“Wish You Were Here…”: Postcards from the Ron Robinson Collection
Ron Robinson was a Little Rock businessman, a friend of the Central Arkansas Library System, and a collector of many things related to the state of Arkansas. A previous post described his assortment of postal curiosities related to Arkansas, but Robinson also preserved hundreds of postcards depicting the state over the years.
Delivery of written messages, sometimes with illustrations, can be found in the ancient world. The Persian Empire even invented the first version of the Pony Express more than 2400 years ago. But the modern postcard was invented in Germany during the 1800s. At first, the United States Postal System limited messages and images to one side of a card, requiring the entire back side to be limited to addresses and postage stamps.
Early in the twentieth century, the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of postcards with room for written messages next to the address, leaving the front side of the card free for larger images.
Many businesses used postcards to promote their locations, including restaurants, hotels, motels, and motor courts, such as the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in Little Rock.
Quite rapidly, though, communities supported the sale of postcards showing local structures such as county courthouses, schools, churches, city halls, fire stations, and other public buildings. State parks and other attractions and locales did the same.
These postcards of locations are valuable because they preserve the appearance of historic structures that have changed or disappeared over time. Particularly helpful to historians are cityscapes, including images of downtown streets taken from ground level and also “bird’s-eye” views of the city from above. The Ron Robinson Collection has many samples of such images, including this bird’s-eye view of Pine Bluff that shows the Hotel Pines when it was new. The Hotel Pines opened in 1913.
Postcards preserve images of lost buildings and places. William “Coin” Harvey designed and created a resort called Monte Ne in northwestern Arkansas; most of his resort now lies under the waters of Beaver Lake.
Although postcards were created to show buildings, street scenes, landscapes, and the like, they also happen to preserve images of other aspects that change over time. Historic automobiles and clothing can be traced through a stream of postcard images, as can social customs. This scene of five young women bathing in Sager Creek is unlike any image that is likely to be seen in 2023.
Postcards also capture the humor of the times. Several postcards in the Ron Robinson Collection depict characters and situations made famous in the radio shows of Bob Burns and of Lum and Abner. Also, the bawdy reputation of Hot Springs, Arkansas, was communicated (or exaggerated) by humorous postcards.
The world came to know Arkansas and its image, not only through serious studies of the state and its culture, but also through postcard images that traveled wherever mail was delivered.
Access all the digitized postcards in the collection here.
By Steve Teske, archivist at the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies/Roberts Library