Posting vignettes based on great postcards found in my mail box and elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can postcards save our national parks?

The Eldridge Glacier in Denali National Park
Alaska Color Card Company, Anchorage, AK

Postcards are helping save our national parks.

That’s the opinion of a University of Alaska professor. Though I’m skeptical of the claim, the idea may sit well with some postcard collectors, especially those who specialize in national park postcards. They can’t help but be happy with this news. A few will be licking their chops because news like this stands a fair chance of increasing the value of their postcard collections, both contemporary and vintage.

Who wouldn’t want to buy a postcard that would save the national parks? Of course, postcards or curios of any kind are not going to save the parks because our parks don’t need saving. They are protected by law and have a rather high regard by the American people and policy makers. 

According to Dr. Ken Barrick , associate professor of geography, souvenirs bought at and around national parks whether buttons, beads, earrings or postcards are a way of taking home a piece of the park without taking home an actual piece of the park. “Souvenirs prevent people from collecting natural objects such as feathers and rocks,” he was quoted in an article by Johanna Love, published this week the Jackson Hole News & Guide and syndicated today in my home town newspaper, The Fairbank News-Miner. He’s right on the money here.

Barrick other idea is that keepsakes like postcards, which people save into old age, somehow help translate into support for the parks. This sounds a little too good to be true to me. I suspect that what he said was more nuanced. It’s more likely that a visitor’s experience at a park, not the memento, does the heavy lifting in terms of support and advocacy and the mementos remind us of that experience.

I do think Barrick is on to something. We do tend to keep souvenirs and recall past experiences, especially pleasant ones, through them. This is what imbues them with value for us. Such mementos have an impact on reminding us of the grandness and splendor of a particular park and our visit there. I simply doubt that these collectibles are the sole triggers by which we become passionate about the mission of the park service. It is rather the enriching experiences in the wilderness inside the park which embolden us to speak well of a particular park and the park service in general.

I don’t think that the postcards of the parks I accumulated motivate me to support the parks. My visits to Yosemite, Sequoia, Yellowstone, Kenai Fiords, Isle Royal and Denali have convinced me that these landscapes and ecosystems are valuable and are worth persevering for future generations. The postcards I have of these marvelous places are valuable to me because they remind me of these marvelous places and in some cases how that experience changed me. 

As a collector, postcards must stand on their own. They must have a history themselves. They were commissioned by a certain publisher or patron. They are an example of a certain artist or illustrators work. They are limited because most of the cards were destroyed in a warehouse fire prior to distribution. All these circumstances and a multitude of others influence value.

Hype also influences value. A story like this one can become, and I suspect it will, a factor that can influence value in a genre of postcards. Barrik is a collector of 400 images of photo chrome lithograph prints produced from 1898 to 1906 by the Detroit Photographic Company, including the 65 of Yellowstone. I’d love to see those prints and hear his talk today, 6:30 p.m., at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose, Wyoming. Maybe if we're lucky, Barrik will repeat it here in Fairbanks in the near future. I’d really like to know how postcards will save our National Parks. 

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