Patrons walking into the Johnson Building at the Copley Square Central Library stop in their tracks as they encounter the current exhibit, “Greetings from Boston.” This impressive display features a sampling of the nearly 165,000 items in the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) postcard collection.
More than Scenes on Display
One section of this presentation highlights five decades of images of Copley Square. “Looking at it you can see the trolley cars and later on, cars...,” said Jane Winton, curator for the exhibit and librarian in the print department. “At the same time it shows the different types of postcards, the white border, the linen texture which was popular in the 30s, and the chrome which came later,” she continued. Visitors will not only see changes to Boston through the years but also the evolution of postcard design and printing technology.
Made Possible By...
All the exhibitions at the BPL are funded by private donations. “What I find so wonderful about this new exhibition is that it was spontaneously and generously underwritten by two anonymous donors. They had seen the success of our yearlong Cool+Collected exhibit in the Johnson Lobby--which had also been funded by private donors through our foundation--and were disappointed to hear that exhibit was coming down this summer, but we had no funds to put up a new show,” said Beth Prindle, exhibitions manager.
These donors wanted all the people who come through the Johnson entrance to continue to see the scope of the library’s collections. “It's a gift that will touch a lot of people, tens of thousands, during the show’s run,” said Prindle.
The library’s postcard collection, housed in the print department, has great value to researchers, because it allows them to see what places looked like at a specific period of time. “We have about 50,000 postcards of the US, and of the world about 30,000. And, for Boston postcards there are about 5,000. They were donated by different collectors through the years,” said Winton.
The artists who designed and colored postcards where often far from the scene depicted. During the first half of the “Golden Age of Postcards” (circa 1898-1918) black and white photographs of local scenes would be sent to printers in Germany for hand-coloring and print productions.
The collection of cards that Tichnor Brothers Inc. donated to the BPL has both the finished proof of the postcard and the supporting photograph from which it was made. “That’s where you’ll see that they have painted in clouds or taken out ugly buildings, or cars, or telephone wires...,” said Winton.
Free and fun!
Boston Public Library
Central Library – 700 Boylston St., Boston MA 02116 (Map)
Words: Penny Cherubino
Photography: © 2010 Penny Cherubino