Tall Tale Postcards

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Tall tale postcards, a form of visual storytelling, first appeared in the United States during the advent of postcard photography between 1905 and 1915, although illustrated examples are also common. What these postcards share with orally transmitted tall tales is the idea of the outrageous lie-usually conveyed through humorous exaggeration. Artists and photographers create tall tale scenes by juxtaposing images of varying sizes or subject matter and presenting them as a unified image for humorous effect. Common subject matter of tall tale postcards includes agricultural themes, hunting and fishing stories, distorted maps that favor one state or region over another, and representations of such legendary figures as the jackalope and fur-bearing trout.

Since 1987, Michigan State University Museum staff and private donors have actively been building the museum's tall tale postcard collection. Items in the collection date back to the genre's earliest appearance ca. 1907 to examples from the present day. Much of the MSU Museum's initial acquisitions of tall tale postcards focused on those closely connected with the state's agricultural products and Michigan hunting and fishing humor. More recent acquisitions, including a major donation by John Turner, reflect an aim to broaden the collection's representation of other regional and national themes and to represent the works of major tall tale postcard creators such as William H. Martin, Alfred Stanley Johnson, Edward H. Mitchell and Richard Miller.

In addition to the nearly 300 postcards, the collection is also supplemented by related items including taxidermy specimens and cartoons and magazine covers that utilize similar forms of visual exaggeration.

--compiled by Michele Beltran, 2003


Link to virtual exhibition, "Tall Tale Postcards: Storytelling through the mail"

Other Subject Headings
tall tale postcards (Ethnographic Thesaurus (ET))