Located in Linderman Library, the art exhibit “No Postage Necessary: Views of the Postcard World” showcases the development of postage.
The exhibit has been displayed in multiple sections of the library during its normal operating hours since the start of this semester. It was created by Ilhan Citak, archives and special collections librarian; Lois Black, curator of special collections; and Alex Japha, digital archivist.
After sorting through thousands of postcards in their collection, Japha said the group of creators were able to curate a selection of postage to convey themes, including the history of the postcard, bridges, travel, transportation and local Bethlehem.
Citak said the exhibit, while displaying the archive’s extensive postcard collection, tells stories about the history of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, the Lehigh Valley and the United States.
“In addition to Lehigh’s history, the exhibit also shows a history of material culture,” Japha said. “It shows how postcards themselves have changed over time and what impact they’ve had on communication within society.”
Japha said the postcards are informational, showing what popular communication used to look like before the age of technology.
Citak said “No Postage Necessary” is a part of Special Collection’s mission of public education. Through the exhibits, he said they are able to show samples of their collection that will educate those who view it.
Japha said the collection is a combination of postcards that the Lehigh library archives own, as well as a loan from English professor Scott Gordon’s collection.
Gordon said he has been growing his own collection of local history and recently acquired many postcards. The postcards showcase photography done by a local man, who took pictures of Lehigh University, Bethlehem and the Lehigh River.
Citak said the collaboration allowed for Gordon’s collection to be seen by others and for Gordon to add to the narratives of postcards, as well.
“We had less things to worry about, but the collaboration also gave an opportunity to showcase other faculty members,” Citak said. “If there is any opportunity to have a collaboration, we always go for that, everybody is benefiting.”
The exhibit can be viewed both in person during the library’s normal operating hours until the end of the semester and on the exhibit’s website at any time.
To carry out their mission of public education, the group said the Special Collections wanted to focus on engagement with their exhibit. To do so, they held a 5×10 event for first-year students on Oct. 28 titled “Greetings from South Mountain — I am Busy!”
At the event, 63 students were given a tour of the postcard collection. They were taught how to find more information regarding the location, senders and recipients of the postage by using multiple Lehigh Library resources.
To finish the session, students filled out a postcard of their own that was designed by Special Collections’ work study student Gabi Velazquez, ‘26. These cards were then sent out to the addresses the students wrote by Citak himself, he said.
Akin to the creators of the exhibit, students who have taken time to view the collection identified similar themes from the postcards.
“It was really interesting to see how the styles of postage evolved over time,” Grace Ditmar, ‘26, said. “Postcards used to be truly a main form of communication, whereas now I think it’s more of an afterthought. People used to genuinely use them for communicative purposes, and I thought that was cool.”
Japha said generally, Special Collections aims to display two exhibits a year: one in the spring and one in the fall semester.
Citak said some exhibits can take longer than others due to the amount of knowledge the curators previously have on the chosen subject.
“Our collection grows, especially this postage collection, with gifts and donations,” Citak said. “We receive gifts, and we give back to people by telling the story.”
Japha said Special Collections is currently working on their next exhibit as of a few weeks ago, which will hopefully be on display by the beginning of the spring 2023 semester.
You might consider postcards to be the internet of their time. I imagine the exhibit items are indications of the pride that people had in various aspects of their community. Other postcards depict interesting subjects that correspond to some of the shadier sides of life.
Is it probable that, like many other things, postcards will disappear from modern life.