Journal Article

A Paper Atlantis: Postcards, Mass Art, and the American Scene. The Eleventh Reyner Banham Memorial Lecture

Jeffrey Meikle

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 13, issue 4, pages 267-286
Published in print January 2000 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online January 2000 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/13.4.267
A Paper Atlantis: Postcards, Mass Art, and the American Scene. The Eleventh Reyner Banham Memorial Lecture

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This essay explores a topic that recalls Reyner Banham's celebration of American popular culture and his enthusiastic travels through the United States. From 1931 into the early 1950s, the US market for inexpensive postcards was dominated by the so-called ‘linen’ postcard, which was developed, designed, printed and marketed by Curt Teich & Co. of Chicago. Based on retouched black-and-white photographs and printed in vivid, often exaggerated colours on textured card stock, these inexpensive postcards represented the landscape and roadside attractions of an optimistic, even utopian, American scene—an alternate world not always congruent with the reality of the US during decades of economic depression and war. To a historian, the encyclopaedic geographic iconography of Teich's linen cards, and of those printed by competitors, suggests popular middle-class attitudes about nature, wilderness, technology, mobility and the city during a self-conscious 'machine age'. For a collector, on the other hand, these cards, which are certainly authentic survivors of their time, evoke postmodern nostalgia for a lost world portrayed through the inaccurate representations of pasteboard images.

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Subjects: Art Forms ; Art Styles ; History of Art ; Industrial and Commercial Art

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