Wish You Were Here - June 2015

Penny Postcard History

If you are like me every time I go on vacation I always try to find some type of small souvenir from my place of visit. People collect all types of souvenirs from their travels.....hat pins, baby spoons, patches, stamped coins, plates and picture postcards.

Do you have any penny postcards? They are still popular today. And they are also very collectible. I bet some of you may have some and not even know it. They are probably stuck in a box with family photos or used as a book mark in an old book that you may have gotten from a grandparent.

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Greenfield looks so magical in this postcard!

 

Penny postcards were first issued in 1873. I've heard them called "government cards" also. They were called this because the postal service issued plain cards that could be written on and then mailed. Sending postcards through the mail for a penny was a quick affordable link with the outside world in the 1900's.

In 1907 The US Postal Services changed their regulations and started allowing privately produced postcards to have a divided back side, with the left half reserved for a message and the right half for the name and address. The front side could completely used for a photograph, artwork, advertising or design.

As art and camera technology developed so did postcards. People began to collect the cards and display them in special penny postcard binders. The years of 1907 to 1915 were known as the Golden Age of postcards.

Postcards helped connect America. With a simple birthday wish or a beautiful vacation picture with the statement "Wish you were here"!

In the 1920's the Mitchell Printing Company began printing penny postcards of Greenfield. They first began with printing postcards of the Riley Home under the name of the Old Swimmin' Hole Press. Many Riley postcards exist today and are highly collectable throughout the country. All of these cards have a black and white picture. Only one, a picture of Brandywine Creek with three people sitting on a grassy bank, was done in color.

This card has quiet a story. Following the great success of James Whitcomb Riley's poem "The Old Swimmin' Hole," Harpers Magazine sent a reporter to Greenfield to find out if there really was such a spot. The three figures on the postcard, as told by John Mitchell Jr., were James Whitcomb Riley, in his soft black hat, his friend Tom Randall, and the Harpers Reporter. This postcard is a symbol of the fun and frolic of the early days before anyone ever dreamed of having a pool in their back yard.

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Postcard of the Riley Pool

 

Also in the Twenties, additional colored postcards appeared and today are also highly collectible. These were printed as a family venture by Bess Bidgood and her father who lived on the corner of Spring and Douglas Streets. Bess was and artist and taught Art at Greenfield High School. This would have been at the time the High School was in what would become later the Riley School located on North and Pennsylvania Streets.

Bess, with her Civil War veteran father, produced six now-sought-after scenes on cards: They were of the Riley Home; the Old Swimmin' Hole; the Indiana State House; the White River Canal tow path; an arch over White River and a Government Building in Indianapolis.

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One of the Old Swimmin' Hole postcards

 

By the 1950's the cards of the Mitchell and Bidgood collection were sold out. Jeanette Pasco, who was a Riley Home Hostess at the time, decided that new postcards needed to be made. Jack Rhodes, of Centerville, produced a new colored series. Once these cards were sold out another set was produced by Bill Estill of Seymour. A retired educator, Mr. Estill distributed Riley Home cards not only in Greenfield, but in other tourist locations. Another set wasn't done until 1986 and those have longed been sold out.

In searching postcards you will find most of them pertaining to the Riley Home and pictures within the Riley Home. But you will also find some from the old travel motels that once scattered the old National Road, US 40, like the old Town and Country Motel, Character Motel, Columbia Hotel, Hoosierland Lodge, Hoosier Poet Motel, Motel Weston, Merrell's Motel, all of which stood along the old National Road, US 40.

I've seen some that are postmarked 1910 of the County Courthouse. You will also find postcards from churches. All of the old downtown churches like the Greenfield Christian Church and the old Methodist Episcopal Church had postcards.

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 Then there's also postcards of streetscapes and business like Eli Lilly Greenfield Laboratories. You will also find some of the old Riley High School building and the High School building that stands at North and School Streets. There's one of the old library on North Street, which is now Carnegie's Restaurant. There's the Memorial Building, Park Cemetery, the old Masonic Hall, Standard Oil Station and Hancock Memorial Hospital. You will also find some of old barns that are throughout the county. And then there are postcards of a couple different angles of the old Riley Pool.

There are several web sites or blogs detailing postcards and more specifically postcards from Indiana. They also give directions on how to date postcards. Finding a card that has not been postmarked and is in great condition adds value to the card. Sometimes its fun to find a card that has been written on. Writings in the early times are interesting to read.

It's fun and interesting to see the postcards from Greenfield. They are a great piece of history as they clearly show Greenfield at various stages of time. They preserve Greenfield through pictures. They also preserve family correspondents when they are written on. Collecting penny postcards is a great, inexpensive hobby. Maybe some day a new artist will create new and updated sets showing off some of the newer things of Greenfield.

So the next time your on vacation look for penny postcards. Or the next time you take a picture of a scenic view think of how that could be a penny postcard.

Greg Roland

 

References:
Greenfield Glimpses by Dorothy June Williams
Postcard History wikipedia
Postcard History Series of Hancock County by Joseph Skvarenina

More Greenfield History