Of Old Photographs and Postcards

Since there’s really not much to be done these days (there’s a sort of sense of futility pervading the atmosphere – perhaps it’s only a personalized side effect of the Icelandic ash cloud), I’ve taken up (again) sorting and re-sorting old photos and postcards, as well as purchasing some more such tokens of the past for my collection. So. I’m finding two of the old postcards I recently purchased extremely interesting.

The first one, with its fairytale setting, quite reminiscent of Cinderella, methought, is this:

Pretty pic, right? But once you take a closer look, you’ll realize just how morbid such settings used to be, really, because the four white pigeons are quite obviously works of taxidermy, arranged and placed in such a way that they should appear to have been caught by the camera in mid-flight/corn-picking. Of course, this kind of thing must have been the usual technique at a time when there was no such thing as photoshop or the blue screen. But that doesn’t really make it less creepy.

It apparently dates from 1914 or thereabouts, according to the date signed on the back by the sender. Also from the sender’s text, it could be surmised that it was taken in Cluj (or its proximities), Romania. I haven’t yet identified the printing house, though the criterion number and tiny emblem (a capital R superimposed on a P and H) in the lower right hand corner might offer some clues, if only I knew where to look it up (if anyone has seen this before, please have the kindness to tell me :P). The round puncture marks in the upper and lower left hand corners probably mean that someone, at some point in time, pinned the postcard somewhere – perhaps it used to be someone’s treasured keepsake.

Now, the second picture I found is even more interesting:

It is, indeed, printed on postcard paper (and by that I mean it has a “typical” postcard layer on the back), but I believe (or want to believe) that it is actually just a personal photograph taken by a professional, despite the fact that it wasn’t taken in a studio. There’s no year on the back, and no location, much less the name of a printing house. But after a quick Google search, I’ve found that the postcard layer on the back coincides with the one on the back of this postcard from the Limerick City Museum (see description). So, according to their page, it probably dates somewhere between 1925-1945. Though you’ll probably agree that my pic is nothing like classical sort of view on the Limerick Museum postcard. Nor does my pic feature a clear caption anywhere. And what makes my photo even more weird is the actual subject. The stuffed rabbit that the boy’s clutching by the ears is bewitchingly beautiful, yet its white eyes make it kind of creepy. And why is the boy’s head shaved? Had he been sick? Or was it maybe because of the old-fashioned idea that if you shave a child’s head while he’s young, he’ll have thicker and healthier hair as an adult?

If the pic is indeed a personal photograph, then the fact that it was printed as a postcard might be explained through the idea that someone intended to send it off as an “undying memory”, as was sometimes the custom in the early 20th century. But it was never posted. And the fact that the stamp box says “stamp here” in English seems to indicate that it was printed either in the UK, or, which would be even more curious, in the USA. So why did I find it at a flea market in Bucharest (not that I’m complaining)?

After all, I guess this is what I love about these old photos/postcards – their inherent mystery, the fact that they carry a story that is almost within your grasp; but always just almost.

2 Replies to “Of Old Photographs and Postcards”

  1. On old postcard narrative; ‘from “Euladys”‘
    think it is badly written ‘Gladys’
    just a thought… cheers Grahame

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