Finding Connections

John Donne observed no man is an island, but part of a greater continent, and the same can be argued of archival collections. Each tells a story, but sometimes looking at multiple collections can yield a bigger narrative.

In 1977, a large number of photographs, negatives and other items were donated to UNC Asheville Special Collections. The images, identified as the, Hollday Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs, were thought to be the work of Robinson, who owned a Kodak store in Asheville in the early 20th century.

The collection has recently undergone significant reprocessing, resulting in a new finding aid including a full listing of all 2426 images in the collection, and a reassessment of who the photographer actually was. Some images were clearly taken after Robinson died in 1923, and may be the work of his wife Sarah. Or his son John Jr., who for many years owned an electrical and camera store in Burnsville, may be the photographer. Or they may be the work of other unidentified photographers.

Some images were provided to Robinson by postcard manufacturers and, conversely, some images taken by Robinson were intended to be used on postcards.

Special Collections is fortunate to have several collections of postcards, including the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection.

Fred Kahn was a deltiologist (postcard collector), and through the kind generosity of his widow Jan, and other members of his family, Special Collections now has approximately 700 postcards in the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. The collection follows Kahn’s original arrangement and groups the images within themes, often showing numerous versions of the same “view”.

Which brings us back to the Robinson Collection.

As mentioned earlier, many images, thought to be the work of Robinson, were made into postcards and some of these feature in the Kahn Collection.

The Kahn Collection includes two copies of a postcard titled, “Mount Pisgah from Buck Spring Lodge on Vanderbilt Estate, ‘In The Land Of The Sky’”, published by the Southern Postcard Co. of Asheville. The image shows sheep in front of the lodge, with two women and a man looking on.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Collection [2_25_004]
The Robinson Collection includes a series of images that were clearly taken at the same time as the image on the Kahn postcard, with robb208 being almost identical. The photograph does however show an expanded view, with four men seated on the lodge veranda, which were cut from the postcard, as was the Robinson index number. The other major change is that the postcard image is colorized.

P77. 16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb208]
Although Robinson is not credited on the postcard, it seems highly likely he photographed the original image.

Some postcards were taken directly from Robinson’s negatives. Examples of this are the images of Biltmore House shown below.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [1_53_001]
M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [1_53_003]
The Kahn Collection includes two postcards  showing a view of Biltmore House, but although they both have the same title and credit, the text layout differs.

P77.16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb957]
Robinson negative robb957 has suffered damage, but otherwise is identical to Kahn 1_53_003.

Neither of the Kahn postcards identifies a publisher, so it is possible that Robinson produced the postcards himself and sold them in his store. Both postcards were mailed, providing an approximate year of manufacture; 1_53_001 was mailed in 1915, and 1_53_003 in 1916, so it may be that the different text styles are from two different print runs from different years.

Some images raise more questions than they answer.

The two images of the original Battery Park Hotel shown below are similar enough to assume that the photograph is the source of the postcard.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [5_55_001]
P77.16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb2407]
However, the postcard is credited to “Plateau Studio for S.H. Kress & Co.” Plateau was a studio operating in Asheville at the time Robinson had his Kodak store, but there is no record that he worked for Plateau. But did he? Or is the postcard credit incorrect? Or was Robinson not responsible for the original image, which exists in the Robertson Collection as a print rather than a negative?

Materials from the Kahn and Roberston collections are not available online, but can be viewed at Special Collections

RiverLink and River Fun

For the past few months, Special Collections staff and interns have been processing papers received last year from RiverLink, an organization that for over thirty years has promoted and revitalized the French Broad River in Asheville. The papers are now available for researchers, and Allyson Alvis, one of the interns who processed the papers, has taken a look at some of the “fun” aspects of RiverLink’s activities.

River clean up
Francis Delany School River Clean Up on 2/25/06 [M2017.03 RiverLink Papers, Box 52, CD 86]
RiverLink was conceived in 1986 as a way to increase tourism and get tourists more involved in the area around the French Broad River while they were in Asheville. Karen Cragnolin helped officially establish RiverLink in 1987, and the organization began their quest of improving the French Broad, which Asheville citizens had been treating as a dumping ground for decades. RiverLink hoped to achieve this by creating new riverparks, and by hosting events to generate community interest in preserving and improving their river.

One early rendition of such events was “Fall in Love with the French Broad”, a fund-raiser typically held in night clubs, and celebrating the river and featuring costumes and elaborate performances. The tradition started in the early 1990s, along with other small-scale fundraisers and clean ups.

Men dancing
“Fall in Love with the French Broad” , 2/11/1995 [M2017.03, RiverLink Papers, Box 42 Envelope 16]
One of RiverLink’s biggest events is their annual RiverFest, which has been an ongoing tradition since the 1980’s. RiverFest has changed slightly over the years and grown substantially, but overall it stayed true to its original conception and overall goal. It was, and still is, designed as a fundraiser for the environmental and economic revitalization of the French Broad River, and as a way to  encourage people to participate in the French Broad itself.

Since it is held at the Salvage Station, the proximity to the river encourages direct participation between the people and the area they are supporting, more directly than other events. Additionally, the array of activities help people engage directly with both the French Broad and RiverLink.

