The first question that seems to occur to most people when confronted by the existence of the postcards is “Why would someone do something as creepy as print post cards of this event?” To address that, we need to step back from the issue and look at the artifacts themselves. Because of the length of this discussion, broken into two sections.
This history of photographic post cards is going to be fairly simplistic. The 3 1/4″ by 5 1/2″ postcard was historically a very popular format for making images in the early part of the 20th century. The Kodak 3A folding pocket format camera was the first camera designed to take specifically postcard sized images, so the image could be easily transferred as a contact print, laying the negative on the card, and exposed with a light, then the image developed to be the same size as the negative. Bear with me, this is important.
Just to be clear, this is different from lithographically printed photographic postcards, which are made up of little dots. We are talking about true photographic prints, from a negative.
Kodak developed the 3A camera and the 122 format film in 1903 to take advantage of the popularity of the postcard for sending as mail, and the photographic postcard, with pictures the user had taken quickly became a major hit. So much so that until the 1940s, Kodak, and Anso, the primary competition kept 3A variant cameras in production, and the film was only discontinued only 1971. At 3 1/4″ by 5 1/2″ (8.3 x 13.9 mm) for an image, there were 6 or 10 images on a roll. Postcards done in this fashion are technically known as Real Photo Post Cards (or RPPC)
Why a contact print? Although the techniques for enlargement and reduction of photographs were developed in the early years of photography in the mid-19th century, and even allowed for a form of micro-filming to be done during the Siege of Paris in 1871, these techniques required expensive equipment, and a great deal of time and effort to make. Therefore, until the 1930s, although the technology existed, the majority of images made were done as contact prints, under
Just to add a couple of details. During the period of 1915/16 – 1930, Real Photo Post Cards, as well as normal postcards, were printed with white borders. In normal post cards, this was to save ink, I’m not sure what the rationale was for the real post cards, other than to emulate normal post cards, but this is a way of dating the images.
Another method for dating the images is that the silver gelatin used for these sorts of prints was relatively unstable until the after 1926, leading to the fading, and “sepia” appearance as the print ages. True photographs, printed properly did not generally have this problem.
Another method is the printing on the back of the card, specifically the box for the stamp. In the case of all the postcards that I could examine the backs, the printing indicated they are all “AZO” paper, and the 2 up, 2 down triangles, dates that paper as being made between 1918 – 1930.
Some of the images have different crops, which means that they were not necessarily taken with the correct type of camera meant for making a postcard. And because some of the images show up in other contexts (for example Image No. 2 was likely taken by Alvin Krupnick, and No. 14 was taken by Francis Schmidt), we may speculate that these sets may have been developed by the business that developed the pictures, and retained the negatives. These were then used without the permission of the photographers.
So, why were they being used? Of course we don’t know for certain, but presumably because the post card paper was cheaper that’s why they were generally used. However, because there is a clear “set” of pictures being made, we appear to have an attempt to make souvenir images. Were they ever meant to be mailed? Probably not, but even as souvenirs they are still disturbing to modern eyes.
For this survey, I examined two sets of cards in the collections in the Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa, and photocopies of a set in the private collection of Hannibal Johnson. The TU sets were acquired in 1989 and 2012. I also examined the photographs in the OSU Tulsa Ruth Sigler Avery Collection. I also examined the online versions of the postcards from the Beryl Ford collection. I used the online versions since what is housed at the Tulsa Historical Society and displayed at the Tulsa City-County Library, are photographic reproductions on 4×5 negatives made by Beryl Ford as opposed to original pieces. Finally I took a look at the images on the Oklahoma Historical Society’s microfilm compilation “The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921: Tulsa, Oklahoma”. I have also examined the collections at the Greenwood Cultural Center. Finally I also have in my possession a digital set made from an incomplete collection that is currently held in an unknown repository. There are 15 post cards in the most complete sets, although some have fewer.