Brian Capouch

The Story

  • Continuous-tone images "know" much more than we can see
  • Real picture postcards (RPPC) capture valuable historical detail
  • Digitizing RPPCs is easy, and has manifold benefits
  • Chicago's Charles R. Childs was a picture-postcard pioneer
  • Non-RPPC images have their place, too

I. About continuous-tone images

Continuous tone

  • Similar to grayscale; color is said to vary continuously
  • One color shades gradually into another with no gaps
  • There may be hundreds of shades in a single square inch
  • Such images capture enormous detail
  • Old-fashioned film pictures are continuous-tone


  • Printing presses can only print one color at a time!!
  • It's easy to fool the human eye
  • Halftones represent a tradeoff
    • Consist of many dots of a single color (maybe multiple passes)
    • Dot sizes vary--the bigger the dot the darker the shade
    • The dots blur to simulate a continuous-tone image
      • AT A DISTANCE!!

Continuous-tone postcard by MLPhoto

Halftone postcard, S.D. Kropp, Milwaukee

Continuous tone imaging is the "secret sauce" in the RPPC

II. RPPCs hold a lot of information

Some important dates

  • 1893: Postcards introduced at Columbian Exposition
  • 1902: Kodak sells photographic "paper" with pre-printed back¬†
  • 1907: Kodak introduces "Real Picture Postcard"
    • They continued to produce them until ca. 1950
  • 1907: Post Office allows messages on the backs of postcards
  • Postcards became a major social phenomenon
  • Chicago was the production epicenter

Some Chicago-area shops

  • C.R. Childs
  • ML-Photo - Morris L. Masure
    • 2837 Milwaukee Ave Chicago

  • Crose - Thomas Albert Crose
    • He was born near Brookston
  • Harry Stilwell - studio in Monon

Case studies

1. Frank Pullins (1875-1958)

2. Dr. Hackley's House

Neill Williams (1884-1965) Glass Negative

3. When did Wm. Leader's cornice collapse?

Regular people made RPPCs, too

I got two "personal" RPPCs from Don Behny, a man I never met

Seeing Frank Baughman (1865-1932) 

Crowd admires Brush Runabout in front of old Horner's Store building

Who are those guys next to Frank???

III.The digitization process

Thanks to the late Jim Schilling, of the Starke County Historical Society

Scan resolution matters

Early 2000s scan of Horner Store

Horner Store - Mary Baughman Collection

Scanned ca. 2005

2018 Scan w/i900

File format matters too!

  • General advice: archive in TIF
  • Most .jpg formats LOSE information
  • GIF and PNG "okay" with caveats

Even film has "resolution"

  • Photographers use the term grain
  • The finer the grain, the higher the resolution
  • Not all RPPCs are created equal!!

IV. The amazing career of

C.R. Childs

Childs biographical highlights

  • Lived his whole life in Chicago area (1875-1960)
  • Very little is known about him
  • Estimates vary 25,000-80,000 cards done
    • They document life in many small towns
  • Not all are RPPCs
  • Later work was "artsy" instead of documentary

Image courtesy of Chicago History Museum

Sometimes images were "borrowed" by others

V. Other types of images can be useful, too

Glass negatives

Newspaper photos

Personal photos

1974 Cheap-camera photo

Sign up for half-day workshop!!

Real Picture Postcards

By capouch

Real Picture Postcards

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