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Black and white photo collage featuring strawberries on a railway transport car
May 5, 2024

Exaggeration Cards

Exaggeration or tall-tale postcards first emerged in the early 20th century, coinciding with the rise of postcards as a substitute for actual travel. Postcards were used to create an idealized representation of a town or region, prompting photographers to manipulate their images in order to achieve this ideal. These modified images were particularly popular in rural areas seeking to establish themselves as hubs of agricultural prosperity in order to attract new residents and promote growth. The most frequently depicted subjects on these postcards were local food sources, such as vegetables, fruits, and fish. This post explores a small collection of exaggeration cards held in CHS’s Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing.

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Exaggeration Cards


Minnesota has Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox. Florida has its gators, the world’s largest reptiles. And, of course, they say that everything is larger than life in Texas. But in California, home of the world’s tallest trees and an agricultural wonderland, it’s the plant life—cultivated or wild—that grows really, really big.

 

 

Image manipulations began long before the digital magic of Photoshop made it possible for everyone to become visual fantabulists and tellers of tall tales. A prime example can be seen in the exaggeration or tall-tale postcards that first appeared in Fresno in 1905. The appeal of outsized produce and livestock struck a chord throughout the West, where many printers began publishing “Bunyonesque cards utilizing props and darkroom legerdemain,” as Lewis Baer of the San Francisco Post Card Club has described the cards.

 

 

CHS’s exaggeration cards are pristine, never-scribbled-on, and never-mailed examples of the maker’s craft. They are mostly the productions of the San Francisco printer Edward H. Mitchell. Part of CHS’s Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing, these and more postcards are accessible to researchers in the North Baker Research Library at our headquarters in San Francisco.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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