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The postcard in relation to architectural history

Introduction

Some of the issues which come up are the preservation and conservation of temporary structures but equally important is the collection and conservation of the images of those structures. These images assist us in placing the temporary structure in architectural history in the past, as well as, in the present time. The current method of conserving the image today is through photography and video.

The very first things photographed at the beginning of the age of photography were classical ruins and monuments from the most humble statues to houses of worship like the cathedrals in Europe or Mosques in the Near East and temples of various kinds in the Far East.

Before the invention of photography the public at large in Europe could only see the images of permanent or temporary structures in paintings or drawings usually locked down in Institutions. If not conserved in paintings or drawings, then one could find representations of temporary structures in large books with plates usually printed in very limited quantities on special occasions; the entry of a King into a town or other types of very festive religious celebration when wooden gates or large canopies were built for large formal receptions or on the occasion of an important wedding.

During more recent times a good example would be the temporary structures built on occasion of the Columbian World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893 or those put up for the St. Louis Fair in 1904. These events were well documented in souvenir cards or booklets, and in low and behold the new means of mass communication the postcard.

Drawings for these long forgotten buildings, many which had a large footprint even by today’s standard, may or may no longer exist. Yet we know them from photographs or ephemera. Records would be no longer available. Sometimes these buildings were the expression of an architect’s dream to be realized in other projects or exercises in the use of new building materials, such as, the Crystal Palace in London with its cast iron pillars and supports and glass walls or like the “iron tower” built by Mr. Eiffel in Paris for the 1900 Universal Exposition and then left standing and 100 years later it still stands.

So let us look at the postcards considered “marginal” architectural items shown above.

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