Stamp-happy Mainers celebrate the centennial of Maine Postcard Day (surely you’ve heard of it).When Belfast’s Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company (EIPC) was founded in 1909, the company was on the leading edge of a viral media trend taking the country by storm: postcards. Cheap, collectible, and easy to mail, postcards were a turn-of-the-20th-century sensation for correspondents hoping to show off their hometowns and environs. And since most major postcard publishers were based in New England — and the Pine Tree State was their backyard — Maine looms large in the medium’s early history. Rudolph Herman Cassens, EIPC’s founder, claimed his company was the country’s largest manufacturer of photo postcards (like those shown above, of Kennebunk, Bath, and Belgrade Lakes, respectively, taken by the company’s roving photographers).
Postcards as tourism ads, meanwhile, were mostly a post–World War I invention. So it was rather forward-thinking of Maine Governor Oakley C. Curtis when he declared April 19, 1916, to be “Maine Postcard Day,” beseeching all Mainers to mail a postcard of their home state to friends and family from away. Think of it as an early experiment in peer-to-peer marketing.
Obscure as it is, this month’s centennial anniversary of Maine Postcard Day is getting way more observance than you might expect. During the week of April 10, libraries around the state will distribute free postcards made from thousands of glass-plate negatives produced by EIPC before the company folded in 1947. It’s an effort spearheaded by Searsport’s Penobscot Marine Museum (PMM), caretakers of the EIPC plates, a collection the PMM will draw from for three exhibits this summer. Meanwhile, PMM photo archivist Kevin Johnson has an EIPC book on the way (a collaboration with historian Bill Bunting and State Historian Earle Shettleworth Jr.), and Portland filmmaker Sumner McKane has an EIPC documentary in the works.
Finally, there’s University of Southern Maine history professor Libby Bischof, a sort of postcard Johnny Appleseed, crisscrossing the state all year to hand out homemade postcards (with stamp) to anybody who’ll write one. (Her guerilla initiative, the Maine Postcard Project, has a cool Instagram feed at instagram.com/themainepostcardproject.)
Wish you were here!
Postcard images courtesy of The Penobscot Marine Museum