|Court Square, Springfield Massachusetts, postmarked 1920|
I enjoy collecting these because of their evocative atmosphere and charm. In the frenetic, rapidly changing world of their heyday, night view cards seem to take a step back and relax, and even often to bring a bit of nature back into an artificial and developing world.
|Moon over State Capitol and Bushnell Park in Hartford, Connecticut|
They often capture the naïve appeal of Currier and Ives prints. In addition, many of them with their spooky drifting clouds, bright moons, and dark color schemes punctuated by yellow-orange lights, are a perfect complement for Halloween.
|Columbus, Ohio postmarked 1942|
|River Front, Milwaukee, Wisconsin|
Oddly, the photographs on which these cards are based were not really taken at night. These were day scenes, with the clouds, moon, lit windows, and pall of darkness all painted in. Often you will find matched day and night views, identical down to parked cars, strolling pedestrians, or bits of debris on the beach.
|San Antonio, Texas|
|The Perry Monument in Put-in-Bay, commemorating the great hero of the War of 1812|
Night-scene cards can be divided into two periods. The first is roughly from 1900 to 1925. These cards often are more romantic in nature, and tend to preserve the night effect by having the dark scene extend to the edges of the cards. The artwork also tends to be a little finer in this period.
Around 1925, Art Deco kicked in, and these cards seemed to have a special affinity with Art Deco ideals, such as geometric shapes and streamers, and blocks of light and color, all of which showed up well with nighttime contrasts. Also, the not-quite-realistic look of these linen-finish cards worked better with night scenes in which atmosphere rather than detail predominated. These later cards frequently have a white border containing the title of the card in black type. Night cards were produced after the 1950’s, but these are often real photographs and outside the scope of this post.
|This view of the State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska is pure Art Deco.|
|In my opinion, this painted sky is too bright and colorful, and fails to complement the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.|
|This attempt at showing the Temple in Salt Lake City, postmarked 1930, produced an Art Deco masterpiece of lighting.|
In addition to important buildings, streetscapes of small towns were popular subjects:
|This linen-finish card, postmarked 1943, depicts Columbus Avenue in Sandusky, Ohio|
Many night cards reflect the influence of the Ashcan school of gritty, realistic art, showing industrial scenes such as railways, bridges, and docks. Even city skylines were often shown from a vantage point which included a water or harbor view.
|Bridge and Skyline in Cleveland, Ohio, postmarked 1954.|
|Early view of Charlestown Bridge and Boston Elevated. No postmark, but early format is verified by 1906 copyright date.|
|Restaurant Ship Hotel in Venice, California, postmarked 1910.|
Nature was also a favorite theme for these cards, and again water is often involved, partly for its reflective qualities. These scenes, while quite beautiful, can also seem desolate without any sign of human habitation or life.
|Moonlight on the Mahoning River, Warren, Ohio--no date, but its early date is evident from the typeface and the lack of a border.|
|Mt. Hood, Oregon, another early card.|
|Another use for the moon that people found in 1911.|
Night cards are fascinating because they show how the people who produced and purchased them were able to see their world in more than one way. Night has always held a special symbolism in art and literature, indicating things that are to some degree evil or frightening. Night-scene cards, while capturing some of that ‘dark’ mood, also imbue the photos with beauty and color.
|Murphy's Hotel in Richmond, Virginia|
|Storm after Nor'easter, Old Orchard, Maine postmarked 1911|
Please let me know if you have a favorite scene here, or whether you have any preference between the ‘old style’ and the ‘Deco style’ cards.
(All cards depicted here in possession of the author.)