Written by Talia Shirley ’22
Postcards were first produced in the late 1800s. Small rectangles of tough paper, with an image or drawing on one side, were originally made for sending quick and easy messages through the mail. While restricted by things like size, color, and weight, postcards were considered faster and more fun than the traditional folded letters and envelopes. With cameras becoming more accessible and smaller in the 1900s, many postcards also came with pictures. Until 1915, postcards were commonly used by Americans, especially students who wanted to give their parents fast updates. Many early postcards were printed on German printers, but once WWI started, postcards were instead produced on American printers that lacked the same technology. Unfortunately, the drop in quality caused people to lose interest in postcards for 20 to 30 years (“Postcard History”).
From the Archives
At the Gordon-Nash Library, there are a variety of postcards with pictures of New Hampton School and the town collected over the years. Many of them include students writing home to their parents! Here are some examples found in the collection.
This first postcard from 1910 shows Main Street over 100 years ago. Notice how the road is made of dirt and how the street was lined with trees. The writer, Sydney, invited her friend Mike to come over to New Hampton in 2 days for a sports game she “thinks will be pretty good”.
In the second, from September 1912, the writer addresses his uncle. He says, “school has commenced once more and it seems pleasant to be back here”. The other side shows Shingle Camp Hill, a road that curves up and around the back of New Hampton School. The road had so many trees when the picture was taken you could hardly see the houses!
The third appears to be from 1916 and shows another view of Main Street. This one is labeled in the upper right corner, “New Hampton Literary Institution”. Over the years, NHS has gone through several names, NHLI being one of them. On the opposite side is a note from a student, Edith, to her mother. She writes how hard the teachers are working and how she is still enjoying her time at NHLI, despite being “pretty busy finding out where [she] is at”.
The fourth skips forward in time a bit and is from 1959. Postcard usage dropped in the ’20s with German printers unavailable and rose again in the ’40s. This postcard is in color (yay!) and has a little note printed above the senders’ writing that details the location. The note also refers to NHS as a “school for boys”, for a few decades in the 1900’s NHS was a boys’ only school. The sender says his conference at NHS has been useful and details the weather.
The last postcard is from 1971 and shows Berry Hall on campus (still an all-boys school) with possibly a student out front. The sender writes on how beautiful the lakes are at New Hampton but how he still can’t wait to be home again. He describes NHS as “quaint, plain and $3600 per year”. This postcard is probably a more familiar sight to current students and faculty than the previous ones—Berry Hall hasn’t changed much since then.
Postcards never regained the popularity they once had, even though they are still produced today. Modern photochrom postcards have that shiny, glossy photograph texture, as opposed to the older versions that feel more like cardstock or cloth (“Postcard History”). Most people don’t send postcards in the mail, buying them only as souvenirs or for the photos on the front. Everyone has probably seen them before, in one of those little spinning racks at local tourist traps. Even if things like postcards have been rendered somewhat obsolete, especially with emails and texting, we can still appreciate the history behind them and contained within them.
To learn more about the history of postcards:
“Postcard History” Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives,