One of the incredible things about collecting postcards is that they can mirror a lifetime of varied interests. When I began collecting at age 10, I thought that getting one card from all 48 (yes, 48) states was the pinnacle of success. Then a few foreign cards trickled into my collection from exotic places like Iraq and the Gold Coast, and postcards helped open a world view.
In later years, I had a short-lived mania for all things miniature and began making little room boxes. Naturally, I was wild to find dollhouse and diorama postcards to give “inspiration.”
Postcards also helped fill gaps in my education. Somehow I’d never gotten around to taking a course in art appreciation. A large collection of fine art on postcards and a few books filled that void, and I still enjoy Stengels and other choice reproductions.
When I went back to another childhood hobby, stamp collecting, I started looking at my postcards for examples of postal history. Today most of the cards I’m adding to my collection have small-town cancellations, preferably with a view of the same town on the front.
There isn’t enough space in a single column to list all the topics I’ve pursued over the years, but undoubtedly the quirkiest is CORN.
Until our family moved to Iowa in 1980, corn was something we ate on the cob in the summer. It was cultural shock to drive halfway across that state in late August when it seemed to be an ocean of green stalks.
Shortly after we settled in, a little boy was lost in a corn field for several days in northern Iowa, thankfully found alive. It impressed me so much that I used the incident in the first romance novel I wrote for Dell.
There was much to learn about corn, beginning with the incredible process that filled huge wagons with billions of dried kernels every fall. The price to harvest corn? Even at the time, a farmer might invest a quarter million in an air-conditioned combine.
One son spent six weeks or so in the summer detasseling, a process necessary to produce hybrid seed corn. The other rented a house where the sound of drying corn in a nearby silo went on 24 hours a day during the season.
No wonder then that I began to collect postcards that helped tell the fantastic story of this agricultural gold. The most popular corn cards show the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. Built in 1892 and rebuilt several times, it was embellished with Moorish domes and minarets in 1937. Every year (except 2006 when there was a severe drought) a new design is created over the exterior of the building using corn as the main medium. Early postcards of this constantly changing monument are widely sought. Besides being a huge tourist attraction, the palace is a community center and the site for basketball, rodeo and other events.
There are a surprising number of corn-related postcards. A partial check list includes corn fields; the Corn Exchange bank in Chicago; corn on greetings; advertising including those for corn seed; the corn fence in New Orleans; Native American corn; popcorn wagons; corn planting; harvesting and processing; breakfast cereals made of corn; Cornhusker postcards (Nebraska); old-fashioned corn husking scenes; and comics and exaggerations. There’s no limit to the potential of corn as a postcard topic. From the early 1900s to the present, corn shows up with some regularity.
Whether you specialize in early cards, linens or modern, the chances are some choice corn cards are waiting to be found. It remains to be seen whether corn as fuel will ever be portrayed on postcards, but it is certain that corn is increasingly important in a world running short of petroleum products and food.
Barbara Andrews is an avid postcard collector from Star City, W.Va.