion.

If you would like to experience time travel through postcards, come to Special Collections, stay awhile, and immerse yourself in Texas’ past. The Jenkins Garrett Texas Postcard Collection is housed in twenty-four acid-free, custom-made postcard boxes. The cards are in alphabetical order by city and easy to find. Relax, enjoy yourself, and then send a thank you postcard to Jenkins Garrett for the wonderful gift he gave to UTA’s Special Collections this past year. We are very excited to have this fine collection. Be aware, however, that you might become a postcard collector!

Sources: Diane Allman. The Official Identification and Price Guide to Postcards. New York: House of Collectibles, 1990; and H. Martin Seward. "A Short History of the Picture Postcard." A paper presented at the Texas State Historical Association meeting, March 2, 1996.

gemblue.gif (110 bytes) Top Of Page gemblue.gif (110 bytes) Next Article gemblue.gif (110 bytes) Table of Contents

Special Collections
The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries
Phone: (817) 272-3393 * Fax: (817) 272-3360 * E-mail: Reference Desk

This page last update on Wednesday, June 25, 2003