Let’s take a break from accessories, and get back to reading other people’s mail. A large portion of the Society’s postcard collection comes from collector Joseph Valachovic, including this lovely real photo postcard:

The message begins on the front, and serves as a caption: “Sandy Spring Md.  A tremendous chestnut tree between Sandy Spring and Laurel.” On the back, the sender continues, “It was very much prettier before the top was cut out to let telephone wires go through . Hoping that thee is well and happy, I am, Thine lovingly, Annie Archer. 6 Mo 29th, 1908.”

This card has several nice elements worthy of mentioning. The first thing that struck me is the comment about cutting trees to let through the telephone lines.  Sure enough, the photo shows a gap in the branches near the top, and there’s the offending telephone pole on the right. Fans of Montgomery County news coverage may remember the recent (and on-going) controversy over Trees vs. Power Lines; here’s a reminder that our modern concerns are not always as new as we might think.  

There’s also an open-topped automobile at the lower left, presumably traveling somewhere between Sandy Spring and Laurel. (The sender doesn’t specifically say the tree was “on the road between” the two cities, but perhaps this shows a scene along Route 198.) The current list of Montgomery County Champion Trees includes three American Chestnuts, but not in the Sandy Spring area; anyone recognize this fine tree as still standing?

The second thing I noticed when transcribing this card was the sender’s use of “thee” and “thine,” a traditional Quaker form of address. The card was postmarked in Sandy Spring, a Quaker community, and the recipient’s address includes “The Friends Home,” a retirement home (or the 1908 version thereof) for Quakers in Germantown, Pa. The “thee” caught me off guard; I had thought that most Quakers would have abandoned this practice by the early 20th century. This card prompted me to do a little poking around to learn that, indeed, I was wrong. Primary sources like this can help to bring home the reality of everyday life; knowing something academically – “Quakers use(d) different pronouns” – is different than seeing a fact in action.

There are other avenues for exploration here, including the close connections between Quaker communities (the recipient is in Germantown Pa; the sender may, according to census research, live in Baltimore, but has ties to Sandy Spring), the rise of telephone communications and automobile travel, the history of postcards in general and real photo postcards specifically. . . all from a little informal snapshot, with a few dozen words jotted on it, mailed for one cent over 100 years ago. Ain’t history grand?

P.S. I don’t normally call attention to specific links added to the “Fellow Museum Blogs,” but a new addition is the National Archives blog which includes the awesome feature “Facial Hair Fridays.”  That puts my “Local Postcards on the First Wednesday of the Month in 2012” idea to shame!

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