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A - Topicals
Acrobats - The use of acrobatic performances for entertainment is as old as civilization itself. By the time postcards began to be made this activity was largely institutionalized in the West and confined to fairs and the circus. Though acrobatic traditions existed in the rest of the world its practitioners were often assembled into small troupes for the entertainment of colonists and later tourists. Acrobats could often provide the subject for exotic postcards even when this activity was common to both cultures for performers are generally not considered part of mainstream society.
Advertising - Advertising was the first form of imagery to appear on postcards and it dominated American made cards of the 19th century. Often issued as novelties they come in may shapes and forms. Older ad cards were often printed in chromolithography and are collected for the beauty of their graphics as well as the obscurity of the products they once offered. Postcards continue to be used for ads but their general appeal increases with age. They are often categorized as to product.
Aircraft - Postcards of all types of aircraft from all ages have been manufactured, but the cards depicting the early days of flight are the most coveted. These early flying craft were first treated as curiosities but they became more widely depicted as their numbers grew during the First World War. Depictions of military aircraft have since dominated postcards though there is also high interest in commercial planes.
Airports - While many cards exist of planes far fewer exist of the airports that served them. Many started off as little more than grassy fields so there was little of visual interest to depict. But after regularly scheduled commercial flights began, airports grew larger and more sophisticated. By the 1940’s many more cards were being produced of airports to be sold to the masses passing through them. Since that time many airports have enlarged beyond recognition while others that were unable to expand have disappeared.
Air Ships - The first dirigible, a non-rigid motor propelled airship, was introduced at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. With no internal structure they were designated Type B limp, which turned into the more common name of blimp. Goodyear began their manufacture in Akron, OH in 1911 and they became popular subject matter for postcards. As they were adopted for military use their numbers grew and many more cards were created of them and their huge hangers.
Alligator Border - Alligators were a popular subject to use as borders on postcards. While most commonly found in conjunction with Greetings From cards and those depicting Blacks, they were used with a variety of subjects. Usually well printed these cards are popular among collectors.
Alphabet - Individual letters of the alphabet accompanied by illustration were produced for a number of different languages. These cards were sometimes produced individually but are usually found in sets. A common form of this card issued by a number of different publishers showed portaits of actresess whose last name began with the featured letter. Letters have a long history of being portrayed individually in illustration. Apart from being used in instructional alphabet books letters have long had magical associations attached to them. A variation of alphabet cards are those that spells out entire names.
Alpine Huts - As the Romantic movement grew in the 19th century, the act of walking turned from a practical utility to a pastime activity. Hikers who sought out wilder parcels of landscape to commune with nature became drawn to the mountains. In Europe the Alps became a popular destination and Alpine clubs formed not only to establish trails but to provide safe places for overnight stay in non-populated areas. Some of these Alpine huts were maintained by clubs that gave food and lodging to their members while other huts just provided basic emergency shelter for mountaineers. This tradition spread to other countries where hiking became popular. While there are some postcards depicting these type of huts in American National Parks, many more of these cards were produced in Europe.
Amish - The beliefs and practices of the Amish peoples have made them stand out from those now leading a more typical modern American lifestle. This in turn has caused them to become curiosities in the eyes of many including postcard publishers. Though shown in ways that emphasize cultural differences they are not usually depicted that often and seldom in outwardly degrading ways. Images of this community are more common on modern photochromes than on older cards. The Amish are typically found on view-cards from Pennsylvania though some may be spotted on cards of neighboring States as well.
Amusement Parks - Though much smaller than today’s parks, numerous small amusement parks were scattered across the country throughout the years of postcard production. Most of these parks have since disappeared, many within living memory adding to their appeal. A large number of cards were printed of them because they attracted large crowds, but as this subject has remained a popular collectable some images have become quite rare. Those depicting Ferris wheels, roller costers, or well defined signs tend to be the most popular.
Anaglyphs - Anaglyphic photographs, an early attempt to create three dimensional images, were patented in France by Ducos du Hauron in 1891. Since they need to be presented in color they were first printed rather than shown in photographic form. This made for a natural conversion to the postcard format. A special pair of glasses fitted with red and blue colored filters are needed to realize the 3D effect. Because of this inconvenience older anaglyphic cards were never very popular and are found in only small numbers today. Anaflphic postcards however continue to be manugactured.
Angels - These creatures of heaven have continually appeared in religious imagery over the centuries and their absence from postcards would be considered strange. Despite their long history within Western art they do not appear on postcards very often outside of art reproductions or holiday cards. An occasional artist signed card does make good use of them.
Animals - Nearly every animal imaginable has been depicted on cards. While many cards show animals in their natural habitat or in zoos, most images were drawn by illustrators presented them in unnatural fanciful ways. Cats and dogs were the most popular, but bears, pigs, rabbits, and baby chicks followed close behind.
Animal Acts - Starting in the 1820’s trained animals began to appear in the circus as performers. But by the turn of the 20th century their alleged abuse caused many to question the use of animals for entertainment. While this ate away at the audience for these shows they remained popular spreading into amusement parks until the Second World War. Animal welfare laws put an end to the cruelest of these shows but did not eliminate animal acts altogether. Postcards illustrate a number of these animal performers but they are not common.
Animal Rides - Children’s love affair with animals has encouraged their use for entertainment throughout the ages. With the growth of public parks by the mid-19th century domesticated animals began being used to pull small carts for a fee. By the turn of the century when various amusement parks began to become popular more exotic animals were drawn into the mix to compete for visitors. These types of rides became very popular subject mater for postcards. Over the years many such rides have closed do to claims of danger or cruelty but postcards depicting the interaction of animals and humans for entertainment remain popular.
