Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Exaggerated postcard: W.H. Martin is very proud of his pumpkins

This never-used "real" photo postcard, printed on Kodak's Azo paper, features some century-old photo trickery that makes is look like these farmers are harvesting pumpkins the size of Volkswagen Beetles.1 The effect is fairly well done. If you didn't inherently know that gourds of that size were implausible, you might not immediately doubt the veracity of the image. The subterfuge is helped by that fact that it's a black-and-white photograph, and thus there are fewer colors and shades that have to match tonally.

There is an extensive history of exaggerated, or tall-tale, postcards from the early 1900s through at least the 1960s. Fruits, vegetables, peanuts, animals and bugs were all subjects of the humorous cards. They are highly collectible and there are many websites featuring galleries of vintage cards.

Here's a closeup of the text from the bottom of this postcard...

It states:
Copyrighted Photograph 1908
by W.H. Martin Ottawa, Kan.

A different version of this card, seen here on Flickr, has a caption in the upper-right corner that states: "pumpkins grown on our soil are profitable."

According to The Robinson Library website, Martin was a pioneer in this "field":
"One of the first producers of exaggerated postcards was William H. Martin, of Ottawa, Kansas. Martin's photography studio began experimenting with trick photography around 1908. His work featured huge ears of corn and peaches, a giant rabbit being tracked by a car, and pumpkins uprooting a farmstead. He was so successful that he established the Martin Post Card Company in 1909, and reportedly produced seven million exaggerated postcards the next year."
More about Martin, who was nicknamed "Dad," can be found in this 2013 article by Michael Bushnell at

To see galleries of exaggerated postcards from the past, you need only type that phrase into Google. Or, if you prefer, some sites you can check out are the Wisconsin Historical Society, io9, The American Museum of Photography, Postcrossing and Doctor Fong's House of Mysteries.2

1. Of course, this postcard is from 1908 and the Beetle wasn't introduced until 1934. So that's a retroactive-anachronistic metaphor (depending when you are in the space-time continuum while reading this post.)
2. As if I would ever pass on an opportunity to include the title "Doctor Fong's House of Mysteries" on Papergreat. In fact, I might just start over from scratch with the whole blog and rename it Doctor Fong's House of Ephemera.

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