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Six Vintage Postcards

Evocative examples from an exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

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A woman relishing her electric fan–generated breeze (an ad of sorts, printed around 1930 by Belgium’s electric operations union) not only illustrates the fanciful ways in which companies tried to sell the European populace on new products and technologies but also “exemplifies early-20th-century fascination with electricity,” Lauder says. “And how electricity could change your life.”

In September 2010, Leonard Lauder (art collector, philanthropist and chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies) promised 100,000 vintage postcards to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Dating largely back to the height of postcard popularity, from the mid-1890s to 1914, it’s a trove that reveals as much about early-20th-century Western civilization as any good historical tome, if not more. Collecting since his youth, Lauder procured the cards—some 400 of which are now on view at the MFA through April 14—from auctions and dealers around the world, looking specifically for ones that expressed major artistic movements and sociopolitical goings-on. “For me, it was love of history and love of art,” he says. He certainly wasn’t alone—the vast majority were unused, unsent. “They were bought to be collected.” Herein, Lauder details the backstories of six notable examples. At 465 Huntington Ave.; mfa.org.

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