Iconic Postcards Preserve Past –CagleMarch 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
Not to sound like an old-timer, but there is a timeless quality that accompanies hard copy printing...it just can't be captured electronically. This goes beyond just works of art; think about a brittle newspaper, a photograph yellowed with age, a faded document. These are artifacts captured from a moment in time, preserved for the ages.
Imagine the chills that would run down your spine if you held an original printing of the Declaration of Independence in your own hands. For me, holding a German stamp that depicts Adolf Hitler—printed when the madman was still in power—never ceases to make me shudder with fear. The tactile sensation and the way print can transform one to any place in time is the secret behind that timeless quality.
Still, it doesn't require historical, social or political significance to bring value to the printed piece. The humble postcard has occupied a sentimental role in Americana, and though its diminished role may have evolved over the years, it continues to offer both artistic and cultural relevance.
A fine example of this lies in Lake County, IL, where the Lake County Discover Museum houses the Curt Teich (as in tyke) Postcard Archives. It holds the distinction of being one of the largest postcard collections in the world, with more than 365,000 postcards cataloged under 2,100-plus subject headings. The archives include images of 10,000 towns and cities in North America and boasts perhaps the greatest warehouse of Route 66, Lincoln Highway and other travel-related images.
Many of the postcards were printed by the Curt Teich Co. of Chicago, which operated between 1898 and 1978. They truly depicted Americana, documenting everyday life with images of Main Street, national parks, planes-trains-automobiles, consumer products and even both World Wars, from the home front to the front lines.
The Teich Archives is helping to maintain the postcard as a living, breathing entity through its Postcard Art Competition and Exhibition (PACE). Held every two years, PACE “celebrates the postcard as art and a visual document.” The exhibition showcases 36 finalists selected by a panel of judges, with 12 award winners receiving a cash prize and printed copies of the postcard made from the entrant’s design.
According to Russ Schoenherr, senior vice president and director of client services for Lake County Press—which donates the printing of the 12 top entries—PACE receives upwards of 500 entries per competition. Lake County Press prints and collates the 6x4˝ postcards, which are sold at the museum store. The original postcard art is then sold to contributors.