Early Texas Postcards from SMU’s DeGolyer Library

Early Texas Postcards from SMU’s DeGolyer Library

Port Lavaca, Texas, ca. 1906, DeGolyer Library, SMU

Port Lavaca, Texas, ca. 1906, DeGolyer Library, SMU

More than 1,300 early Texas postcards from SMU’s DeGolyer Library are now available online in the Texas: Photographs, Manuscripts, and Imprints digital collection, which is one of more than 30 digital collections that form part of CUL Digital Collections.

The DeGolyer Library’s early Texas postcard collections provide a unique, visual glimpse of Texas history during the late 19th and early 20th century. These collections are especially interesting because of the large number of real photographic postcards showing distinctly local views of Texas.

Fire in Electra, Texas, ca. 1910s

Fire in Electra, Texas, ca. 1910s, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

These collections are important, because they illustrate a time of great change in Texas. Essentially, these images trace the visual history of Texas during the first two decades of the 20th century. They show developing towns and cities with changing skylines, street scenes, churches, schools and universities, local events and disasters, landscapes, agriculture, and the rise of such new industries as oil, railroads, tourism, recreation and banking. They preserve a particularly local view of time and place in Texas. many postcards illustrate the operations of the oil industry in its early years as well as show the dangers involved.

Much of the DeGolyer Library’s early Texas postcard collection are “real photographic postcards” in that they are true photographs printed on postcard stock paper. Such cards, often made spontaneously by entrepreneurial, traveling photographers, can be the only record of a small-town event otherwise lost in time. In addition, since postcards fall under the category of ephemera, or materials that are not considered particularly valuable, they were frequently discarded; therefore, many that remain may be unique records of the past.

Somewhat older than the real photographic cards are printed, color halftone photomechanical  postcards made by professional companies. These were sometimes printed locally, but many were manufactured in Germany, a country that specialized in the process. After the outbreak of World War I, overseas imports ceased. Together, the real photographic postcards and printed postcards represent a fascinating piece of Texas history.

The DeGolyer Texas postcards are located in three accessions: The Eric Steinfeldt Collection of Maritime Views; the Collection of Real Photographic Postcards of Texas, and the Collection of Texas Postcards.

Tornado in Austin, Texas, 1922, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

Tornado in Austin, Texas, 1922, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

SMU, through its Central University Libraries (CUL), has recently digitized and made available on the Internet more than 1,300 of these postcards, which depict buildings, people, events, and industries in Texas. The digitized postcards can be used by a wide range of user communities for applications such as historic preservation, genealogical research, re-photography, and the study of Texas.

Throughout 2012 digitization of 1,240 of the early Texas postcards was funded by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission as part of the TexTreasures program. The TexTreasures program was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services which is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

About Cynthia Boeke

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