For many years now I have been lamenting the dying art of postcard writing. Think about it, when was the last time you sent a postcard? Or received one for that matter? If you travel often then perhaps you still partake in this global ritual. Like smiling, it’s another thing we all seem to agree upon. Which is why it saddens me to see it happening less and less. The hand written letter is, for the most part, a thing of the past. No more letters written in pink, watermelon scented pens and covered with sparkly unicorn stickers from your cousin who lives far away. No more letters from your boyfriend while on his family summer vacation. No more sending letters to your boyfriend splashed with some of your perfume (yes, I did that). Now we have blogs or use Facebook to communicate our comings and goings. I appreciate technology but there is something special about holding a hand written letter or postcard in your hand. I think about the miles it has come, the hands it has passed through, the many languages it has heard and the simple fact that this small little piece of paper made it all the way around the world and ended up in the right place. Amazing.
Years ago it was fashionable to have a postcard book to keep all of your postcards in. Much like a photo album. Every time someone sent you a card you would put it in your book. I, of course, have one of these. If you send me a postcard I will save it forever and ever. My grandchildren will be able to look though my postcards and piece together life during my time with sentences like, “It’s absolutely amazing here!” and “All we’ve eaten is bread and pasta.” I hope they enjoy the legacy I am leaving for them.
Not everyone’s postcard collection stays within the family however. Often times these collections get sold at estate sales or simply given away to be sold at flea markets to vintage junkies such as myself. The best postcard collection I have come across is at the Melrose Flea market at the corner of Melrose and Fairfax every Sunday. Mark, the owner of this collection, not only sells old postcards but has an incredible collection of photographs. For this he has lovingly become known as “the found photo guy of Melrose.” Mark has amassed quite an inventory over his seventeen years of selling. When I first stumbled upon his stall I was with my sister and we thought, “oh how neat, old photos, lets stop for a minute and look.” An hour later we were both exhausted from thoroughly mining the overflowing bins. Digging through the photos and postcards is oddly addicting. Like gambling, the minute you hit the jackpot with an incredible handwritten postcard sent all the way from India in 1902, you have to keep digging for more. I always have to drag myself away or remember to breathe before I go faint. The best postcards I have were found here, and it was well worth the dig.
Mark purposely leaves the cards and photos in unorganized piles, inviting one to partake in the enjoyable treasure hunting ritual. I can imagine that filing and categorizing everything would be a daunting task. Marks says he prefers the haphazard aesthetic of the cards and I would have to agree. I have been to other card sellers who have everything nicely wrapped and labeled and it’s not as fun. At Mark’s stall you get to feel like you found the hidden gem first. His stall is very popular and he caters to a variety of buyers; artists looking for mixed media material, interior decorators looking for something unique for a client, collectors, crafters, tourists and the rest of us simply looking for a bit of scavenging fun.
Mark recently told me a story of a man who was looking through his bins and came across a photo of himself. It was a photo taken of another person but this man saw himself walking past in the background. What are the odds that this man would find this picture amongst all the others and then notice himself in the backdrop of another person’s photo? How often do any of us show up in other people’s photo albums? I love hearing stories like this. It highlights what I believe to be at the heart of the fascination with these photos and postcards. Aside from their aesthetic appeal, they invoke our interconnectedness and fascination with each other. A genuine curiosity with other people and their stories. Despite the fact that we may not write letters or pick up the phone as much today, the need to connect and know each other remains. The desire to find yourself in someone else’s story, to relate, to share, to communicate, to share our worlds with each other is the essence of who we are. I may not know the people in the photos and post cards that I’ve bought from Mark’s shop but I love them for the stories they have all lived, and the stories I imagined they have lived, and I like knowing that in some small way it has not been lost.
Below are some of my favorite finds and pictures from Mark’s stall at The Melrose Trading Post.