The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
New Year, New Postcard Exhibit
Happy 2014, everyone! New beginnings go hand-in-hand with a new year, and we are excited to announce that our Greetings from the Smithsonian postcard exhibit has received its own new beginning! The exhibit now has an updated look, and we added a lot of new content and over 100 new postcards to the postcard image galleries.
In preparing to revamp the exhibit, we first had to go through the Archives' collections and find all of the postcards from the old version, as well as locate new postcards to put in the exhibit. Luckily we found hundreds of postcards in our collections, and most of them were not on the old site. Consequently, some of our image galleries are brand-new, like the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Gallery and National Zoo Gallery. Some of my favorite postcards are in the National Zoo image gallery - many of them are richly colored linen postcards with amazingly detailed images of the animals at the zoo. These linen postcards can be found in several other image galleries as well, and each one is striking in its complexity and beauty.
After locating all of the postcards for the exhibit, I had to digitize and catalog most of them. This task was not particularly tricky, until it came to determining the date of our postcards, because many of them are unused. Some of you may remember my blog post from last summer about dating unused postcards - the new postcard exhibit has an even more thorough guide for dating postcards! The Dating Guide contains detailed information about postcard size and postage, as well as references to other resources, including our guide to Postcard History. The history guide in the new exhibit contains information about the styles and trends of the postcard industry. Particularly fascinating to me are the early stages of postcard development, and how different some of these postcards are from those that we use today. For example, during the Private Mailing Card and Post Card periods (collectively 1898-1907), most postcards did not have space for a message! One side of the card was designated as exclusively for the recipient's address, and the other side typically contained an image, leaving no room for a message from the sender. There were exceptions to this seemingly strange feature of postcards, but you will have to read the Postcard History to find out about them!
Now, you may be wondering, where does the Smithsonian fit into all of this, besides the fact that we have postcards? What makes our postcards so special from the millions of others in the world and throughout history? Well, just like how the postcard industry went through an evolution of style and design, the postcards from the Smithsonian underwent their own unique evolution. Our History of Postcards at the Smithsonian is a completely new feature and traces the evolution of the Smithsonian postcard.
We are excited to have the new version of the exhibit up, and we hope that you will enjoy the additions and improvements that we made - let us know what you think!
- Greetings from the Smithsonian: A Postcard History of the Smithsonian, online exhibition, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Mystery of the Undated Postcards, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives