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San Francisco Earthquake - The earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906 was a great natural disaster that drew the attention of the American public. Postcards were one of the few avenues people had at that time to view images of the carnage and so they were produced in great number. Some publishers across the Country that never produced anything but local cards took advantage of this event by creating postcards of the quake. Some California publishers continued to print earthquake cards as souvenirs well after the fact as public interest was slow to decline.
Santas - While often considered to fit within the category of Holiday or Christmas cards the popularity of Santas among collectors makes it stand out on its own. There is a long history to the development of this character that varies widely from one country to the next. The figure of the fat jolly red suited Santa with white trim and beard is largely based on advertising campaigns developed by the Coca-Cola Company. The images of Santa to be found on postcards may greatly differ from the more singular presentation of today.
Saucy Seaside - These comic cards usually contained overt sexual humor. Originally sold at the English seaside their popularity quickly spread to France. Many were printed in both languages on a single card. They suffered from a conservative backlash in the 1950’s when many were confiscated and destroyed, but they regained worldwide popularity by the 60’s before going out of style. Not all the scenes on these cards took place at the seaside; the name derives from the fact that they were mostly sold at the seaside.
Scam - Nearly all of us have encountered get rich quick opportunities at some point in our lives. This phenomena is as old as money.
Scenery - While most cards depicting scenery is normally categorized under the specific locations of view-cards, there were many postcards created where no location was indicated. If they were titled at all it was usually in some poetic fashion. These cards are not to be confused with generics for they were never meant to pose for actual places. They were designed to be attractive to the general public, and they were purchased as greetings and for notes. Many of these older cards are imbued with clear sentimental overtones, but others appear so matter of fact natural they seem almost contemporary. While their lack of specificity makes most them less desirable today, they were some of the most popular postcards of their time.
Schools - All types of schools from oneroom houses to large universities are to be found on postcards. They were often created out of a local community’s sense of civic pride or for the student body and their parents. Today the alumni of many of these schools purchase these cards out of sentimental reasons rather than as a genre for general collecting.
Seaside - As many tourists flocked to the seaside postcards followed of them became a popular subject. These are not ordinary view-cards of recreational bathers. Almost all these cards depicting women in bathing dresses are designed to be risqué even though little flesh ever appears. Most of these cards are either artist drawn or are real photos shot in a photographer’s studio with an appropriate backdrop. The attire women often posed in for studio work was far skimpier than what was socially acceptable at that time; it would lead to their arrest if worn on the Beach. As more enlightened attitudes prevailed, seaside cards were replaced with the appearance of bathing beauties on the more modern photochrome.
Sentimental - By the late 19th century sentimentality grew with the rise of popular printed forms of imagery. These images did not require any classical knowledge of the arts or the viewer to be current with social issues of the day, they were based on predictable emotional responses from a set visual formula. Since this type of illustration preys on basic human emotions it became very popular with the public at large and was used on countless numbers of postcards. While today this category is often further broken down into individual subjects, they were all meant to be used as general greeting cards.
September Morn - The French artist Paul Chabas painted a nude of a 16 year old girl standing in shallow water that was first exhibited at the Paris Solon of 1912. Afterwards it was sent to an art dealer in New York where a year later it was spotted in their window by Anthony Comstock of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. His inability to have it permanently removed from public display became national news. This image soon became an icon of popular culture being place on all sorts of items from candy wrappers to cigar box labels and of course postcards. Many versions of this famous pose were created as art and satire.
Shakespeare - Many forms of postcards have been made with literary themes, most often depicted famous authors or sometimes specific works, and they were often issued in sets. Cards depicting scenes from the plays of Shakespeare however are the most common and deserve a special category of their own. His writings were known to all those with education and familiar to many of the working class as well. The characters depicted on old cards would have been as recognizable then as television personalities are today.
Shaped Borders - All sorts of decorative borders have been used on postcards including those created by the absence of printing. Most of these types of borders are simple geometric shapes though some create a recognizable form out of the printed image, which may or may not relate to the printed matter’s subject. This practice of printing cards with shaped white borders most likely derives from real photo cards where shaped cut masks were often employed during exposure.
Sheep - It is surprising that sheep do not appear on more postcards considering their long history of domestication and appearance in stories. They can be found however in view-cards of early urban parks. Flocks of sheep were often left to roam in parks to prevent grassy fields from overgrowing and to add to their pastoral ambiance. They required little supervision as they remained close to their food supply while providing for cheap if spotty maintenance. As the poor took up residence in public parks during the Great Depression the sheep fell victim to peoples hunger. They were never brought back in better times being replaced by motorized lawn mowers.
Shells - While there are postcards of individual specimens of seashells, they were mostly used to create decorative borders for generic cards. This could be represented by a single shell with an empty center or a ring made of shells into which a local scene or greeting would be printed by a local vendor. Today’s collector can find blank border shell cards that were never meant for sale in that state.
Shipbuilding - While images of ships on postcards tend to be numerous, depictions of their construction are far less common. A primary source for shipbuilding cards are Naval Yards for the size and heavy armor of warships required an elaborate construction setup that was impressive to depict. Most yards that built wooden boats in a traditional manner were little more than open grassy fields. It was only when filled with lumber and rising frames that they became suitable subjects for postcards. Many large wooden cargo ships were made up to World War One.
Ships - This is a very large genre that is often broken down into smaller categories. The first dived is usually between commercial and military ships. Further divisions are often made in regard to methods of propulsion such as sail or steam, or by a ship’s function. Postcards of ships were produced in very high numbers and they have always been a popular collectable.
Shipwrecks - Though they can be considered part of the disaster genre there are factors that set them apart. While other tragedies were often soon cleaned up or repaired, many ships were left to languish in the surf until destroyed by natural forces. This provided more time for distant photographers to get to them, and by lingering longer in the publics’ eye the continued to foster postcard sales. Many postcards are made of wrecks as a romantic subject long after they had ceased being news. Large modern ships washed ashore are such an astounding sight that they still find their way onto photochromes.
Silhouettes - By the time this art form was being placed on postcards it was already over a hundred years old. Though silhouettes were traditionally used to create portraits in profile, the images placed on cards assumed more elaborate designs. A variety of subjects were turned into silhouettes but most often those on postcards revolved around romance or fantasy. Many silhouette cards included some color in them, which can be troublesome for the purist.
Silk - Silk cards can be placed in three categories. Two varieties consist of paper cards with a printed or photographic image. Here pieces of silk may either be cut out and pasted onto specific areas as flat shapes or certain areas may be embroidered with silk then backed with a second sheet of card stock. The third type of card is covered with silk and then painted upon. Silk cards are often categorized as novelties.
Slaughterhouse - The rise and growth of slaughter houses, where animals are butchered for food in a large scale mechanized way, goes hand in hand with the growth of urban living. As cities increased in population, this was the only way to satisfy the increasing desire for meat from a growing middle class now able to afford it. These large plants were sometimes made more profitable by adding on facilities to render non eatable animal parts into useful by-products such as leather, soap, and glue. Though not commonly depicted on postcards, they do show up as models of efficiency from regions where animal processing were concentrated such as Chicago.
Sledding - The practice of attaching runners to a wood platform was a common method to move loads over ice or snow. The more common depiction of sleds however are their use by small children for recreation, a practice that persists to this day. Early homemade sleds eventually gave way to commercial mass production. But as places available for sleighing have dwindled over the years so has this winter activity and postcard imagery that followed it.
Sleighing - Sleighs often provided the only means of winter transportation in regions that received heavy doses of snow and ice. Many from these cold climates owned sets of runners that could replace the wheels of their carriages as the seasons changed. While sleighs where mostly horse drawn, other animals were employed to pull them as well. Images of sleighs can not only be found as the subject matter of cards, they casually appear on streets in many winter view-cards. As our roads became dominated by motorized vehicles the use of sleighs disappeared along with the use of horses in general.
Snowball Fighting - Many winter activities can fall under the genre of work or sports but snowball fighting is not one of them. In fact throwing a ball of snow is not even fighting but an act of play, possibly flirting, or mischief at worst. Snow ball throwing probably first occurred as soon as mankind first encountered snow and was a firm tradition when postcards were first made. It was a popular subject for postcards and can be found on many early Gruss aus cards. Though often tied to winter holidays such as Christmas and New Years, snowball fights were also placed on plain greeting cards and many romance cards as well.
