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The Central Libraries > Mid-Manhattan Library > Historical Postcards

A Record of Art

Washington Arch at winter twilight.
Digital ID: 836197

Early postcards were typically printed in Germany, where the art of lithography had reached a level of refinement and cost-effectiveness not found elsewhere. The high quality of printing enticed the public to collect the cards, and assured artists that their work would be reliably and attractively reproduced. Art reproductions were finally within the reach of the populace, who avidly filled albums with their favorite images.  Postcard publishers commissioned battalions of artists to fill the demand.  Inspiration was plentiful enough on the streets of New York.

Rachael Robinson Elmer, daughter of an old Vermont family of Quaker farmers, abolitionists, naturalists and artists, gained fame for two sets of fine art postcards depicting New York.  Washington Arch at Winter Twilight is from the first set, published in 1914 by P.F. Volland Company.  Two years later, she issued the second set—linocuts with an art moderne feel—on her own, publicizing the event with a poster.  Views of Grant’s Tomb and the Woolworth Building on a June night are examples of the second set.

Old College of the City of New York.
Digital ID: 836437

The firm of Raphael Tuck, the most prolific British publisher of postcards, commissioned several series of New York views from painters working in oil.  These postcards were dubbed “Oilettes.”  This painting of the Old College of the City of New York (the first home of CCNY) was done by Charles F. Flower, one of the foremost of Tuck’s artists.

Stokes Grove Street Studio.
Digital ID: 836699

Bernhard Wall designed over 5000 comic postcards, earning the title of “Postcard King.” After 1915, he devoted himself more seriously to etching. This rendering of the Greenwich Village studio of the painter and welfare worker Helen Olivia Phelps Stokes is an example of his later work.

Waiting room for women Penn R.R. station.
Digital ID: 836931
The artist of this 1908 lithograph of the waiting room for women in the now demolished Penn Station, identified in the caption as S. Goodman, may have self-published the card.  Anyone could be a postcard publisher, and many artists, both prominent and obscure, took advantage of this small medium to showcase their talents.  Particularly noteworthy is the patterning of the dresses on the women who wait.

The Astor Library, N. Y. City
Digital ID: 836719
The historical postcards also document the art of architecture with a rich supply of images of buildings still thriving and long since demolished.  The Lenox Library, a Greek Revival Building on Fifth Avenue and East 71st Street designed by Richard Morris Hunt, was demolished in 1913 to make way for the mansion that now houses the Frick Collection.  Two years earlier, The New York Public Library moved the collections of the Lenox Library to join the Astor Library and Tilden Foundation collections in a splendid new structure built by Carrere and Hastings on the corner of 42nd and Fifth.

The New York Public Library from a pencil drawing
by Louis H. Ruyl
Digital ID: 836813