Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Giant Fish, Enormous Loads of Oranges - Tall Tale Postcards

After moving to our brand new home in Midwestern Wisconsin I put my bed into a closet that was not finished. Later to my delight it was built into that closet and I had a cozy little spot to read, color and search through my postcards.

When I was around eleven years old I was sitting in that very spot looking through a stack of postcards someone had just given to me.   I was thoroughly enjoying the pile looking at each one in detail.  They were all linen pictures brightly colored and showing faraway places, until...what's this? A tomato the size of someone's house!!!

Imagine how amazing that image was. I was old enough to think logically that it had to be some kind of trick, but did they even know how to do that back in those days?   They had to have; it couldn't be a real tomato. And shortly I discovered, after I rushed down the stairs to the gift giver, that indeed it was trick photography and people didn't have tomatoes the size of a house.

After that day I have found several more of these whimsical "high-tech" cards. With some research I have learned that they were coined Tall-Tale Postcards, which is very fitting. At that time we had the old stories of Paul Bunyan and his great blue ox, Pecos Bill, and many more famous tall tales. These characters were the early "superheroes" of our new country. So it was a natural progression to create "evidence" of America's giants and land of bounty to send around the world.

In approximately 1905  the first larger-than-life postcards began to appear on the market (note the photos on this blog are from a later period.  The linen are from around the 1930's)  After that they started to pop up all over and the business boomed. This was a great way for someone to put their unknown town on the map. What I also enjoy is how they were able to create these wonders in a time without digital photography and computers.

First any skilled photographer would take a picture of a normal scene, let’s say a barn, and then they would take another one of a cow. They would carefully cut the cow out and strategically place it over the other picture of the barn to make it look as if the cow was a giant. The next step was to simply print the postcards from the newly created scene. In our high-tech world we can do the same on a computer by using cut and paste. What is funny is to realize that even back then it was still cut and paste just in a more literal sense.

Since these cards are such a success they continue to produce them.  This is an example of a later Tall-Tale postcard.

Some cards are very flamboyant and some are more realistic looking. One artist that is well known and quite regarded in that period was, Edward H. Mitchell. Often the postcards he created looked more like real photographs. His cards were professionally done and the publishers dedicated much time and detail when printing his works. Alfred Stanley Johnson, Jr., J. Herman, and William Martin are some more names in Tall-Tale postcards.

This is one from my personal collection that I have had since I was a child.  I so had dreams of Florida after seeing this.
If someone were to be just starting out postcard collecting, young or old, this is such a fun subject to specialize in. There are many to choose from and they can still tantalize the imagination to this day.

I have included images of a few cards in my collection, which can be found at Postcards In The Attic on ETSY. I list new items daily; please stop by and have some postcard fun.


CremeMagnolia said...

I absolutely love your "tall tale" post cards. I had no idea where they came from and enjoyed the lesson! Karen.

Dita Maulani said...

I heart postcards! Been ordering few on Etsy. Off to check the shop now!