Collecting Picture Postcards of South America
- Hinnerk OnkenHinnerk OnkenFaculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Cologne
In their so-called “Golden Age,” from the late 1890s to the 1920s, picture postcards probably were the most prominent visual mass medium, worldwide, including South America. Many people collected postcards, which were quite affordable, and pen pals exchanged postcards from all over the world; dates were arranged via postcards, just as happens today via phone, email, text, or instant messaging.
Although most South American postcards were published and sold in urban areas, the broad availability combined with their postal function brought postcards a vast social and geographical diffusion. To use a common term, they are “travelling objects.” Postcards of South America could cross the globe many times before becoming part of a private album or an archival collection. For instance, the German entrepreneur and photographer Guillermo Grüter (1871–1947), who had come to Paraguay in 1893, published some of the most popular Paraguayan postcards. The images stemmed from photographs he took there. In his early years in Paraguay, before he imported printing machines and produced postcards on his own, Grüter sent some of his photographs to a manufacturer in Europe who produced postcards. These were shipped back to Grüter in Asunción, where he sold some of them to European immigrants and travelers, who sent them back home to relatives and friends across the Atlantic. Similar stories can be told about postcards published by the German Eduardo Pollack from Lima, Peru, by Austrian Roberto Rosauer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, or by one of the many German publishers in Valparaíso, Valdivia, and other Chilean towns. Picture postcards are interesting objects of study for investigations of global cultural history in transatlantic and other transnational entanglements.