Snowmen - Though usually found on winter holiday greeting cards, they have become such a popular collectible in their own right that they are often given their own category. Almost all depictions of snowmen appear on artist drawn cards, many with simple humorous naratives.
Snowshoes - This ancient tool used to distribute weight more evenly for walking in the snow was in common use when postcards arrived on the scene. Whether store bought or home made, snowshoes were essential for rural living in climates where snow covered the ground for most of the winter. They are not found as often in winter scenes as are skies for in Europe where most postcards were made skiing was predominant. In the United States and Canada, where there is a strong Native American tradition of using snowshoes, there is a greater likely hood of finding snowshoes in actual use on real photo postcards that were produced locally.
Songs - Many postcards were issued containing lyrics from popular songs. While many were of a romantic nature, patriotic lyrics became popular during World War One, especially in Great Britain. In the United States they tended to take the form of installment cards in which all the cards in the set would add up to a complete song instead of creating a single image. This practice was often combined with Cowboy songs that became very popular on cards. Some song postcards also depicted sheet music.
Spas - Many of the earliest resorts were spas where taking on beneficial waters was a desirable alternative to primitive medicine. In the United States spas provided an accepted health excuse for avoiding the Puritan virtues of work. Eventually a growing social scene evolved around many spas that attracted more tourists than those with health concerns. Like grand hotels, spas provided a perfect environment for the selling of postcards and many images were made of them.
Space - Space as in outer space is a modern genre that became popular soon after Russia put their satellite Sputnik into Earth’s orbit. While there are some cards of America’s early space program it was most often captured in its later years on photochromes. These cards can include images of rockets, astronauts, launch pads, satellites, planets, our Moon, and even fantasy imagery of anticipated projects and destinations. The Russians created many illustrated space cards, often used as propaganda to show off their many achievements or calling for its peaceful use.
Spider Webs - While this is a seemingly odd genre for postcards, images of spider webs are more common than one might imagine. They do not however appear often in their natural state but rather as a symbolic element. Spiders are usually absent from these webs, most often being replaced by women. The notion of a conspiring woman spinning her web to attract an innocent mate is an old one and persists to this day, though the postcard tradition insinuating this has long died out.
Sports - A wide variety of different athletic activities found their way onto postcards. Some of these may be team activities such as ball games or individual pursuits such as golf and skiing. Many of the more popular sport activities are ocassionaly given a category of their own. Sometimes hunting and fishing will be placed in this category.
Stained Glass - While many art works were reproduced on postcards, images of stained glass are not that common though perhaps the most beautiful. A number of notable stained glass windows were manufactured in the United States but Europe�s long history with this medium meant that their publishers produced more cards in this genre.
Stairs - Though stairs can be found all over the world, only those that lie outdoors and are of great length should be considered here as a genre. These cards are usually just filed along with ordinary view-cards but there are those who specifically collect them though not great in number.
Stamps - Since many postcard collectors were also stamp collectors it was only natural for stamps to begin appearing on postcards as a topic. These cards were published in a number of different nations. They may depict that Country’s own stamps or be issued in a set to show stamps from around the world.
State Girls - Many different publishers produced postcard sets depicting women in association with the individual States of the United States through the use of symbolism. The most common pairing was with State Flags. This type of card seems little more than an marketing ploy by publishers to find another excuse to sell cards together in a set.
Statues - Most statues depicted on postcards were of public monuments. If a town had a monument and the town produced postcards, it had a postcard of that monument. Art cards also reproduced images of famous statues as well os those that were far less known.
Steamships - In the time when roads were very poor to non-existent, regular steamship service was established to connect many issolated costal and river towns with one another and with larger cities. The fear of German U-boats during the First World War caused most Atlantic lines to suspended service, and afterwards as car travel became more available many lines never resumed their old routes. The Hudson Line steamers have the greatest number of depictions on cards because of their heavy use by tourists and they are often segregated out into their own category.
