The postcard was initially marketed as a convenient and inexpensive alternative to a telegram or letter, as it required neither extensive writing nor paper and envelope. While early cameras were too cumbersome for every traveler and too new to be affordable, travelers could easily purchase a postcard or two.
The World Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago was a watershed moment in American postcard history. It not only marked the first sale of souvenir postcards in the United States but also served to popularize the notion of purchasing and sharing a photographic souvenir. By the end of the 19th century, the postcard had become a popular travel souvenir in Europe and America.
Today historical postcards give us a fascinating glimpse into the past. Sometimes we see buildings that no longer stand or that perhaps have been altered to the extent of being unrecognizable. In addition, we see buildings in an earlier context with pedestrians or horse-drawn carts filling the streets. Leonard Willeke’s collection is unique and particularly enlightening because of his personal observations expressed in notes and sketches on the backs of many of the cards. Along with documentation of the places he visited, we learn that he had a fascination for stone quality, particularly color and texture. We see his love of detailed sculptural ornamentation and picturesque views brought to life in his sketches.
Curated by Kai Alexis Smith, Association of Research Libraries Career Enhancement Program Fellow at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, May 2013