New-York Historical Society postcard collection [graphic]
Language of Materials
The New-York Historical Society Postcard Collection contains approximately 62,000 postcard views of the United States, New York State, New York City and international geographic locations, depicting, buildings, historical scenes, modes of transportation, tourist attractions, holiday greetings and other subjects. The collection is strongest for New York City.
Postal mailing cards were introduced in the United States in the 1870s, chiefly for advertisements and business notices. Pictorial souvenir cards issued in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exposition popularized view cards. The 1898 reduction in postcard postage, from two cents to a penny, triggered a flood of card production. Millions of cards were mailed and collected annually in the United States through World War I. As postcards became more popular, publishers began addressing new subjects, with holidays, patriotic sentiments, political campaigns, and social issues gaining popularity in the first decade of the twentieth century.
The Albertype Company, begun in 1889 in Brooklyn, New York, produced photographic views, postcards, and souvenir booklets for areas across the United States. The company's output eventually reached several million pictures per year. The Albertype Company ceased operation shortly after the death of Herman L. Wittemann, the son of one of the founding Wittemann brothers, in 1952.
The New-York Historical Society Postcard Collection is divided into four series:
Series I. Geographic Locations | United States (except New York), dates from ca. 1898 to about 1965 and contains about 22,000 cards that generally depict popular tourist destinations, vacation resorts by the sea and in the mountains, prominent buildings, businesses, civic institutions, modes of transportation, and street scenes. Well-represented tourist attractions include the Grand Canyon, and the mountains of New Hampshire. Typical city souvenir cards show attractive urban life in views of public courthouses, libraries, spacious parks, expositions, and architecturally impressive office buildings and bridges. Prominent residences, historical sites, and scenes of nature are also abundant. General sections can be found at the end of most states, larger cities, and some other subsections. These include cards that show unidentified or only generally identified views.
Series II. Geographic Locations | New York, is divided into two subseries:
Subseries II.A. New York State includes cards from popular tourist attractions like Niagara Falls. A General section at the end of New York State includes views along highways, rivers, and train lines that are not geographically specified. The collection documents the changing landscape and architectural history for the areas represented. It may also be valuable source for social historians interested in researching the history of tourism, transportation and cultural identity. Some of the postcards were included as a result of the New-York Historical Society's effort to collect cards with representations of less common views of New York State, such as real photo postcards that document towns or events too small to appear in formal publications. Postcards commissioned by restaurants, hotels and other businesses also provide valuable visual documentation of sites not otherwise represented in the collection.
Subseries II.B. New York City, fills boxes 40 through 60. Cards pertaining to the city as a whole come first: general "Greetings from" cards, Bridges, Celebrations (includes the 1939 and 1964-65 World's Fairs), Future, History, Humor, Islands, and a sizable number of souvenir foldout mailers. Cards pertaining to the five boroughs come next, with the lion's share belonging to Manhattan (boxes 42-56), followed by Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. See the container list for detailed subjects included, which are typically arranged in alphabetical order. Generally, the cards depict churches, prominent named buildings, monuments, parks, squares, and circles, banks, department stores, hotels, museums, restaurants, schools and colleges.
Series III. Geographic Locations | International, contains approximately 2,000 cards relating to Europe, the Caribbean, Canada, and other North, Central, and South American countries. Cards are arranged alphabetically by region, country, and thereunder by city, town or geographical feature. The cards focus primarily on tourist destinations such as historical sites, beaches, lakes and parks.
Series IV. Subjects, contains cards dating from ca. 1898 to 1965 which are arranged alphabetically by topic: Activities & Occupations, Advertising, American Art, American History (events, sites and memorials of historical significance in the United States), Comic, Holidays, Portraits (includes African Americans, Native Americans, and Human Curiosities), Sentimental, Transportation (largely ships and trains), and Unusual Postcards (includes cards on leather, cards on birch bark, a card on a cross section of a tree, embroidered cards and cards on fabric, cat cards, cards with feathers, cards that are drink coasters, embossed cards of New York City and State scenes, accordion-folder cards that pull open, and a lenticular print card, which, when tilted, displays alternate images of Theodore Roosevelt and the White House).
Scope and Contents
The New-York Historical Society Postcard Collection is an artificial collection, built up over time. It contains approximately 62,000 postcards which depict geographic views, buildings, historical scenes, modes of transportation, holiday greetings, and other subjects from about 1898 through roughly 1965. A variety of printing processes and postcard types are represented in the collection, including photographic, lithographic, photomechanically printed, and novelty cards, included scattered examples of hold-to-light cards, which typically depict buildings with windows that shine when the card is held to a light source.
