By Kevin Knauss
Postcards can be wonderful historical documents preserving people and places from all over the world. Just like any thriving metropolis, hundreds of unique postcards were created depicting Sacramento buildings and landscapes. The Sacramento Historical Society has embarked on a project to display as many postcard images of Sacramento as possible. If you have vintage postcards of Sacramento and the surrounding region, we would like to scan your cherished memento of the past and put it on our website.
Postcards are simultaneously sentimental and disposable. Their function of providing information from the sender to the recipient in a simple format has changed little since their introduction. Postcards in the United States were first commercially produced in 1861. Postcards with printed images became popular in the 1870s. The study and collection of postcards is known as deltiology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postcard
Before Instagram, There Were Sacramento Postcards
Before the age of email, Facebook, Instagram, and a variety of other social media programs, postcards were the best way of sharing your vacation visit to a city or park with a relative or friend back home. The images on the postcards were usually contemporaneous with the location. They displayed important landmarks, buildings and historical locations. Most postcards were designed to market the location as a destination.
The urban landscape is constantly changing. Postcard images can memorialize buildings and landscapes that have appreciably altered or have been torn down altogether. Postcards are a great window to the past and reference for a region's history. The images from postcards from decades past can help historians compare and contrast the changes to the current landscapes.
Sacramento is no different. The city and suburban areas have dramatically changed over time. Postcards from Sacramento’s past are a great archive of how the city and surrounding area looked decades ago. Postcard images are not perfect. While the image depicted captures the landscape at that moment in time, they were also marketing pieces they may not reflect the true condition of building or development. In a sense, some of the images are air-brushed to look better or inviting.
A Window To Sacramento’s Past And History
But some postcards do capture the decay and neglect of historical buildings. This image of Sutter’s Fort before it was restored shows the dilapidated condition of the structure. It shows how history in Sacramento was slowly eroding. Fortunately, Sutter’s Fort was recognized as a significant icon of Sacramento history and was properly restored.
The postcard capturing life on K Street shows Sacramento’s past inter-urban street car system. The streetcar shown in the postcard is headed out to the Oak Park neighborhood.
While K Street has changed dramatically since that postcard printed, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church shown in another postcard has changed little. This church constructed from quarried stone is historically significant because of its age and also for the stain glass window of Leland Stanford Jr. http://stpaulssacramento.org/history/
However, any softening of the harsh reality that might be present in postcard images doesn’t negate the overall importance of the edifice or pastoral scene depicted on the postcard. The Sacramento Historical Society recognizes that postcards are an important window on our past. Many historic buildings or agricultural areas have been lost. Many of these sites were memorialized in images printed on postcards.
If you would like to contribute the image from one of your postcards of Sacramento, we’d like to have it. We will be having a scanner at our next membership meeting at Columbus Hall on 5961 Newman Court in Sacramento (to view our calendar of events, click here). You can bring your postcards by and we can scan and give them back to you for safe keeping. You can visit our Postcard Project page and see some of the images of Sacramento’s past that have already been uploaded to our website. https://www.sachistoricalsociety.org/postcards