Aqueducts - The act of transporting large amounts of water from one place to another has often been essential to the growth of population centers. This dependence on water for drinking and crop irrigation has lead to many solutions but few as lasting as the stone aqueducts built by the ancient Romans. Even when they no longer continue to operate these massive structures still inspire awe. Long looked upon as tourist attractions, this unique form of architecture has always been a popular subject for postcards.
Arcade Cards - These machine dispensed cards were largely designed for collecting but many were often used as postcards because of their similar size. They are thicker than postcards and most have blank backs. Movie stars, sports heroes, pinups, and risqué cartoons were the most common subjects they held. Generally they were poorly printed, often in bright monochromes.
Architectural Detail - Decorative or symbolic elements that have been added above the functionality of architecture can be found in nearly every culture. Sometimes this decorative work is applied to the essential components that make up a structure or to parts added on without obvious function. Most architectural detail is symbolic though its original meanings may have been lost over the ages along with its magical intent. Postcards have captured much of this detail but they are more common on cards from Europe where the architecture was less austere than in America.
Arctic (Polar) - When America’s Admiral Robert Peary reached the North Pole in 1909 it brought much public attention to Arctic exploration and a number of topical postcards followed. But the inaccessibility of the region precluded it from too many depictions. Today questions still remain in regard to the opposing claims of these early explorers, and cards exist honoring events that may have never took place.
Art Deco - While Art Deco was a popular stylistic movement it had minimal influence on the graphic design of postcards. This is partially due to its rise in the 1920’s when the postcard market was having many difficulties. The objects depicted on cards such as buildings are more likely to display this style than the style of the postcards themselves. The term Art Deco is greatly over applied to postcards with flat or geometric elements on them.
Arthurian - A large body of literary work exists from many parts of Europe concerning the legends of King Arthur. When postcards began to be published many of these stories were considered classics and well known to the public at large. Paintings and illustrations were already incorporating these themes and publishers from a number of countries produced art reproductions of this work and original artist signed cards.
Art Nouveau - Any card that utilizes Art Nouveau style graphics can be considered an Art Nouveau card. It was an international movement of style rather than ideals that dominated early postcard design, especially in Europe. Its precise look can vary greatly, especially from one country to the next as regional traditions took effect. Too often other art styles are confused with this one because of overlapping influences. More often the term Art Nouveau is mis-applied to cards just because of their flowing forms.
Art Reproductions - Numerous cards were printed that reproduced many great works of art. Many well known publishers produced large sets of such cards and both Sborgi and Stengel were noted for their high quality chromolithographs on this subject. Art cards once cost more than ordinary postcards and were usually purchased for collecting rather than mailing. Even though they are some of the best examples of quality printing on cards they are not highly popular among contemporary collectors.
Artists - Postcards usually depict artists in one of two ways. In places known to tourists for the arts they will be set up with their easel in a picturesque setting. In these cases the artist provides little more than local color to an otherwise ordinary view-card. Artists are also shown in their studios with models but these cards are often little more than stereotypes used as an excuse to depict scenes of a sexually charged nature. They may illustrate the perils that good women face by getting too involved in the Bohemian life or they depict the lustful relationship between an artist and his nude model. Few postcards actually depict artist and model in a true working relationship unless a real named artist is being honored with a card.
Artist Signed - Artist signed postcards were not generally considered a genre at the time they were made. But the signature of the illustrator printed directly onto these cards gives today’s collector a tool to find cards of specific artists of interest. Many early cards were illustrated by well known artists of their day and are now highly prized. The signature is printed directly onto the card, they are not actually signed.
Artists at Work - Within certain view-cards one may spot a painter rendering the same landscape as seen by the viewer of the card. This compositional convention has been used for a very long time but is subject to opportunity if the image is photo based. Another variation is to depict a whole flock of artists out working in the landscape. These types of images are only found from those communities who house large artist colonies. Both types of these postcards are primarily found among view-cards of New England.
Arts & Crafts - The Arts & Craft movement spanned both sides of the Atlantic and its influence cam be found in the postcards of the United States and Great Britain. Because it was a social movement as well as an aesthetic one it is not always easy to pin down its visual characteristics. It borrowed heavily from pre-industrialized times, especially from Medieval, Islamic, and Japanese design. Botanical subjects were the most popular motif often yielding designs that were multifaceted yet incorporated a simple elegance. The Arts & Craft movement also had great influence on architecture which can primarily be seen in the postcards of bungalow and shingle style homes that sprang up in American summer communities.
Astronomy - The science of the heavens is ages older than any form of postcard, yet it is a theme lightly covered by cards. Early cards are almost exclusively devoted to observatories. Because our towns and cities at the turn of the 20th century were not yet brightly lit, telescopes were able to function in them and cards of occasional small observatories can be found. As technology increased so did the number of postcards depicting telescopes and eventually the planets they saw.
Atomic - Despite its proven destructiveness in World War Two a romance developed between the public and the atomic bomb in its early years. Atomic energy as a whole was promoted as a way to create a cleaner safer America with a good life for all. Atomic bomb testing in the Nevada dessert was seen as a tourist attraction and placed on postcards. New atomic energy plants were shown on postcards as prideful additions to communities. But as the public began to see past the spin in the face of a possible hot war with the Soviet Union, radiation leakage, and waste disposal problems, the romance began to wane and with it its popularity as a subject for postcards.
Automobiles - When the first cars began to be massed produced in 1900, steam and electric were viable contenders to the gasoline engine. While their appearance in modern cards can be said to ruin a view, the novelty of early cars made them desirable additions to a scene. Changing car designs have become an aid in dating postcards. The number of cards depicting cars do not match America’s obsession with them. Those where the make of the automobile can be determined, as well as those on advertising cards are the most popular.