Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflections on Writing Postcard Views

Respected author, publisher and educator Joseph F. Bieron shared with us a behind-the-scenes look at the birth of his excellent book, Postcard Views, A Walk Down Main Street Buffalo, New York, circa 1910:

                I was extremely fortunate to have a long professional career as a college professor teaching chemistry to talented students. A major part of this experience was writing; lesson plans, research papers, grant proposals, public interest science articles. Over the years, I came to enjoy writing as a way of learning and recording interesting ideas.

                As a youngster I also liked to collect and organize memorabilia, postage stamps, foreign coins, commemorative cards of presidents, and baseball cards from packs of bubble gum.

                I also have had a life-long interest in history, especially local history. It was probably only a matter of time when all these interests came together.

                About 20 years ago, I acquired a collection of old postcards that featured scenes of Buffalo and Western New York. I was doing research on another history project when I took advantage of becoming the proud owner of 1200 postcards.

After sorting and organizing the postcards, it became clear that the exercise was a wonderful way of learning the history of Buffalo, especially around the time period 1907-1914 which was the high point of postcard circulation in the history of our nation.

 And so an idea was born! A book that featured historic postcards around a turn-of -the century time period would be an enjoyable and effective way to highlight the history of Buffalo.

Postcard Views, A Walk Down Main Street Buffalo, New York, circa 1910, is a book that reproduces postcards and maps in color along with a narrative and sidebars. It shows scenes of Main Street when Buffalo was one of the largest and more vibrant cities in America. The time period also coincides when the technology of printing postcards was an art form that made it extremely popular.

The premise was made that Main Street was in large part representative of the city in general. Chapters in the book begin at the Buffalo harbor and walk up Main Street to the edge of the commercial district. Topics include transportation, business, shopping, commerce and entertainment sectors. Maps and sidebars show details and describe life style features.

The postcards serve as an excellent framework for doing historical research. A single building can prompt research on an entire commercial enterprise; banks, department stores, hotels, theatres and markets.

Main Street also provides an opportunity for exploring a number of architectural landmarks. Not only are these buildings on the Register of National Historic Landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Guaranty Building but there were also buildings that were equally significant but torn down like the Erie County Savings Bank at Shelton Square.

My postcard collection has grown to over 1600 postcards that can be cataloged in over 30 different topics. I used one section to partially illustrate a book, The History of Orchard Park. A collection of Crystal Beach and Erie Beach postcards highlight an oral presentation about the beaches on the Canadian shore. Numerous examples of postcards make up an illustrated presentation of the Olmsted Park system in Buffalo.

 So if you want to tell a story about Buffalo around 1900, consider postcards for harbor scenes, schools, hospitals, parks, suburban towns, Niagara Falls, architecture, Delaware Avenue, and sports venues.  From my experience, I can assure you of one observation - postcards are more interesting than collecting stamps or baseball cards.

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