Richard Gere stares at me as I get dressed in the morning. He stands, seductively immortalized on my closet door. Cowboy boots, worn jeans and a white, ribbed, sleeveless under shirt. He stands lazily in front of an old Buick. His manly armpits are exposed to the world as he grasps the back of his skull. He languidly holds a cigarette in his mouth, because it’s apparently cool to smoke. It was my birthday postcard. A friend gifted it to me. Alright, I asked her to buy it for me, but I bought her Willy Nelson in exchange.
Postcards were not originally called postcards; they were simply called “souvenir cards.” And it was not until 1901 that they received this title of “postcard.” I am informed that John P. Charlton of Philadelphia first patented the postcard in 1861, choosing to transfer the patent to H.L. Lipman, for whom each postcard possessed only a small border with the subscript, “Lipman’s Postal Card, Patent Applied For.” These were on the market until 1873 when Government issued postcards first appeared; these were known simply as “Postals.” The evolvement of postcards continued.
By 1870 Austria had introduced picture postcards. Interestingly, it was not until nine years after the Americans patented the postcard that European countries began producing them. Funny, I always thought we stole everything from the Europeans.
I collect postcards. From everywhere I go, and everywhere I don’t. The study and collection of postcards is known as deltiology. I’m not a deltiologist per se; I simply dabble in deltiology. It is understood that deltiology is the world’s third most popular hobby after stamp collecting and money collecting. I believe my first postcard came from Barns and Noble, where most amateur deltiologists begin their careers, or at least where I began mine. It was an American classic: a black and white of Audrey Hepburn. My most recent postcard arrived from Frankfurt, Germany.
I keep every postcard I have ever received, or purchased, arranged about my room, as a reminder—a reminder of where I’ve been and where I have yet to go—or just because they have cool pictures. My favorite “picture postcard” is a black and white of a New York City street in the fifties and there is a Lama sticking its head out of a cab window. His name is Larry.
The Louvre, Paris. It’s also a black and white. In my memory it was a wonderful family vacation, but in actuality in was a dreadful combination of too many adults and too many overly large American-style, body-bags, which made for a marvelously miserable trip. It was our last day in Paris. I bought the postcard from a vendor across the street from a small café, quintessential Parisian. I never wrote a thing on it, but it lives on my closet door also, reminding me of that epic failure of a family vacation.
My goodness, My Guinness. It’s a traditional Irish saying. I bought this one in Dublin. The saying on the postcard sits right next to a picture of a frothing pint of Ireland’s finest. I lived in Northern Ireland for three months, a study abroad trip. In all that time, I am ashamed to say, I only ever had one pint of Guinness, alright it was a half-pint, but Guinness is seriously strong stuff. I just couldn’t leave the island without at least tasting the famous brown ale. Truthfully, it was really awful. I’m not a huge fan of beer in general, but Guinness is another story altogether. It’s like a meal in a cup, or so the Irish say. It was rumored that during the potato famine, if a person didn’t have enough money for food, they would simply buy a Guinness to sustain themselves. My goodness, My Guinness indeed. I didn’t write anything on this one either, it just exists, along with its story.
Postcards to me are a lot like poetry. They are brief, sharp glimpses of something—images, words, phrases—memories. And as with poetry, postcards must communicate, in their small allotted spaces, the equivalent of a longer piece of writing or a greater work of art, in breadth and depth. Wordless, or scrawled with numerous illegible letters, postcards are able to stand, singular and alone in their potency. Both have much demanded of them—postcards and poetry. They must give much with little. Perhaps that is part of the unique draw for so many deltiologists—a thing small yet significant—or perhaps it’s the pictures, or it could just be Richard Gere.