Postcards from the Wissahickon
David Bower, FOW’s volunteer extraordinaire, presented “Postcards from the Wissahickon” at the hybrid fall Valley Talk held in September at the Valley Green Inn and online. He delighted and impressed attendees with his anecdotes and deep knowledge from his 30 years as an avid collector of 3,000 postcards depicting images from the Wissahickon Valley.
Most of David’s collection dates from about 1898 to 1915, a period that became known as the Golden Age of Postcards. The U.S. Postal Service estimates that at the peak of their popularity, a billion one cent postcards were mailed and collected. They were cheap to buy and mail, so people were sending them all over the world. Not only were postcards the best way to share pictures, but they were also the fastest way to send messages, thanks to mail service twice, sometimes three times, daily! David likened the ease and speed of sending messages via postcard to our Tweeting today. Postcard collecting was deeply embedded into the communication and culture of the day until World War I interrupted global trade and mail, and the postcard age declined.
David was first introduced to postcards that featured images of the Wissahickon at an antiques dealership in Frederick, Maryland, in 1992, the year he joined FOW’s volunteer corps. The cards were inexpensive, so he bought a few. Three decades later, our 2019 Volunteer of the Year’s extensive collection fills 18 albums!
David has amassed 475 different images of the Wissahickon including the Wissahickon Creek, Valley Green Inn, lots of bridges and, of course, the beautiful woods. Some are views of things that are no longer there. There are exchanges with silly greetings and jokes. Nearly all photographs, the cards often depict the same image, but are produced in different colors and styles by different printers (who at the time were unrestricted by copyright laws), other images are artist enhanced. There are postcards postmarked from all over the world, including Europe, and in different languages. David said that over the years he’s seen Wissahickon spelled about 20 different ways.
David has spent as little as a couple of dollars and as much as $75 and thousands of hours curating his amazing collection, but he has loved every minute of it. “I meet interesting people with interesting stories about the Wissahickon,” he said. “The postcards tell the many stories of the Wissahickon, its history and culture, and remind me that although everything is changing, some things never do.”