The earliest postcards weren’t actually postcards at all. They were trade cards, designed to be collected as souvenirs for the pictures on their faces. Their reverses were filled with advertising text. Cleverly designed, they were advertisements that people chose to keep around.
This card on the left is an advertisement for Eldorado Engine Oil, “the best oil made.” On its face is a reproduction of an etching of the monument to James A. Garfield, America’s assassinated president, who was laid to rest in Cleveland, Ohio’s Lake View Cemetery.
The etching puzzles me. The monument resembles the Garfield Monument, in that it has a similar square Romanesque base and a conical tower. However, the tower as built wasn’t nearly as tall. I don’t know if this artwork was based upon the original architect’s plan (which wasn’t entirely executed for some reason) or if this is an artist’s rendering from imagination, description, or another source. It’s clearly not from life. Even the stairways and terrace are different — though eerily similar.
A little poking around reveals that the tomb wasn’t completed until 1890. My tentative dating on the card is 1884, based on the text on the card’s back, which reads in part:
Clark, Clark Co., Dakota
July 1, 1884
Gentlemen: — We have fully tested Eldorado Engine Oil during the past year on all kinds of Farm Machinery and on our Threshing Machines….
Very respectfully yours,
So the card can’t be earlier than 1881, when Garfield died, and is probably no later than 1890, when the President was entombed. 1884 seems as likely a date for it as any.
This card was never intended to be sent through the mail, though. (In fact, the penny postcard stamp was not put into use until 1898). This card is printed on very thin card stock or very sturdy paper. It survives because it was pasted into an album. The advertising side of the card is still slightly rough with remnants of the adhesive.
It’s the oldest card in my collection. So far, anyway.
The other postcard essays are: