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Looking at Postcards. How Observant Are You?

In the first decades of the 20th century, advances in printing technology and a change in postal regulations, enabled the picture postcard to become a national fad – it was the email of its day. Hundreds of Saginaw buildings and scenes were immortalized on cards and provide an unequalled historic record.

However, they are documents that need to viewed and used with caution. Majority of cards were produced through a photolithographic process. Although based on photograph editing and the addition of color, it could totally manipulate an image. Sometimes, it was deliberate – such as the removal of a messy telephone wire and/or often it appears to have been simple carelessness on the part of the designer. However, there are also times it is a deliberate attempt to deceive the viewer.

Below are some cards from our collection and we invite you to study them and try to decide what is inaccurate and/or what has been changed.

Ready for the quiz! (Answers shown at the end.)

Question 1. Is it day or night? It was often common to transform a daytime view into a night scene. Only one of these pairs of cards uses a different photograph as basis for the night and day images. Can you identify which it is?

Question 2. Boating on ... read carefully.

Question 3. St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Which is the real St. Paul's?

Question 4. What color is the slate on the roof of Hoyt Library and Castle Building?

Question 5. While this isn't truly a group, can you determine what season it is?

Question 6. Which postcard is the actual depiction of the Saginaw County Courthouse?

Ready for the answers!

Question 1 - Jefferson Avenue, looking North and even this scene is almost a daytime scene converted into a nightime one.

Question 2 - "Boating on St. Joe River, South Bend, Ind." was used for a card in Marshall, Michigan. Where the actual photograph was taken, that is the answer we cannot supply.

Question 3 - If you chose B - you are correct. The card labeled "St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Saginaw, West Side, Mich." is actually St. Matthew's Episcopal Church on North Michigan Ave. The other card depicts St. Paul's Episcopal Church on North Washington Avenue.

Question 4 - The slate of Hoyt Library is gray and the Castle Building has a red roof.

Question 5 - If you guessed Spring time - you are correct!

Question 6 - If you chose A - you are correct. Saginaw County's c. 1885 courthouse had a gray slate roof with a design of horizontal bands in a lighter color. Although the original brick was tan with a red stain, it is uncertain if it was stained at the time of construction. Even if it wasn't, postcards suggest that it almost certainly had been stained by the time the card that shows gray walls was printed.

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