Two young hipsters outfitted with beanies and Docs walk into Ken Sanders bookstore and start rifling through a stack of filing cabinets. They tell us they’re looking for nostalgic images of Utah to send to a homesick friend in Saipan. They leave with one depicting the friend’s hometown, Kalispell, and one of the Great Salt Lake.
These buyers are children of the digital age, but this is as analog as you can get—mailing an antique piece of paper.
You know the saying, “pics or it didn’t happen.” Cellphone shots on social media are today’s way of saying “Wish you were here.” For decades, we expressed that sentiment with postcards. Ken Sanders’s dad started collecting them 50 years ago and Ken still collects—he donates thousands to the Marriott Library every year and has thousands in his shop and home. (Trivia point: Postcard collecting is called “deltiology.”) Postcards gained popularity during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1898, at first as trading cards, then, after the U.S. Post Office okayed writing messages on the back in 1907, as a dispatch to the folks back home from whatever exotic—or prosaic—locale you found yourself in. Now they are a tiny glimpse into the past, not just because the subjects of the photos change over time, but because the style and printing methods changed—white border, full bleed, linen, hand-tinted and photochrome are some of the types, and of course, the subjects are infinite. Sanders has binders full of postcards depicting books—children reading books, men reading books, naked women reading books—but they made postcards with photos of everything from motels to airplanes.