Wish We Were There
Classic Texas postcards paint a picture of a place we never knew.
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No chamber of commerce ever hyped Texas so wholeheartedly as did the vintage picture postcard. Within its borders, Texas basks in a perpetual state of boom and beauty. Pretty girls and prize bulls are constants, bumper crops and black gold the order of every day. The cards, equally popular among tourists and natives since the early 1900’s, endlessly enshrine the Alamo and keep the wild West wild. Even indigenous perils—flash floods, heat waves, prickly pears, rattlesnakes—are portrayed in storybook tints of violet, orange, and pink. To modern Texans, these mailable mini-myths are both humorous and nostalgic, and they deliver a message close to our hearts: On these little pieces of cardboard, at least, Texas will always be larger than life.
The photo images of the Texas postcards are not available online. To find out how to order a copy of this article, please go to Texas Monthly back issues.
Captions for Texas postcards images.
• A decade or so after the 1900 hurricane, Gulf-side gallivanters such as these helped Galveston regain its party-town reputation.
• This prairie scene was a cliché at least forty years before Santa Fe co-opted it.
• Springtime bluebonnet scenes sold briskly all year long.
• WAFs on parade: San Antonio’s miliatry pride swelled after World War II.
• Palo Pinto County lacked trees in 1928, but it wasn’t missing links.
• Even nightime views warranted Day-Glo colors.
• Panhandle blizzards wowed warm-weather Texans.
• Every rural cafe cleaned up for the requisite self-portrait.
• In 1908 the fame of the Waco bridge spanned the nation.
• More cowgirls graced postcards than real life.
• Gene Autry was a local boy made good.
• Texans loved looking backword to the wild West.
• A typical travel shot: raw, rugged, hyperhued.
• The stellar McDonald Observatory, 1942
• Oil images boomed during the Depression.
• A hugely anachronistic sight, even half a century ago.
• In disaster, too, we managed to our-horrify ‘em all.
• This San Antonio-printed postcard offered purchasers both pulchritude and patriotism for a penny.
• The Valley, in the forties: “Almost all homes have grapefruit trees right in the yard.”
• Newfangled photography and native pride produced the classic larger-than-life card.
• In an age when picture taking was a reare and serious even, folks split.
• By 1930 the era of the tall-tale photo was on the wane …
• … so illustrators readily adopted the perennially popular theme.
• An enduring postcard attraction is this Wester version of the Lock Ness monster.
• Sorry, Charlie: Every lakeside town in Texas boasted fish this big.
• The real reason horny toads became so scarce?
• Cartoon cartographers set out to map our sense of humor.
• A brag card, part of a best-selling Chicago-made series.
• Printers issued this corny image in Kansa and Iowa versions.