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Original Article by Bill Judnick
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Many people live in small-town America, and many people visit or pass through those locations. Unfortunately, the economics of postcard publishing meant that very few (if any) viewcards of those towns would be available. Publishers, cleverly availing themselves of this opportunity, published generics with scenes that could not be conclusively placed at any location. The names of various towns could be imprinted along one edge--most often top or bottom--with a phrase "Greetings from [town name]".
Thus, a printer could ready a large multicolor batch for many towns, with captions applied as a last step in smaller quantities--often in black or red ink. As the following 1909 sample generic attests, the publishers could even promise a variety of such cards for the same town:
Was the practice deceptive? It is hard to make that case. The generic post cards were most often only sold in general stores within the named communities. And, if postally used, they most often bear the cancellations of the towns in question. So they were, in a very real sense, souvenirs of those towns. To get one, you either had to go there, or have someone send you one from there.
Storeowners had a surprising variety of generics in many towns. And collecting them all for a town is definitely a challenge. Consider Johnstown Ohio, whose population is currently about 3,200. In the days of linen postcards (roughly 1930 - 1959), there were about 2,500 souls who could pick from at least the following 14 different generic postcards published by the NYCE Company:
So, as you see, some Johnstown Ohio storekeeper had a very colorful display of local post card souvenirs!
There are types of generics other than the scenics pictured above. Many a large-letter linen collector has bought a small-town large letter, only to later discover that none of the scenes depicted on the card were of the town named, but were simply views of better-known landmarks in the same state. Here are examples from Temple Texas and Henryetta Oklahoma:
[I never knew there were so many skyscrapers in Henryetta!] So you can have a lot of fun with these generics, provided only that you do not take them too literally!
In my opinion, generic postcards are currently underpriced. As more collectors realize what unusually small quantities were printed, their prices could rise considerably. The smaller the town, the better the price should be. [We have had some buyers comment that the generics they purchased from us were the only postcards they had ever seen from their towns.]
A subtle plus factor in the pricing of generics is the season: if the card obviously depicted a certain season, such as autumn (see the harvest scene in the second row above) or winter, these items could only be readily sold or used during those seasons; so it is not likely that as many were ordered.
There is also a kitsch or amusement factor to be considered--some people would consider the cows in the bottom row above to be an amusing cow-town commentary, heightening the current demand a bit. For more chuckles, how about the following "GREETINGS FROM CANTON, S.D." which apparently places the landlocked state of South Dakota on the ocean!
Base retail price for generic post cards in good condition is $2.50--much less, of course, if ravaged by time. If the card is exceptionally well preserved--excellent or near mint--the price could easily reach $3.75 to $5.00, depending on the size of the town.
We consistently use the term "generic" when it applies to postcards in our listings. So if you go to a particular state using any of the hyperlinks below, the Find command in your browser's Edit menu will locate them all for you.
We caution the reader that not all dealers are knowledgeable or honest enough to label their generics as generics. Thus, some generic postcards, if mistaken for actual viewcards, bring astonishing & undeserved prices at auction. The best example, contributed by Central Ohio historian Richard Barrett, is that of a streetcar heading around a bend towards the viewer. The scene is in color, with nondescript trees at either side of the tracks. The caption in brown (usually, but we have seen black) at the top can seem very specific, but all have the exact same scene. The purported localities we know of (there are undoubtedly more) are as follows: interurban route, Bevidere Illinois; Freeport Illinois; interurban route, Shawnee Oklahoma; La Porte Indiana; Ravine Park, Highland Park, Illinois; Riverside Park, Saginaw Michigan; Scotch Ridge Ohio(!); & Whitefish Bay Resort, Milwaukee Wisconsin' (2 different captions exist), If mailed, the dates span 1907 to 1911, so their numbers are probably plentiful. Not all carry an attribution to a publisher, but when they do it is E. C. Kropp of Milwaukee, with their number 4808 in varying places on the postcard. We have seen ridiculous auction prices well over $40.00 for such cards. If you know additional locations for these cards, please help us to expose them here by contacting us.
abbreviations explained in English
| Abkürzungen erklärt auf Deutsch,_
| lühendid eestikeelsete selgituste
lyhenteet suomenkielisin selvennöksineen ja esimerkein
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