Sepia Saturday: Exposition

My mother, now 90, excitedly phoned me to say she'd stumbled on an envelope full of old postcards in a drawer. They turned out to be my late father's collection, including a few that were sent to his parents in the early 1900s. Here's the first of what promises to be several posts about some of my favorites, by and large hand-tinted. For starters here are some souvenir cards from various exhibitions.

At age 21, my father Nelson uncharacteristically traveled, apparently alone, from rural Michigan to the 1939 World's Fair in New York. I like the abstract schematic nature of this card, partly because it's such an ironically unsatisfying view of the Fair! It looks sort of like a pizza that's been steamrollered.

"Looking up the Esplanade toward the Theme building, the gigantic Perisphere, and its attendant Trylon"

The postcard caption is a bit unclear but it appears that this is a photo of a model of the fair rather than an aerial photo of the actual fairgrounds. On the reverse side you can see his typical flamboyant pencil calligraphy as he updates his mother on his whereabouts.

Late the previous year, his friend Frank visited the same fair. Despite the "welcoming" statuary, I find this facade rather stark and monolithic.

"Her gesture is one of welcome."

Note the post office's admonition to "address your mail to street and number." Frank was good about this but Nelson, as you can see above, not so much.

A few years earlier still, Nelson's baby sister Margaret visited another exposition. I love the Art Deco architecture. I wonder if the blimp was really there or just added by an artist; it lens a rather "Metropolis" air to the picture. This is the year before the Hindenburg disaster...

"It is wonderful."

She refers to "we all" and as she was only 15, I assume she went with their elder sister Dorothy and father George. My grandmother was probably unable to travel due to her chronic tubercular condition and Nelson stayed to care for her.

By the time Nelson got to New York, his friend Frank had traveled to California. Here the architecture seems to meld Deco with Greek and Assyrian, neither of which have much to do with the Pacific Basin!

The names on the buildings aren't very legible but include De Soto, Federmann, Alvarado, Bougainville, La Perousse, and of course Cook.

Note that by this time my father has moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, attending the University.

Be sure to check out the Sepia Saturday site.


  1. It looks as if you have found a treasure trove if these cards are just a sample. You have even managed to find a theme within them. Exhibition venues always seem to be so ornate.

  2. What a great find - how fortunate you are! Can't wait to see more.

  3. Beautiful cards. I'm glad your father saved them.

  4. Those fairs and expos are always so futuristic looking. What a find you have here.

  5. What a fantastic find, the Postcards are beautiful.

  6. They packed a lot into a small space and those sparsely addressed cards seemed to get where they were supposed to go.

  7. The blimp was probably at the exposition, but probably not in that particular place at the time the picture was taken.

  8. I like the third one the best. How fun to go through this box of cards.

  9. What a find. The cards are excellent : there is something about the illustrations and even the colouring that is so of their time. I look forward to the rest of the stash.

  10. Wow! These postcards are incredible. I have always been fascinated by the Exhibitions of the early 1900's and have a few postcards of those held in the UK (1908 Franco-British Exhibition, 1924 Empire Exhibition) but have never seen or heard of these ones before. Thanks for sharing this wonderful collection.

  11. I would have loved to attend these expositions. How wonderful to have cards from family members who did.

  12. How lovely to have your father's collection. I love old postcards, mainly for the messages - "Porsche is doing fine" made me wonder which model Frank had! Look forward to the next batch :-)