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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Jason: What do you see in a card?

The weather was perfect for a long walk on Sunday so I strapped on the sneakers and walked for about three hours - from Courthouse through Rosslyn, across the Key Bridge and down M Street, a left on Wisconsin and made my way uphill to the Georgetown Flea Market on the corner of Wisconsin and Whitehaven Boulevard. I needed some new postcards and there's no better place to pick them up than a flea market.

One vendor had an impressive collection - three shoeboxes filled with postcards. One box was filled with really old cards - 19th century, most of the cards weren't sent and the ones that were mailed didn't really make for great anthology material. One box was primarily filled with newer cards - 1960s and later. In order to avoid copyright issues and getting permissions with this book I prefer to get older cards - every card (except two) that'll be in the book has been printed before 1923 and are well within the public domain. The third box was perfect - all of the cards were between 1900 and 1930 and almost all of them were written on and sent.

I turn the box around so I can read the backs of the cards and begin flipping through. I find some interesting ones - ended up buying five total - including this one below:

I read the card and notice that it was sent from France. Aunt Marjorie to Miss. Sherley - the 90c Marcelin Berthelot stamp dates to 1927, the card is dated July 15th, 1930. Miss. Sherley likely traveled across the Atlantic by boat, Lindberg made his transatlantic flight in 1927. It's sent to an address in Washington DC that's only a few blocks from my first apartment, as far as I know that area's always been a bit affluent. These are the things you want to note before you read the card - it's like being a detective, finding clues to the story beyond what the person writes.

On the back of the card Marjorie has high spirits but her trip isn't going well. The weather's cold and the ocean's too choppy to go swimming. You picture this woman, leaving America - taking the long cruise - only to have the entire trip ruined by inclement weather. The story starts to kick in for me, all of the pieces fit, and I decided to buy it to see what a different set of eyes comes up with.

The man who's selling the cards looks over the ones I selected. He points out the one from France and says how he loves the old photograph postcards - especially the ones that have a beach scene. I didn't even pay much attention to the front, honestly, so I just sort of smile and nod. He looks at the card for a bit and says, "They always look so happy."

I realized that he had his own story for the card and he didn't even need to look at the text, all he needed was this picture:


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