Stereocards - These are not to be confused with stereo-view cards; they worked in the same manner to create 3D effects but were printed to be used as mailable postcards. Many photo studios that produced stereo-views went on to publish postcards or sold their images to postcard publishers, so it is only natural that this type of card would be produced. Stereo postcards were never made in quantity especially when compared to the numbers of stereo-views possibly due to their smaller size.
Still Life - In 16th century Europe cut flowers, picked fruit, killed game, things that were now dead or still began to appear as subjects for works of art. They were often meant to represent the temporality of life on Earth. By the 17th century all sorts of non living objects were added to still lives in part due to the fascination of consumer goods in a fast growing mercantile society. Most of these early paintings have much symbolism attached to the objects in them but by the late 19th century they were often painted for their sheer beauty and still life became a common subject for popular prints due to its sensual nature. This tradition was carried over onto postcards when they first appeared, but as the genre progressed into modern times more formal compositional concerns took hold and images of still lives were rarely published.
Stone Walls - Postcards depicting stone walls are confined to those regions that have a plenitude of stones such as New England or Ireland. As remnants of glaciers long gone they litter the ground and burst forth from the soil as it freezes and thaws over the seasons. To farm a field the stones within it need to be removed, and what better way than to stack them up as a fence. As forests were replaced by farms these grids and serpentine walls could once be seen stretching to the horizon. But now with most farms long gone these walls are usually found as ghostly remnants in newly grown woods. The appearance of stone walls on old postcards can often give insights to forms of land use long gone.
Stores - As the postcard craze grew in the Golden Age, more and more stores began to sell cards. It was inevitable that many of these businesses began to publish images of their own establishments. Many more storefronts were reproduced on cards for advertising purposes, a practice dating back to the pioneer period. Images of stores where many small family businesses have disappeared can provide a valuable historic record. While cards showing interiors tend to be rare, they are not highly prized by all collectors.
Storks - Storks are a popular bird in Europe and they are quite often depicted on postcards. A nesting stork on one’s roof brings good luck, unless it clogs your chimney. And of coarse there is the old folk tale about storks delivering babies. This legend has led these birds to be used on numerous cards to announce the birth of a child.
Streamline - The Streamline design style of the 1930’s influenced the manufacturing of many items from architecture to small consumer goods. While based on scientific principals of aerodynamics it was largely used simply for its symbolic value demonstrating optimism in technology and the future. This style most often makes its appearance on postcards through depictions of Streamline designed buildings and trains. It is commonly confused with Art Deco of which it shares some sensibilities.
Suffrage - As women suffragists fought for the right to vote, postcards captured their struggle until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. Cards were issued reflecting both sides of the battle plus the important figures in the movement. While many cards were documentary many more were comic in nature utilizing humor to blunt overt propaganda. Many cards used the term Suffragette to demean and trivialize the women of this movement.
Sugaring - This romanticized genre of the harvesting and manufacturing of maple syrup is generally associated with New England though practiced in other cold weather states with maple forests. While some cards may have specific town names on them, most of these cards only list the State or are completely generic.
Sunsets - On top of producing romantically charged images, sunsets became an excuse to use bright attractive colors. Sunsets were depicted on cards from all periods but found mostly on linens where the bright colors already in use leant itself well to this theme.
Superlatives - These are the postcards that depict the first, last, tallest, shortest, biggest, smallest, fastest, or earliest anything you can think of. They usually fall into three categories; things that are the most something of their kind, things that are made to be the most something, and then there are those that make claims so abstract that there is no way of substantiating them. Many of these bestowed titles changed hands over the years of card production. Superlatives have been most popular in the United States since the early 19th century. They mark a new confidence in a new nation in search of identity.
Swastika - One of many variations a sun mandala may take is that of the swastika. It is an ancient symbol used around the world especially in the Hindu and Native American cultures. It can sometimes be seen decorating pots or blankets on cards depicting scenes from these cultures, but it found its way onto most early postcards as a symbol of good luck. The swastika in these depictions may face either left or right. At the same time this symbol was also beginning to be associated with Aryan identity. It only became a symbol of Germany’s Nazi Party in 1920, which caused many afterwards to forget its deeper meaning.