By Heather Fox
While cataloging a recently acquired collection of photographs related to the Breckinridge family, I came across a grouping of intriguing “real photo postcards” (RPPCs) taken of a family of tenant farmers living at one of the Breckinridge’s farms in Monticello, Illinois. The eleven postcards not only provide a glimpse of rural life at the beginning of the 20th century, but also reflect a period when photographic technology was introduced that capitalized on the postcard mania that began in the late 19th century and would continue on until the 1930s.
These real photo postcards, so called to distinguish them from mass-produced generic cards, could be sent away for by individuals who owned their own camera, sometimes a Kodak No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak, which held postcard-sized film and was debuted in 1903. This allowed the general public to have their images printed on the back of postcards. Other cameras could also achieve the same effect. Camera manufacturers also developed printing rigs that allowed the amateur photographers an inexpensive way to develop their own postcards. When one considers that between July 1, 1907 and July 1908 677,777,798 postcards were sent through the U.S. Postal Service, it becomes apparent why manufacturers were so eager to develop such technology.
The RPPCs of the Perkins family show casual and posed images of life on the farm. We see more formal posed images like that of Soldier Perkins and his sister as well as an action shot of “Mr. Perkins” smiling as he climbs a fence. We even spot the shadowy figure of the photographer in a portrait of one of the Perkins daughters.