DSCN7458
Participants in RiverFest 2008 [M2017.03 RiverLink Papers, Box 52 CD 156]
While there are plenty of activities at RiverFest, the most popular is the “Anything that Floats Boat Parade,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Participants are encouraged to show up in costume with decorated boats, or just as themselves with a kayak, with the goal be having fun along the river.

This means that the parade has everything from friends and family in a raft, to businesses using flags and signs as promotion as they float down the river, to floats made of empty beer kegs or oil drums and a boat shaped like a dragon and manned by a group of vikings. As long as it can make it down the river, any “boat” is allowed in.

Vikings
Undated photo of “Anything That Floats” participants [M2017.03 RiverLink Papers, Box 42 Envelope 23)
For the competition itself, participants are encouraged to build the most outrageous contraption they can, and dress up for the occasion. At the end of the parade, there are winners for: creativity, ingenuity, best depiction of the category, and team spirit.

DSCN7408
`Participants in the 2008 “Anything that Floats Boat Parade” [M2017.03 RiverLink Papers, Box 52 CD 156]
People who would rather not get in the river, cheer on the participants and take part in other activities on the shore, as there are many ways to participate and the event comes with a full day of activities; there are live musical performances, aerial silks and dog competitions, and children’s activities, like face painting. There are also lots of options for local food, beer, and other vendors to interact with throughout the festivities.

2008 parade
Parade at the 2008 “RiverFest” [M2017.03 RiverLink Papers, Box 52 CD 158)
All of these events not only serves as great fundraisers for the river, but create a better sense of community and help get citizens more connected with it. As more people care about the French Broad, they will be more dedicated to developing and preserving it.

Allyson Alvis, Special Collections Intern

Asheville Postcard Company Salesman’s Samples Collection

Asheville Postcard Company Salesman’s Samples Collection

By Joey Harrington, Special Collections Intern

Salesman’s sample books. Note how the two in the middle unfold to show the various postcards.

Lamar Campbell LeCompte founded the Asheville Postcard Company in 1913. For the majority of the company’s history, from 1930 to 1977 when LeCompte passed away, they were located on “a little street between Broadway and North Lexington” which writer J.L. Mashburn describes as just a “nook in an alley in a weather beaten establishment” (Mashburn 72). According to Mashburn this little “nook” contained an estimated ten million postcards dating from 1912 to 1950.

Cover of one of the sample books.

The Asheville PostCard Company Salesman’s Samples Collection was donated to UNCA Special Collections by local collector BIll Hart. The salesman’s sample books eachs feature different cards marketed to promote towns or communities, and were carried by salesman to be shown to prospective buyers. Dating from 1939 to 1941, the 11 sample booklets in this collection document the commercial process of how these popular and colorful cards came into the hands of consumers. Salesman would call at retail establishments such as tourist attractions, hotels, drugstores, and other venus with these samples and take orders for both generic and customized cards. The orders would be printed and shipped to the retailers, where they would be purchased by tourists and locals alike.

Clingmans Dome
From the top of Mt. Mitchell

The booklets contain “linen postcards.” According to the cultural historian Jeffrey L. Meikle, linen postcards “so called for their embossed surfaces resembling linen cloth, dominated the American market for landscape view cards from 1931 into the early 1950s” (Meikle 2). The linen cards, which originated at Curt Teich in Co. in Chicago, were “based on retouched black-and-white photographs” printed on “inexpensive cardstock in vivid, exaggerated colors” (Meikle 2).

In the late 1930s and early 40s, when stamps were a mere half penny and mail could be delivered two to seven times a day, the postal service was the primary method of communication for many people in the United States (USPS). According to the US Postal Service website, in 1940 roughly 525,000 privately printed postcards were mailed in the United States and when you add “postal cards” that were pre-stamped, the number jumps to roughly 2.5 million.

“Sunrise on Mt. Mitchell, in the Land of the Sky”

For scholars like Meikle, these widely disseminated postcards offer “a window into popular middle-class attitudes about nature, wilderness, race and ethnicity, technology, mobility, and the city during an era of intense transformation” (Meikle 4). The recently donated postcard samples  from the Asheville Postcard Company certainly seem to represent many of the “popular middle-class attitudes” that Meikle describes. The majority of the cards depict idyllic “nature scenes” of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with photos of places like Clingman’s Dome and Mount Mitchell, while also featuring the architecture of various downtown districts in Western North Carolina. The cards simultaneously present pictures indicative of a culture of white supremacy, with explicitly racist representations of African Americans featured in some of the photos.

The new collection, which includes over a hundred postcards, will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in studying Western North Carolina culture in the early 20th century and will now be available for reference at UNCA Special Collections. More cards from the collection are featured below. 

Some of the cards, like this one, feature sexist or racist themes. Note how it could be customized to include “your city,” and that this was from the “Imprinted Series #968”
“A typical moonshine still” – such cards helped perpetuate Appalachian stereotypes.
“Busy tourist’s correspondence card” – the collection includes several variations on this theme.
An example of the “humorous” cards sold by the Asheville Postcard Company.

Joey Harrington studies History and Jazz and Contemporary Music at UNC Asheville.

Sources:

Mashburn, J. L., Asheville & Buncombe County…Once Upon a Time. Enka, NC: Colonial House Publishers, 2012.

Meikle, Jeffrey L. Postcard America: Curt Tech and the Imaging of a Nation, 1931-1950. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.