The colorful history of Cape Cod postcards
New exhibit and book showcase 100 years of local postcards
“Greetings from Cape Cod”—one vintage postcard reads—“a neck of land where necking is allowed.” The cartoon illustration depicts a “bevy of Cape Cod cuties” swimming just offshore with lobster pots bobbing in the background, while a grizzled old sea captain puffs on his pipe and digs for steamers. “Life’s a beach,” as they say, but since the turn of the 20th century, postcards have served a far nobler purpose than the circulation of puns or the flaunting of vacations for friends still at work. Postcards may be fun, but they are also important snapshots of history, packaged in a medium that is easily accessible, and almost instantly digestible. For beyond the generic beach images, the lobster illustrations and the bawdy caricatures of old Cape Codders with their mermaid pals, postcards serve as important primary source documentation of the Cape’s towns and ever-shifting geography.
Unlike the deluge of images in today’s ubiquitous social media, postcards are tangible; they are slices of the past, or even of the present, that people can hold on to, and indeed, the tradition of collecting postcards is long and rich. As of early June, Ebay offered 3,209 “Cape Cod Collectible Massachusetts Postcards” for sale, most at prices well under $10. Enthusiasts have established collectors’ clubs to share and celebrate postcards, and, like any good hobby, this one has its own scientific name: deltiology, a term coined by Prof. Randall Rhoades of Ashland, Ohio in 1945.
Until its final event in September of 2013, the Cape Cod Postcard Collectors Annual Show convened for 28 years. Smaller shows continue to take place, and local historical societies and museums often feature postcards in their displays and/or permanent collections. For instance, The Centerville Historical Museum is running an exhibit through December titled “Messages From Cape Cod,” and The Brewster Store maintains a treasury of postcards, many of which were produced by former owners of the business, back when it was known as W.W. Knowles & Son.
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