The majority of the postcards are in excellent condition; approximately half were never mailed. Those that were mailed usually communicate simple messages that share experiences and connect the senders to family and friends.
About 10,000 cards come from the stock file of the Brooklyn-based Albertype Company. Other major publishers represented in the collection include the American Souvenir Card Company, the Illustrated Postal Card Company, and the Detroit Publishing Company.
Open to qualified researchers.
Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.)
Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from: Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 270. Fax: (212) 579-8794.
This collection, formerly called the Postcard File, should now be cited as the New-York Historical Society Postcard Collection, PR 054, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The New-York Historical Society Postcard Collection contains cards from a variety of sources. Among the larger contributions are 3,340 cards donated by Samuel V. Hoffman in 1941. Hoffman, a postcard collector, began systematically searching for postcards with views of New York City in the 1890s and continued to collect them through the 1940s. And approximately 10,000 postcards in the collection came from the stock file of the Brooklyn-based Albertype Company in 1953.
Smaller donations of random postcards have come in over time. These were not carefully documented in the past, but simply slipped into the appropriate categories of the collection. Contributions since 2017 have come from
• Adrienne Alexander (PPAC.2017.056)
• Anonymous (PPAC.2022.008)
• Patricia Appelt (PPAC.2021.031)
• Susan Baker (PPAC.2019.040)
• Balaton Area Historical Society, Balaton, MN (PPAC.2022.007))
• Cassie Barrow (PPAC.2019.042)
• Delores Beard (PPAC.2021.013)
• Edna Beeman (PPAC.2021.044)
• James Boone (PPAC.2018.036)
• Dianne Brackett (PPAC.2019.005)
• Christine Brandon (PPAC.2022.030)
• Ron Brown (PPAC.2022.005)
• Sarah Brown (PPAC.2018.023)
• Buffalo History Museum (PPAC.2019.060)
• Sally Chetwynd (PPAC.2021.043)
• Coventry Town Museum, Sidney, NY (PPAC.2022.006.01)
• Eagle Valley Library District, Eagle, Colorado (PPAC.2019.027)
• Nancy Eiler (PPAC.2018.019)
• JoAnne Fassinger (PPAC.2019.033)
• Karen Frome (PPAC.2021.028)
• Joshua Hamerman (PPAC.2019.002; PPAC.2019.085; PPAC.2020.004)
• Char Harris (PPAC.2019.083)
• Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. (PPAC.2019.004)
• Amber and Joseph Johnson III (PPAC.2022.009)
• Debra Johnson (PPAC.2021.012)
• Kate Kelley (PPAC.2022.042)
• Kevin Lawrence (PPAC.2017.057)
• Richard Lewis (PPAC.2022.040)
• James Litzler (PPAC.2018.052)
• Paul McKenna (PPAC.2018.060)
• Magnolia (Ohio) Area Historical Society (PPAC.2021.052)
• Sally Maish (PPAC.2021.027)
• Milford (Connecticut) Historical Society (PPAC.2021.025)
• Alicia Moran (PPAC.2021.030)
• Mountain Home Historical Society (accession no. PPAC.2017.039)
• Andrea W. Nevins-Fernandez (PPAC.2017.079)
• Ohio History Connection (PPAC.2019.018)
• Ouachita Baptist University (PPAC.2019.061)
• Stanley Pawlowski (PPAC.2021.023)
• Graham Pohl (PPAC.2022.012)
• Lori A. Pries (PPAC.2019.041)
• Rehoboth Beach Historical Society & Museum (PPAC.2017.043)
• Alvin Schaut (PPAC.2017.61; PPAC.2018.010; PPAC.2018.044; PPAC.2018.056; PPAC.2018.085; PPAC.2019.028; PPAC.2020.005; PPAC.2021.061; PPAC.2022.001)
• Sherry Scott (PPAC.2021.015)
• Edward Steele (PPAC.2018.043)
• Nadia Steinzor (PPAC.2019.032)
• Robin Tavano (PPAC.2021.029)
• Jere and Bill Voigt (PPAC.2022.041)
• Judith Zabar (PPAC.2021.076)
The New-York Historical Society continues to receive gifts of small numbers of postcards, which will be added to the collection.
About this Guide
In 2002 Jennifer Lewis created a finding aid based on the categories imposed on the postcard collection by earlier staff. Additional increments have been added to the collection by various archivists since. In 2018 archivist Joseph Ditta converted the finding aid to its present online accessible form. Updated October 2021.