Linens and Beyond: Main Street Masterpieces

As every postcard collector knows, the same place (railroad depot, restaurant, local view, etc.) can be depicted by photographers in many different ways. Low angles, high angles, wide angles, distance shots, activity or lack of it, props, time of day and lighting can all offer a different take on the same place. And, of course, the ability and creativity of the photographer and the desires of the postcard client will also determine whether the resulting postcard is boring, ordinary or exceptional.

One of the many subcategories of linen postcards in our collection is Stores and Businesses. (Restaurants, bars and others of the food-serving/ entertainment genre are separate from these in my collecting system.) I put what I consider the best ones in albums. While I love all of these store cards (and what obsessive collector doesn’t love all of their cards!), when I flip through the albums, the postcards that depict the businesses in an absolutely dead-on straight image never cease to delight me more than the others. And when I say straight on, I mean that the photographer stood right in front of the center of the storefront to take the photo that would be made into a postcard.

miller brothers postcardMiller Bros. Square Deal Jewelers – New Orleans, La.

While there are many great storefronts that are taken at varying angles, the straight-on cards generally pack an incomparable visual punch. They often have great symmetry and naturally have the color and sharpness that can be found on the best linen postcards. Some of them also feature the Art Deco look that was popular in 1930s storefronts.

These cards are difficult to find mainly because they are very local and are usually advertising postcards that were mailed to promote a business. Thus they were junk mail, and were rarely saved. They also were rarely mailed beyond their immediate locale, so it would particularly difficult for a collector to find the ones that were made for a business many states away, unless the businesses are from a touristy area and specialize in gifts or souvenirs.

Most dealers would probably file these cards locally, which makes perfect sense, but which makes them even more difficult for someone like me to find. Note that most of the ones I have are from New Jersey and New York, my own states of residence over the years, and the states I look at most often when I am at a postcard show.youth fashion shop postcard

Youth Fashion Shop – Perth Amboy, N.J.

It is also interesting to note that almost all of these cards are from cities or sizeable towns that would have had “main” street businesses. Rarely have I seen any from smaller towns. I’ve chosen 10 of my favorites to show exactly what I mean.

lady jane dress shop postcard
Lady Jane (dress shop) – Bloomfield, N.J.