Collecting Postcards

of Harvey's Lake and the Wyoming Valley


In the final decades of the 20th century, antique postcard collecting was more popular than stamp collecting - and the prices for old postcards rose accordingly. Now, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century the postcard craze and prices have diminished. The most popular postcards for many collectors were produced before World War I and in the decade after the Great War.

Postcards present multi-faceted topics for discussion: early photographers; “lost” community history; printing techniques; the postcard as “artifact”; expressions of “social history”; commercial history; collector “obsession”; communication history; postal history; and other interesting subjects.


In brief, the postcard had its origin in May 1840 with government-approved “penny postage” envelopes, which were produced to improve the nation's literacy by encouraging letter-writing.

The “postcard” was introduced in Austria in late 1869 and in Britain and Switzerland in October 1870 at a “half-penny” rate. The American postal card was approved on May 1, 1873, and, with the exception of a brief period during World War I when the postal rate was raised to two cents, the U.S. Postal Service’s “penny postcard” lasted until December 31, 1951.

The “picture postcard”- produced by private companies with U.S. Postal approval - was introduced in the United States May 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Non-governmental postcards - produced by private manufacturers - in the United States were approved by the U.S. Post Office in July 1898.  Until March 1907, however, any messages in the cards had to be only on the front or photo-picture side with the back or reverse side reserved solely for the address to which the card was to be mailed.  The “divided back” for both an address on one-side and the message on the other-side was permitted after March 1, 1907. 

Eastman Kodak introduced postcard stock for “real photo” cards as early as 1902 but the “divided back” in 1907 accelerated the production of “real photo” cards.    “Real photo postcards” were actual photographs reproduced in various quantities as postcards on postcard size stock.  They are highly prized today as collectors’ items. Between 1907 and 1915-1917, with the outbreak of World War I, the “postcard craze” (the collection of cards by huge numbers of American/British households) gripped the nation.  The rise of postcards’ use was helped by the expansion of Rural Free Delivery (RFD) - farm and country postal delivery - in 1898-1906.

Types of Postcards

Fig. 1

There are scores of postcard types, but generally postcards fall into two major categories: greeting cards and “view” cards.  Greeting cards include, for example, holiday, comic, and an infinite variety of cards other than photographically based town views. (Fig. 1)   “View” cards would include “downtown scenes,” streets, buildings, and other “real” views of American city and country scenes.  In the early years, “real photo” cards were commonly produced but declined rapidly after World War I.  Other printing techniques were also used to mass produce other forms of “view cards.”  These were manufactured in the United States but more often by the millions for U.S. and world wide production in German factories which had larger color and printing facilities.

Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Postcard collecting, especially in American and Britain, was a tremendous fad before the Great War.  But with the War German production and export to the Western allies, of course, ended.  With the War postcard production was assumed by American manufacturers.

The earliest Wyoming Valley “view card” was probably a 1903 card using photos of Valley scenes originally taken in the early 1890s.  The true founding of local postcards can be largely traced to William J. Harris (1868-1940).  Born in England, he immigrated to the U.S., lived in Wilkes-Barre, but relocated to West Pittston by 1890.  He produced a large number of area views, including Harvey’s Lake, Lake Carey, Lake Winola, and Pittston.  He later was well-known for “real photo” views of the Finger Lakes, in central New York; Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey; and St. Augustine, Florida, where he finally settled.  Harris’s views are highly collectible and expensive.  A New Jersey collector has devoted years to collecting Harris and his biography.

Harris and an early group of his Harvey’s Lake “real photo” postcards were the pioneer cards in the Wyoming Valley.  Harris produced a Lake card in 1904 - a panorama of the Oneonta Hotel with steamboats on the lake.  (This view was probably taken from a boat on the Lake).  Another example is Hill’s Pavillion (now the Grotto site).  The Hill family served the Lake for 40 years - selling postcards, souvenirs, candy and newspapers. (Fig. 2).

The Hills also commissioned Lake postcards - quite distinctive for their “Miami Vice” coloration.  (Fig. 3). The Acoma view was postmarked 1911.  The Amelia, Ohio, firm, Art Mfg. Co., produced cards of poor tonal quality (Fig. 4).

An unidentified manufacturer produced a series of large “white border” cards (Fig. 5).  The Weckesser cottage near Sunset later housed the Lake’s Girl Scout Camp and is now privately owned.

Fig. 5 Fig. 6

Another set of cards were printed for J.C. Gosart, a well-known Lake store owner.  These were a narrow “white border” series (Fig. 6).  Here, a Gosart card shows the long concrete bridge which once spanned the “inlet” at Sunset.  It was later replaced by the shorter concrete bridge which itself was replaced in 2017.

In a German example from The Rotograph Company, with offices in New York City, the steamboat dock near the Outlet is shown.  At this site there were large boat houses to winter the boats.  (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7Fig. 8

Rarer examples of Lake cards are real photo cards produced in limited quantities by individual photographers or a Lake business.  (Fig. 8). 

Elwood Davis, who lost his left arm in an accident at the Alderson sawmill, is shown at his lakeside store near the Picnic Grounds.  At the Picnic Grounds, too, a photo studio produced real photo postcards of Lake residents, visitors, and groups.  (Fig. 9).  Here, Ethel Anderson Kocher, daughter of steamboat captain George M. Anderson, is shown at age fifteen at the Lake studio.

