Postcards are sweet pieces of ephemera for most people, but they’re actually also a great time capsule.
The photos and illustrations on postcards demonstrate what were considered the important sites in the city. In the case of this collection of San Francisco postcards, most printed before the 1906 earthquake, there’s no doubt that postcard makers considered the city’s Chinese residents more tourist attraction than human. One postcards shows a group of Chinese men lounging in an opium den; another shows a young Chinese boy peering around a building. It’s captioned “Are the police coming?”
The postcards were printed by the Detroit Publishing Company, one of the country’s largest postcard publishers in the early part of the 20th century. The company employed photographers like William Henry Jackson to take snaps of the nation’s most photogenic places. Along with sending greetings to family, postcards were popular collectors’ items in turn of the century America.
These particular postcards are part of a private collection that were donated to the New York Public Library. The collector had 14,500 Detroit Publishing Company postcards.