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B - Topicals
Balloons - These non-motorized craft predate more modern airships and zeppelins. As the public’s attention focused on newer innovations, postcards depicting balloons became more scarce and are now difficult to find. While balloons served some military use they are most often shown on cards as curiosities at fairs.
Ballrooms - Over the centuries formal social dancing evolved out of the more traditional folk dances of Europe as a way to reenforce class distinctions. They were eventually brought indoors into the large halls of mansions and palaces. As fforts were made to enhance class differences at the turn of the 20th century this form of dancing became evermore popular and large ballrooms were built to accommodate the crowds. Between the two World Wars ballrooms became more popular in the United States but here it lost much of its exclusivity. Despite their great popularity there are surprisingly few postcards depicting ballrooms.
Bandstand - Most bandstands date back to the Victorian era of the 19th century as the tradition of forming community bands arose. They were built in parks, common greens, and along waterfronts at resort towns. Those most commonly found on postcards are from places that catered to tourists. It was usually in the evening after a day’s worth of activity that a band would arrive to play. Although bandstands appear on many cards, few show any concerts in progress.
Banks - Images of banks were often published as either an example of important commercial enterprises within a town or for publicity for the bank itself. While most postcards depict banks in the same manner as they do other businesses there are more rare postcards that display interior views and sometimes even the vault.
Baseball - Though usually filled under the general category of sports, many cards were printed revolving around this one activity. While cards exist of individual players, team portraits, and stadiums, many cards depict the game itself. Cards can sometimes be found of small town ball fields that have long disappeared.
Bath Houses - As there are many different types of bathhouses this becomes a tricky category. The most common were the structures by the beach that provided changing rooms and lockers, and possibly swimsuit rentals. Those changing on the beach itself in order to avoid fees could face arrest. A variation is the Oriental Bath that often extended out over the waterline. Here one would sit in rooms of very hot dry air then take a plunge into cooling water. Private bathhouse owners usually controlled access to the beach they sat on but they began to disappear as beaches became more public.
Bathing Machines - These windowless wagons on high wheels were used for changing into bathing suits at beaches. After climbing in fully dressed on one side, the wagon would be lowered into the water and the bather would exit the other end. Their first known use was displayed on an early English engraving dating from 1736. Bathing was sexually segregated by law in England until 1901. These wagons not only provided a place to change but just as importantly hid the bather from potential viewers on shore. Over time different sexes were allowed to mingle on beaches the use of bathing machines declined and then disappeared around 1920. Bathing in the United States was also a segregated activity but much fewer bathing machines were used here; they are mostly depicted on postcards from Europe.
Beaches - Here it is those view-cards of named places we refer to, but where any recognizable features to tie the imagery to a specific location are absent. While these cards could conceivably be generic the general assumption is they are not. They simply capture the crowds at a beach with little individual focus. Many such cards were produced and despite their generality many can be quite beautiful.
Beer Halls - This German variation of the Pub in which only beer is served became popular in the 19th century. Nearly every brewery ran its own hall. Since German beer was required to be served cold by royal decree it was often stored in cellars under shade trees. These storage areas evolved into beer gardens attached to the halls. By tradition patrons could bring in their own food helping them grow into large popular gathering places for the working class. Many went beyond serving beer and became involved in providing social services such as kindergartens. While the tradition of the English pub was firmly set in the United States, beer halls began springing up in multitude as German immigrants poured in. A number of postcards were created depicting both the halls and the gardens.
Bicycles - While the first such apparatus was made in 1817, they were not called bicycles until the high wheel model was introduced in 1970. By the 1880’s they had become a fad. Many postcards were made showing bikes but because of their growing familiarity most faded into the background of all but the earliest depictions when they were still considered a novelty.
Big Trees - Most postcards depicting big trees are of California redwoods though a number of other trees species can be included here as well. Forests of ancient trees that grew to tremendous size had long disappeared from Europe and had greatly impressed the first colonists to arrive in America. Seen largely for their commercial value these eastern forests were soon cut down and most of the remaining large trees are to be found in the Pacific Northwest. The size of these trees still inspired enough awe when postcards came into fashion for images of them to be placed on many postcards. Big trees can fall under the genres of lumbering, natural freaks, and sometimes just trees.
Billiards - Originally played with sticks and balls outdoors, billiards had moved indoors by the 15th century and onto a table top. By the end of the 19th century billiards had grown very popular and games played upon a pool table often appear on postcards. While this game was headed toward becoming a serious sport it is most often portrayed on postcards in a comic manner.
Birch Bark - It is in the nature of some trees to shed their old bark as they grow. The bark of certain types of birch trees tend to peel off in thin sheets, many large enough to cut postcards from. Due to their fragility and the scarcity of material these cards were always handmade. They were usually exchanged by hand, and if they entered the mail they would have done so within covers. Writing on birch bark is a tradition much older than postcards.
Birch Border - Cards were sometimes published with large borders printed to look like another material. One variation of this type was that of birch bark usually with a section made to look as if it were peeling off to reveal an image. They are usually found on cards from New England and other northern States.
Bismarck Towers - Between 1869 and 1934 about 250 monuments were built honoring Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of the Second German Empire. These towers were built not only in Germany but around the world where large German population centers existed. While each of these towers consist of a unique design they all make up a distinct monument genre. Many postcards were published depicting these towers.
Blacks - As most postcards were oriented towards a White audience, Blacks were often portrayed as objects of interest. Today most of these cards may be seen as racist though they were not always perceived that way when they were manufactured. Often it is the title attached to these images that gives an otherwise benign portrayal its racist overtones. In the years following the First World War Blacks were portayed in a increasingly derogatory comic manner. But there were also cards produced by Black publishers and photographers that portrayed their community more honestly. These cards provide a valuable reference to changing public attitudes toward Blacks over many decades.
Blacksmith - A smith was a transitional career at the turn of the 20th century when postcards became popular. Horses were still in great use at this time and the skills of blacksmiths were unquestionably needed. The rise of the automobile did not immediately harken their demise for while this profession is most often associated with shoeing horses, the blacksmith also forged numerous items for industry and made auto repairs. Blacksmiths began to disappear as it became easier to access standardized parts from an industry growing more specialized and where mass production was the rule. Even though every town once had a smith it is rare to find their shops on postcards unless singled out as a tourist attraction.
Bling (Bling-Bling) - This term for flashy accessories where size, quantity, and over embellishment are used to compensate for lack of quality came into popular usage with the hip-hop culture of the late 1990’s. It is often associated with those who have new found money and believe more is more. The adding of jewels and glitz in proportions beyond that of good taste however is not a new phenomenon for this trait can be found on postcards dating from the early 20th century.
Boardwalk - The first boardwalk was built in Atlantic City in 1870. It allowed tourists to take in the cooling ocean breeze without dirtying their attire with seaweed and sand. While the popularity of this idea caused it to spread around the world, most boardwalks were built on the sandy shores of New Jersey and New York. The convenience of these innovations drew crowds and venders hawking postcards soon followed. Boardwalks naturally became the subject matter of many tourist oriented cards.
Boats - Any water craft smaller than a ship such as canoes, rowboats, motor launches, and small sailboats, can fall into this category. Depictions of boats are so common they are usually just classified to a location as a view-card rather than as a subject unless they dominate the composition. They are most often segrigated when depicted on cards where the location is unknown or the boats carry specific names.
Book Jackets - The illustrated frontispiece of a book jacket sometimes found their way onto postcards. Not only were these cards created by book publishers for the purpose of advertising but by book stores as well who mailed them out to their known customers so they could reserve a copy. This aided stores in determining interest in the product so they could better calculate inventory to stock.
Borders - It was very popular to add decorative borders to early postcards. Borders were often found on illustrations predating printing and this tradition was carried over into postcard production. Decorative borders were very suitable to early multi-view cards with vignettes, but they grew more difficult to employ as imagery began heading towards full bleeds. On those cards where borders survived they tended to take on bold distinct forms. They often continued to be used on generic cards with variable text. Elaborate printed textures and embossings were also commonly added alongside generic scenery when no location was printed on them to add to their appeal.
Botanicals - With the growth of science expansive efforts were made to catalog the natural world. Before photography, many different species of plants were captured in detail by artists and reproduced as hand colored engravings in books and portfolios for the scientific community. The plants were carefully drawn so that their various characteristics could be clearly seen to aid in their identification and classification. A blank background was commonly used to avoid unnecessary confusion. As botonists began to reley on photographs these prints began to be collected by those attracted to their beauty. Many came to be lithographicaly reproduced on postcards and as prints for the same reason.
Boustrophedon - These artist drawn postcard in which a procession of animals or people wind down the card from one location to another in an alternating fashion were a common design among the early Gruss aus cards printed in Germany. This design is based upon boustrophedon (literally, as the ox plows) an ancient style of writing which is read left to right, then right to left, and back to left to right on alternating lines.
Breweries - Many types of factories were depicted on postcards with many images of breweries included in the mix. Breweries often published these cards themselves for advertising. Over the years many were driven out of business by stiff competition or swallowed up by larger corporations. Images of small town or defunct breweries tend to bhave the most interest among collectors today. Other types of cards depicting beer also tend to be popular.
Bridges - Small bridges often appear on view-cards as subjects of local interest. But most large bridges, when new to their age, were considered wonders of modern engineering and many cards were produced depicting these attractions for tourists. Most of these larger structures survive to this day while smaller bridges have succumbed to modern road building and neglect and images of them can now be rare. Communities still picture their bridges as objects of pride.
Buddhas - Statues of the Buddha are placed in both small shrines and in large temples. They are meant to act as a focal point to Buddhist meditation. The earliest shrines did not have statues but were site specific to important places in the Buddha’s life or built around sacred relics. As the belief spread statues were raised in a many more places as a symbol of devotion. Most postcards depicting the Buddha are from Japan or India and were oriented toward the tourist market rather than followers of the faith.
Buffalo (American) - As many as 200 million bison may have once roamed North America. Although long hunted for their meat and hides they began to be killed at the rate up to 100,000 a day in an effort to annihilate the Native Americans of the Plains by destroying their primary source of food. Only a few hundred buffalo hidden in secluded valleys managed to survive. Early postcards depict buffalo in both romantic Western fantasies, and in zoos and parks belonging to those attempting to save this animal from extinction. Today there are about 12,000 pure bred buffalo, but efforts to let them roam wild once more has met with much resistance and they are once again hunted.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West - As America’s Indian Wars passed from reality into history; William Cody (Buffalo Bill) opened his show of live Western spectacle in 1893 to a very receptive audience. Accompanying his tours in Europe and the United States were many souvenir cards depicting the cowboys, Native Americans, famous personalities, and other performers in action and posed. Because most of his shows predate large scale American card production a good number of the original cards found today are European in origin. Many images found on European cards were reprinted in the United States in latter years. While some of these reprints are still considered to be old, many recently printed reproductions, especially of posters as cards, now flood the market.
Buildings - There has always been a lot of pride within communities of their public structures, and when postcards were made of a town images of its municipal buildings such as town hall, courthouse, jail, firehouse, post office, schools, hospital, library, and arsenal were almost always captured. While these depictions are often the most common and bland cards to be found of a town, some can prove to be quite rare and of historical importance not to mention beautiful.
Bullfighting - While the exact origins of bullfighting are still debated the connections of this blood sport to ancient animal sacrifices is obvious. Bullfighting is now largely confined to southwest Europe where it provides much imagery for postcards. In the early years of postcard production it was less controversial and formed an exotic backdrop for a number of themes. Though its popularity has greatly diminished a strong following still exists and postcards are still made for tourists.
Burlesque - This form of music hall entertainment developed during the Victorian age as a direct response to the growing imposition of a stricter morality. Burlesque was meant to turn the world upside down by creating a mixture of satire, wit, music, and dance often with sexually suggestive overtones for a working class audience at the expense of upper class social values. Many burlesque performers were already stars when postcards began being produced and they were pictured on them in great number. Since many women performed their acts in more revealing dress than was allowed in public, the cards that depict them are often classified as risqué. While these cards were not always allowed to go through the U.S. mail they were highly collected in their day by both men and women. The striptease became a common burlesque act as more repressive measures began being taken against women exposing their bodies. By the 1930’s burlesque theaters were forced to close. Though burlesque ceased being a subject for postcards many of its comic entertainers moved on to the movies, radio, and even television and continued to be depicted. There has been a revival of burlesque since the 1990’s but it has not had a notable impact on postcard production.
Bus - The Nation’s first bus line was created in 1905, running down Fifth Avenue in New York City. Within two years all the horse drawn omnibuses were withdrawn from the City’s streets. Postcards were made depicting both the old and newer forms of this type of public transportation. As buses began being used for sightseeing greater numbers of cards were produced for the tourists who rode them. As buslines formed taking tourists across ever greater distances, a whole new audience for bus postcards arose. Many of these cards were printed for advertising.
Butterflies - There seems to be a particular strong interest in butterfly imagery that formed at the end of the 19th century. There are many depictions of them from naturalistic drawings to fantasy illustrations. This trend carried over into early postcards, especially in England where butterfly collecting was a popular hobby. Moths can be included within this genre though they are much less common.
Butterfly Greetings - All these cards are of the same general generic format; a woman with the wings of a butterfly stands against a blank background. The words greetings from and the town’s name appear along with four local views in each wing corner. These cards were popular both in the United States and Europe. Similar cards were also made with flowers.
Butterfly Portraits - These are similar to butterfly greeting cards, but the emphasis is on presenting an actual recognizable portrait of a woman with butterfly wings rather than making reference to a location with a generic figure. While the background is most often blank, more elaborate and fanciful designs are to be found.