Midway Postcard Gallery Volume 2 August 2010
This months gallery will be five more postcard images (called “views” in the field) from some long gone, and some still extant California amusement parks, and another sideshow performer postcard.
The first view is of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, CA. It is a chrome postcard from the 1960’s, and shows the awesome Giant Dipper roller coaster to the left, a Paratrooper ride in action on the right, and many park patrons enjoying their day. This particular coaster was built in 1924 by Arthur Looff. Arthur’s father Charles Looff was responsible for many of the greatest carousels ever constructed in the US. This classic ride can be seen in many movies, most notably in the opening helicopter shot of the great vampire film The Lost Boys, but also in The Sting II, Sudden Impact, and Dangerous Minds. The Giant Dipper continues to thrill riders to this day, and is one of my top ten favorite wooden roller coasters in the country.
Next is a 1940’s linen card showing the amusement park at the Great Highway and Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA. Those familiar with San Francisco will recognize the windmills at upper left which are still standing. They mark the end of what is now known as Golden Gate Park. Along the left side of the card you can see two roller coasters as well as many other amusement buildings holding rides and attractions. This view is taken from the Cliff House looking South.
Our third card is a view of the Dragon Gorge scenic railway at Ocean Park, Venice CA. Scenic railways were the predecessors of the modern roller coaster. Generally they were milder rides with small hills, and often had the cars pass by murals of various scenes inside the ride structure. To the left of the entrance you can see some coaster track. The very large dragons which guard the entrance of the scenic railway were made of wire, wood, paper mache and plaster, with a waterproof paint laid over to protect them from the elements. Judging by when these rides were popular, and by the dress of the people in the view, this card dates from sometime in the 1920’s.
Up next is a card from Venice Beach, Venice CA. It shows the park’s lagoon (also probably used as a landing spot for a boat ride similar to a modern Flume ride), as well as several attractions along the lagoon’s shore. These include from left to right two unmarked buildings (perhaps game booths or shops), followed by The Chicken Farm (game? Exhibit?), The Temple of Mirth, a walk through fun house, and finally Darkness and Dawn, an attraction which was more of a show that illustrated what happened to those vice ridden souls who dared tempt fate, and eternal damnation. This is an early divided back postcard dating from the 1910-1925 era.
Our last amusement park view is also from Venice Beach, Venice CA, and is a nice close-up of a ride that was once ubiquitous in amusement parks across the country, the Virginia Reel. As you can see, the Virginia Reel was a tub-like ride which held 4-6 patrons. Using a lift mechanism much like a modern roller coaster, the car was transported to the top of the ride (the unadorned track at the top of this view), and then careened down a series of spirals to the bottom, all the while spinning wildly as it descended. Quite a dizzying sensation, to be sure! I work with an older fellow who rode a Virginia Reel in his youth, and he proclaimed it one of the best rides ever, and confirmed it’s emetic potential!
Lastly is another view from my collection of freak, or sideshow performer cards. This linen card from the 1940’s shows a family of little people known as the Doll Family (though their real surname was Earle). The Doll family consisted of (clockwise from left) Tiny, Harry, Daisy, and Grace. Harry and Grace may be familiar to movie fans as two of the stars of Tod Brownings 1932 masterpiece Freaks. Harry played the rich midget whom the trapeze artist marries with the intention of killing for his money, and Grace played his previous love interest, spurned for the trapeze artist. If you’ve not seen this film, I recommend it highly, as it is still powerful today with it’s frank depiction of the daily lives of many of the greatest sideshow performers of all time including Johnny Eck, the King of the Freaks, and Frances O‘Connor, the Living Venus De Milo.
The type of card will often help one judge its age, as postcard manufacture went through several phases and changes over the years. The terms below will be what I use to describe cards ( or views), and will inform you what time frame those cards are from.
Private Mailing Card: 1850’s-1900 Marked on the back as such, only an address allowed on the back.
Undivided Back: 1900-1907 Most cards printed in Germany, address only on back of card, front may have space for a message. All cards after 1907 are divided back, meaning both a message and an address may be written on the back
Early Chrome: Mostly German printed cards that have printing to the edges of a photographic image that’s been colored or a drawn image. 1900-1918.
White Border Cards: Mostly American printed starting 1918-1930’s. Generally inferiorly printed, especially the earlier ones, as American printing presses had not yet caught up with the superior German ones. Obviously World War 1 ended German dominance of the then very lucrative postcard printing market.
Linen Cards: These cards are characterized by a thin layer of linen that is glued over the paper prior to printing, giving them a non-smooth surface to the touch. 1940-s-early1950’s.
Chrome Cards: Postcards like you are used to today. Printed photographs on glossy stock. These date from the mid 1950’s until present, and are almost 100% of all new postcards made since the 1970’s. Chrome cards prior to the 1970’s are called Standard Size, which indicates the pre-1970’s postcard size of 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches. Almost all postcards printed since the 1970’s have been 4 inches by 6 inches or what is known as Continental Size. Since I do not actively collect continental sized postcards, all my images are of standard sized cards.
Real Photo Postcard RPPC: This is a card which is an actual photograph printed on actual photographic paper, generally made in limited numbers by small independent photographers. They may date from 1900 until present day, and can be dated approximately by the markings on the back. Alternatively, the may have the information burned into the negative. They are the rarest and most sought after postcards by collectors.