Fantasy vintage postcards brighten drab winter days

Put your imagination in high gear, and there are some magical surprises waiting for you on vintage postcards. Before surreal art, before electronic games that take the player into strange new worlds, there were artists who created their own fantastical worlds on postcards. Those who collect greetings from the early 1900s most likely have a number of fantasy postcards already.

Rabbits dressed like humans, pumpkins running away from witches on brooms, and good old Santa all have strong elements of fantasy, but they’re only a sampling of what’s available in the magical world of artists’ imaginations.

Fantasy art must have a magical or supernatural theme. Sometimes it’s a new spin on an old myth or legend. Or an artist may create something new and fantastic based solely on his or her active imagination. Early postcard artists seem to especially enjoy taking something from nature and humanizing it. Mountains were given faces and personalities, frogs played banjos, pigs interacted with  people, and cats were given distinctive personalities such as the somewhat sinister ones drawn by Louis Wain, a prolific postcard artist.

A special favorite of early postcard publishers was the moon, which lent itself to all kinds of faces. In fact, moon fantasy was so popular that many photo studies had big paper or wooden moons as props for their work. Another but no less popular category involves mythical and legendary creatures. Cute little beings were more popular than huge and scary monsters, although both belong in a fantasy collection. Fairies, gnomes, brownies and elves are fairly easy to find on postcards, and more often than not, they’re playful and cute.

Margaret W. Tarrant, a British artist born in 1892, drew especially charming fairies as well as scenes picturing animals involved in human activities. She was a book illustrator, and her work appeared on many vintage postcards published by The Medici Society beginning in the 1920s and continuing for many years.

Human beings played a big part on the fantasy postcards of the early 1900s. Sometimes people were given bizarre characteristics or put into imaginary situations through “trick” photography. Other cards were artist drawn, using human features in “magical ways.”
Favorite themes were pretty women’s faces on flowers or the addition of butterfly wings. Babies – lots and lots of babies crowded onto one postcard – were also pictured to magical effect.

They appeared in birds’ nests, hatching from chicken eggs, or huddled together by the dozens in impossible scenes. Transportation themes were popular too. Cars and outhouses flew, and people rode everything from flying fish to carts pulled by chickens.
Postcards that fooled the eye are among the most popular fantasy themes. What appears to be a skull of a famous person  might be composed of semi-nude women draped in writhing positions.

Fantasy postcards can be comical or creepy, beautiful or bizarre. They can be found among foreign cards, holiday greetings, artist-signed cards or comics. Some will be offered for a sizable price, especially if the seller appreciates their unique nature. Others can be found modestly priced. Perhaps only a sophisticated dealer will have a sizable category of fantasy postcards, but the chances are good that anyone with a reasonably large collection will already own an assortment of these entertaining and imaginative cards.

Barbara Andrews has contributed postcard articles to Antique Trader for more than 35 years. She’s an author of women’s fiction, working on her 51st book in partnership with her daughter.

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