Saturday, September 17, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO CA Quake & Fire Postcards
The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire in April 1906, in which about 3,000 people died, is one of the most famous disasters in U.S. history. At the time, it captured the attention of readers around the country as they read about the damage in their newspapers. Many photographs were taken and postcards of the event are plentiful. Postcards are available in black-and-white and colored versions; some are common and some are harder to find. Here we offer a review of some postcards of this fascinating subject. Above we see two images. The black and white card shows a homeless man hauling his rescued belongings with a caption that points out the crack in the ground. The tinted postcard shows one of the most popular images - City Hall in ruins.
This colored printed image above shows the Opera House. All the postcards in this post are early undivided-back postcards, so messages had to be written on the front as only the address was allowed on the back.
The fire actually caused more damage than the earthquake at it roared through the city devouring wooden buildings. About 3/4 of the city's people were homeless and tents were set up in the city's parks to offer shelter. Only the destruction of many fine homes in the path of the fires stopped the destruction. Here is a colorful printed postcard showing flames in the sky, wooden buildings in the foreground.
The image above shows the Hamilton Hotel and the ruins of the Flood Building. The detail is very sharp, showing the rubble piled up where buildings used to stand. Published by Kropp of Milwaukee.
Below we see a real photo postcard (RPPC) of the destruction. Real photo postcards are harder to find than the more common printed postcards. This intriguing image shows a lady at the left, a background of partially destroyed buildings, and two signs. One says, "D. Samuels Lace Co. will occupy these premises." and the other says, "Sullivan Contracting Co. Wrecking & Grading".
This postcard has the caption: Policeman on Duty, April 25, 1906. We have also seen it with a caption that describes the distribution of flour to survivors of the earthquake and fire. You can see the women holding big pans and the sacks of flour on the ground.
We especially like the postcard scenes that include people - the San Franciscan citizens responded to the disaster with fortitude, and when we can see them in the postcard images, we believe we have a more accurate sense of what the event was like to experience. This scene shows people surveying the damage "looking up Mason Street". After the 1980s quake, we had friends in San Francisco who went out walking to view the damage, too.
The postcard above is from a series that was sold to shop-owners who could stamp their own name in the white space. Here, Chase's Pharmacy in So. Braintree (we imagine in Massachusetts). The series shows views not readily available, so it is desirable even though the pictures are not as sharp as some others available. The caption on this card says, "Thousands of people stood in line daily, patiently waiting their turn for relief supplies. St. Mary's Cathedral offered a convenient place." You can see people lined up in front of the Cathedral and along the side of the building.
There are some rare postcards of the earthquake and fire - here is one showing a wonderful spotted dog with a caption that tells us he survived "Five days through fire and earthquake, without food, in the Hotel St. Francis wine cellars, San Francisco."
We also have a series of postcards, harder to find, that were made of reconstruction scenes once the quake was over and the city began to rebuild.
Price Estimates: Postcards of the earthquake and fire are easy to find, so you can afford to be picky. Look for cards in top condition. Sometimes you can find a Lot of these postcards and that will usually decrease the price-per-postcard. Be willing to pay more for unusual or real photo images. Expect to pay $5 - $25 depending on rarity. These estimates are for postcards in EXCELLENT condition, and they are only estimates.