“The Happy Invention: History & Significance of Picture Postcards" at the German American Heritage Center -- July 14.

Sunday, July 14, 2 p.m.

German American Heritage Center, 712 West Second Street, Davenport IA

Presented as the latest event in the German American Heritage Center's popular “Kaffee und Kuchen” series, a little-considered genre of artwork will enjoy a healthy exploration by Katherine Hamilton-Smith in The Happy Invention: History & Significance of Picture Postcards, the July 14 discussion that offers a fascinating piece of cultural history that found its beginnings in Illinois.

The first picture postcards were published for the 1889 Paris Exposition, celebrating the completion of the Eiffel Tower. In America, the first picture postcards were printed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, making Illinois the birthplace of the American picture postcard. Since those flowery Victorian originals, uncountable billions of postcards of every aspect of life have been printed, depicting train stations and bandstands, street views and cartoons, ads for products and services, "beauties" and "freaks," social history both whimsical and dark, and everything in between. An early mention of postcards is in the 1870 diary of a Welsh curate, who called them “a happy invention.”

In 2016, the world’s largest public collection of postcards and related materials, the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, was given to the Newberry Library by the Lake County Forest Preserve District. On July 14, Katherine Hamilton-Smith, the founding curator of the Teich Archives at Chicago's Newberry Library, will present a look at the documentary power and significance of picture postcards. In her program, she will touch on the Curt Teich Company of Chicago, the role Illinois played in the history and development of postcards, and on the picture postcard as a cultural icon.

Hamilton-Smith's work with the Curt Teich Postcard Archives gave her special expertise in the history and significance of picture postcards. She holds an MA in Art History from the University of Chicago and a BA in Art History from the University of Nebraska, and studied art history and music history at St. Andrews University in Scotland, where she specialized in early medieval manuscript illumination and American Abstract Expressionism. Over the course of her career, Hamilton-Smith has given hundreds of presentations, to audiences large and small, including NPR and Canadian Public Radio, the American Alliance of Museums, the Society of American Archivists, at museums across the county, and more. As a Road Scholar, she has also enjoyed meeting people throughout Illinois to share the significance of postcards and their invention in Illinois.

The Happy Invention: History & Significance of Picture Postcards will be presented at the German American Heritage Center on July 14, with the 2 p.m. “Kaffee und Kuchen” program preceded by coffee and cake at 1:30 p.m. Admission is free to the public, and more information is available by calling (563)322-8844 and visiting GAHC.org.

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