Fig. 9

In the meantime, elsewhere in Luzerne County there were numerous other producers of postcards in the region. Ranald Douglas is nearly the sole source for the photographic record of the early 1900's for the “ghost town” of Ricketts, as well as Lopez, Lovelton, Mehoopany, and Forkston.  While these towns are outside the Valley, the lumber town of Ricketts was created by R.B. Ricketts of Wilkes-Barre whose summer residence was at Lake Ganoga.  His land holdings are the source for Ricketts Glen.

A.T. Sturdevant is the sole source for photographs - all from postcards - of Mountain Park, an early Valley resort.  F.P. Long created “real photo” views of the Shickshinny area.  Whistlestop resorts were often created by railroad and trolley companies to entice passenger traffic.  The Harvey’s Lake amusement park (later called Hanson’s), Sans Souci in Hanover Township, and the long-forgotten Mountain Park on Wilkes-Barre Mountain, were all created by railroad or trolley companies.  Harvey’s Lake, Croops’ Glen (Hunlock’s Creek), and, quiet rarely, Fernbrook Park (Dallas) were settings for photo postcards and sometimes summer photographic studios.  Postcards may be the only remaining record of early Sans Souci, Croops’ Glen, and Fernbrook parks.

“Real photo” postcards, however, are the rarer of the numerous postcard views created in the early postcard era from the early 1900s through the 1920s.  There were substantially greater numbers of cards - of every county community - which were not “real photos”“ but based on photographs mechanically reproduced and often colorized by various techniques.  There were perhaps three thousand to four thousand different views of Luzerne County - especially of the Wyoming Valley - and several hundred additional cards of Harvey’s Lake. At the Lake, beautiful color cards were produced by the Hill family which had a souvenir and candy stand at Sunset where the Grotto now stands.

Ambrose A. Zweibel operated a bicycle, locksmith, and “fix it” shop at various locations on South Main Street, Wilkes-Barre.  He commissioned wonderfully attractive cards of the river common.  More commonly he sold “sepia tinted” (light brown) cards of various downtown sites.  But he also had a Harvey’s Lake series including a view of the Natoma steamboat.  (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10

The “postcard era” represented by the period of 1907 to the late 1920s presents a unique, but now increasingly inexpensive, means to collect the photographic history of the Valley in the early twentieth century.  In many instances, the postcard is the only extant photo or pictorial record of lost town scapes, events, and especially the rural record of the county.  In the 1920s the Lake Improvement Company which practically owned all of the Sunset amusement area - but lost it all in a huge fire in the late 1920s - produced cards to promote its business at the Lake.  (Fig. 11).  Here, the Sunset dance hall is shown in the background in a Lake Improvement card.

Fig. 11

By the 1930s postcard production was largely consolidated by major American manufacturers.  The Curt Teich Company, outside of Chicago, and the Detroit Publishing Company, are two examples of large-scale producers.  The Curt Teich Company produced a number of Sandy Beach postcards in the 1930s.  In our region, the F.M. Kirby “dime store” company produced local views.  Too, the “linen card” was introduced with a “linen” finish which, unfortunately, distorts the detail of the underlying photograph.  These are very common and cheap cards to collect.  Even for mid-twentieth century they, too, may represent the only remaining photographic records of Valley scenes.

In the Wyoming Valley the Mebane Company, whose former plant is presently located on the Wilkes University campus, produced numerous “linen” views of area scenes.  Linen cards of this era included prominent buildings and street scenes of area towns - usually the major communities and not the rural towns which were regularly produced in an earlier time.  Mebane produced linen views of Harvey’s Lake.  (Figs. 12, 13).

Fig. 12   Fig. 13

With the 1950s to the present time the “chrome” era produced real color views of area scenes.  Named for a “color chrome” process, these are mass-produced color photo postcards.  They generally represent city and resort scenes.  They, too, will become a collector’s item in the future.  Many “chrome” cards were produced by area hotels, shopping centers, new business ventures, restaurants, and if limited in production they can be difficult to now find.  The Mebane Company also expanded into the chrome era (Fig. 14), for example, in a Sandy Beach scene.

Fig. 14

Postcard collecting was renewed as a national hobby after World War II with the formation of collectors’ clubs in New York and Chicago.  The hobby lingered for two decades and began to explode in the mid-1970s.  There is one publication, Barr’s Post Card News, devoted to the hobby and numerous books about postcards published in the last few decades.

In the early 1980s a Harris real photo card at $7.50 was “expensive.”  Harris cards can easily attract $30-$40 today.  Cards - other than “real photo” views - have a wide price range: 50 cents for linen and modern “chrome” cards to a typical range of $3.00 to $7.50 for most older cards.  Certain subjects - for example, mining scenes - have a special following and may be more expensive.

The Internet is now an active resource for selling and purchasing postcards.  In our region, the best source for purchasing cards is a dealer show held each April and October at Agricultural Hall in Allentown.

The least expensive introduction to postcard collecting are the “linen” and “chrome” or modern cards from the last 50 years.  Generally, these will limit the collector to major towns.  For the new collector it is still possible to build a collection of earlier views with modest expenditures.  But “real photo” cards will be more costly.

Postcard collecting is a wonderful hobby.  Fellow collectors are very interesting and usually helpful.  Postcard collections can be an extremely interesting family attraction - and in time a wonderful gift to a local historical society as a permanent record of our region.

Site and Contents © 2008 F. Charles Petrillo (Revised 2018)