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Book Review: Minnesota in the Mail

Minnesota in the Mail by Bonnie G. Wilson is more than just a book about Minnesota postcards. It is an excellent overview of postcards throughout the twentieth century, and most of the discussion applies equally well to postcards from other states. The book is enjoyable to read from cover to cover and also to just browse like a coffee table book.

Quotations from the message side of cards add life to the text and pictures. With one or two full-color, actual-size postcards on almost every page, the book reminds me of an old-fashioned postcard album. Rather than the random assortment of a typical album, however, the 185 postcards in the book are carefully chosen from more than twenty thousand postcards in the Minnesota Historical Society Collections to represent the popular themes depicted on postcards produced in different eras. Although I usually don’t like to see cards of different eras mixed together, the mixture in this book nicely illustrates the differences in how similar subjects have been depicted over time.

The first section of Minnesota in the Mail is a primer, introducing the history and anatomy of postcards. The four following chapters cover four common themes: My Hometown, Our Business, The Personals (personal real photo postcards), and Our Vacation. Superimposed on these themes are the historical eras. The author divides postcard views of Minnesota into three broad periods: civic pride and hometown views (1900-1920), tourism and tourist spots (1920-1960), and shorthand abstractions of place (1960-present). This division into eras roughly corresponds to the more common classification or eras by printing style. Personally, I would subdivide the last era. The current crop of Minnesota postcards is far more abstract than cards of 1960-1980. Even in large cities like Minneapolis, cards titled “Minnesota” and depicting wildlife are more common than city views.

Minnesota in the Mail sets a high standard of excellence for postcard books. Too many of the other postcard books I have seen are filled with poorly reproduced odd-size black-and-white photos, are poorly written, or are too narrowly focused. Bonnie G. Wilson is the ideal author for a postcard book. She has collected postcards for over thirty years and is a curator at the Minnesota Historical Society. Last, but not least, the book is reasonably priced ($29.95 list price, less from discount booksellers).

ISBN 0-87351-481-5

 



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