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storytelling through the mail: tall tale postcards


Opening banner for Storytelling through the Mail: Tall Tale Postcards Title Panels
Development of the Picture Postcard
The first postcard is attributed to Austrian Emanuel Herrmann in 1869, although other postal card forms were in circulation since the late 1840s. With postcards, brief handwritten messages could be mailed inexpensively and quickly. Picture postcards appeared in Europe in the 1870s and, by the beginning of the 20th century, became very popular in the United States.

The "American Golden Age" of photographic postcards took place at the time when many of the cards in this exhibit were produced, between 1905 and 1915. Photography had been in practice for a full fifty years by the turn of the twentieth century, but for many Americans it was still very much a novelty, especially for rural populations. Advances in transportation and mail delivery made it easy and therefore popular to exchange quick greetings in this manner.


What Makes a Tall Tale Postcard?

Tall tale postcards are a popular visual form of storytelling. Artists easily create tall tale scenes by piecing together regular-size images with enlargements or by juxtaposing two images that would not normally go together. Although hand-illustrated tall tale postcards were common, it is the trickery of photography that characterizes much of this genre. People sometimes assume that "the camera doesn't lie," but tall tale postcard creators have the last laugh, teasing us into believing their lies.


What is a Tall Tale?

Tall tales are humorous stories of exaggeration, fictional accounts that are presented as the truth. They often involve ludicrous or absurd imagery.

Tall tales are passed on in oral, written, and visual forms, including the postcards, cartoons, and other artifacts included in this exhibit. They are told by insiders to outsiders for the amusement of the insider. Tellers of tall tales do not believe their narrative but want the audience to believe it. Hunters and fishermen dominate this form of storytelling with tales of the often-mentioned "one that got away." Other tall tales focus on wonders of the natural world, such as harsh weather, bountiful harvests, or strange creatures the storyteller claims to have encountered on his/her travels.

Tall tales also boast about a region and market goods.
Tall tales have been told and recorded in North America from colonial times and remain a vital storytelling form today.

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