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Postmark: Sewickley, PA

By B.G. Shields

Signals, September 2005

Postcard entitled Entrance to Water Works Park, Sewickley, PA.

“Don’t forget to send a postcard” was an oft-quoted remark in the first decade of the 20th century. Americans entered the beginning of the 20th century under the cocksure and ebullient leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt realizing how prosperous their country had become, and they were in a mood to travel.

Travel they did, and so it is more than coincidental that the craze for picture postcards exploded dramatically between 1900-1910, when two million cards were handled daily worldwide. Americans were not only fascinated with scenes from abroad but also with images of their own country that were now available, and in color. One could indulge oneself with- out straining the budget, because mailing a card was half the cost of sending a letter by post. Be- fore the early talkies, addressing a picture postcard was a hobby shared by rich and poor alike.

Nobody then was thinking about deltiology, today’s word for post-card collecting. But, actually, they were more apt to put the postcard a friend had mailed them from Saratoga or the Great Smoky Mountains in their dresser drawer for another look than a letter describing these wonders. Thus, these personal souvenirs from close and faraway places were preserved for posterity.

The production of postcards began much earlier than the Edwardian era. Austria is credited with producing the first one in 1869. The United States began producing postcards in 1873.

Although the idea was an instant success, it would be 30 years after the Austrian debut before the postal card as we know it today was developed. Postal authorities controlled production of the early cards. They mandated that messages be written on the same side as the photo, with the entire front saved for the address and stamp. It was not until 1902, according to Tonie and Valmai Holt, authors of Picture Postcard Artists (London and New York, Longman, 1984), that the message and address were moved to the same side as the stamp, with the front reserved for the photograph.

It is, therefore, not unusual that the early cards that have turned up so far in local collections with the postmarks of the Sewickley Valley —Sewickley, Leetsdale, Shields and Edgeworth—are post-1900.

The very earliest local card with postmark discovered so far in our collection is utilitarian, referred to as postal stationery, not scenic. Addressed to Miss W. L. Shields, Shields, Pa, it is postmarked Sewickley, June 8, 1896. Postmaster H. L. Hegner advises Miss Shields that one cent is due on a letter mailed to her.

By the year 1908, a variety of published cards offered local scenes. L. G. Lambright, Sewickley, PA, appears as the publisher of many.

Some of the Lambright cards were printed in Germany, a country highly regarded for publishing skills. E. C. Kropp of Milwaukee also produced a variety of Sewickley cards. Even local photographer A. H. Diehl began producing this novelty.

If ever there was a scenic background for the picture postcard, Sewickley Valley was one of them. The Ohio River with steam- boats always coming around the bend, Waterworks Park with its shady winding paths leading to pavilions for picnicking, scores of picturesque houses along the streets of the local boroughs and the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad—all were ideal subjects of pictorial interest.

After the migration of the steel barons of Pittsburgh around the turn of the century, people would ride all the way down on the train from Pittsburgh just to see how the “upper crust” lived. And the millionaires on Sewickley Heights didn’t seem to mind basking in the prestige of having their estates reproduced on postcards for all the world to see.

The concentration of wealth in Sewickley Valley also provided a demand for privately printed cards for seasonal greetings as well as personalized postal cards. These personally subscribed cards were produced in black and white, with images of local personalities, private homes and children. Photographers came regularly to the schools to record little faces for posterity.

So far, the Sewickley Valley Historical Society has recorded well over a hundred Sewickley postcard scenes, many more than the average small town. The peak era came during the first 25 years of the 20th century. However, even as late as the 1980s, some local cards were being produced.

Oddly enough, many of the picture postcards of Sewickley sub- jects were never addressed or mailed, proving that people bought them for their scenic or sentimental value. Naturally, those with a name, message and postmark are more valuable in the eyes of the collectors of Sewickleyana.

Also, even today Sewickley remains a prestige postmark to philatelists, whose hobby has a logical correlation with deltiology.

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