The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Greetings From Anywhere
This special week officially started in 1984 to promote the collecting and sending of postcards. Postcard collecting is known as deltiology. Some folks design their own postcards to send out during the week, but using a manufactured one is fine as well.
I, too, count myself as a casual deltiologist since childhood. My small treasures include cards I acquired on family trips and postcards sent to me by cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends during summer vacations to places like Walt Disney World, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. My family still continues to send postcards during our travels. Part of the appeal of collecting postcards is that the subject matter can be anything from landscapes, to people, to animals; and they are small and manageable.
There is no real theme to my collection—if it catches my eye or sums up the destination nicely, I’ll collect the postcard. However, some of my favorites are those quirky state map postcards, and those iconic roadside motel cards—images of one-story buildings with a car a two out front, or a very blue empty outdoor pool being enjoyed by no one. I inherited a handful of these from my grandmother from her travels throughout the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. My collection is not very large, but I nevertheless keep the postcards in an archival box to keep them safe from dust and light.
You also can find many unusual and fascinating postcards that have been digitized on the Internet. In recognition of National Postcard Week, here are some highlights of postcards from the Archives and other Smithsonian collections.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives’ online exhibition Greetings from the Smithsonian: A Postcard Card History of the Smithsonian Institution presents a history of the postcard in the United States. For example, did you know that messages weren’t always written on the back of cards? From 1898–1907, only the address was authorized to be on the back of postcards not printed by the United States Postal Service, and thus, people wrote their messages directly on top of images or in small blanks spaces provided on the fronts of postcards.
This exhibition also has a wide selection of historic postcards featuring Smithsonian buildings, including the Smithsonian Building (The Castle), the Arts & Industries Building, the National Museum of Natural History, the Freer Gallery of Art, and the United States Patent Office Building (now home of the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum).
To see more postcards within Smithsonian collections, see this selection from the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center.
Perhaps you will find some inspiration to write a card or two.