Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

antique post cards
Shown here: Main Street in Island Falls; ice harvesting on the Kennebec River in Gardiner; Southport’s Squirrel Island, Rockland’s Samoset Resort; and Rangeley Lake cabins. Pre-1907 postcards sometimes had message space on the front; borders were introduced around 1915 as a way of saving ink. Photographed by David Butler.

Decades before Instagram, postcards allowed people to use words and photos to encapsulate their Maine experience, appraiser John Bottero says.

In 1861, Congress passed an act permitting unenclosed, printed cards weighing an ounce or less to be sent through the mail. The “private mailing cards” had an image, and sometimes a small spot for a note, on the front and the back was reserved for an address. Primarily produced in Germany, which possessed superior color-printing technology, the cards depicted holiday, birthday, and patriotic themes, local scenes, and landmarks and were proudly displayed in albums by recipients. Rebranded as postcards in 1901, they became increasingly popular after 1907, when the postal service allowed messages to be printed alongside addresses.

Production waned during World War I, when German printers were enlisted in nationalistic efforts. But here in Maine, Governor Oakley C. Curtis sought to keep the tradition, and tourism, alive by declaring April 19 “Post Card Day” in 1916 and asking all citizens to send cards to out-of-staters with the message “Come to Maine.” Among those capturing our views was the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company, which dispatched photographers around New England in Model Ts and printed its own postcards in Belfast.

Vintage postcards — which sell for $1 to $50 apiece — provide a window into their bygone Maine and, often, that of the senders, who might even have shared your favorite summer haunt.

Special thanks to Ben Fahy, of Rockland, for loaning pieces from his private postcard collection.

John Bottero is the vice president of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries. Constantly in pursuit of incredible finds, he sees dozens of people each week on Thomaston’s Free Appraisal Day and travels the state helping Mainers bring their collections and valuable heirlooms to market.