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Boring Postcards USA

I discovered the book Boring Postcards USA by Martin Parr while browsing an online bookstore for postcard books that looked interesting (not boring). I bought this book, and I recommend it. While it is not exactly interesting, it is entertaining to see so many “boring” postcards gathered together and published in book form. The entire book is composed of reproductions from the author’s collection of postcards.

There is no text in the book other than a one-line caption under each picture. What you see in the pictures is what you get. Martin Parr doesn’t try to define what he considers boring. If you are looking for a description, there is a one at by a collector of boring Swedish cards who states that a boring postcard should fulfill one or more of the following:

  • be supposed to be used by tourists, locals etc i.e. NOT as advertisement sent out by a company or business.
  • show a disproportionate amount of concrete, road, abandoned parking lots, uninteresting fountains or statues, or multi-story residential or office buildings made by concrete or brick.
  • depict something seemingly pointless or just plain ordinary.
  • have a total lack of life in the picture.
  • be photographed from a strange angle.
  • not focus on anything particular in the picture.
  • have most of the actual motif obscured by something.
Among the topics included in the book are highways, automotive businesses, restaurants, food, motels, airports, shopping centers, vehicles, and various nondescript commercial buildings. What the cards have in common is blandness—lots of blue skies, flat lighting, and beige stuff.

I think a better description of the postcards in the book than “boring” would be “commonplace” or “common places.” The cards are actually quite accurate, if uninspired, representations of everyday sights of 30 to 50 years ago. Some of the cards actually are fairly interesting—those showing people, vehicles, or vintage main streets. Personally, I enjoy collecting so-called boring topics like highways too. I have spent countless hours flipping through boxes of really boring scenic chrome cards just to find the kind of cards shown in the Boring Postcards USA book. There are those who wonder why anyone would actually buy a “boring” postcard of a highway, but a lot of people did. Below is a card I found mounted in a vintage memory album I bought at an antique show. It shows the Northern Indiana Tollroad. Click here for an enlarged view.

Collecting boring postcards can be both fun and inexpensive if you don’t take it too seriously. A large collection of pointless and lifeless pictures actually is quite boring. For a humorous look at the topic of boring postcards, see James Follett's & Andrew Sachs Novel The Yawn.


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