Taschen book showcases a picture-postcard America

Grand Canyon, Arizona
Photographer William Henry Jackson’s picture of the Grand Canyon, taken from O’Neill’s Point.
(Marc Walter / Taschen)

In the late 19th and early 20th century, you may not have been able to travel to, say, the Grand Canyon, but you could look at a picture postcard of it and enjoy the moment vicariously.

Now a group of recently rediscovered and rare color postcards of that America has been compiled into “An American Odyssey,” a new 600-page Taschen book ($200).

The postcards, known as Phototints and Photocrom images, celebrate travel across the United States. They were produced by the Detroit Photographic Co. between 1888 and 1924.

They showed America to America, from the sweeping landscapes of the West to everyday life in urban and rural areas. Among the places pictured: New York’s Chinatown; the Boardwalk of Atlantic City, N.J.; the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York; the Zuni Pueblo of New Mexico; and the majestic redwoods of California.


Most of the images were shot by acclaimed photographers William Henry Jackson, Lycurgus Solon Glover and Henry Greenwood Peabody.

Until 1898, the government had a monopoly on prestamped postcards. Postcards from private publishers weren’t allowed. The Private Mailing Card Act changed all of that, and soon the Detroit Photographic Co., which had offices in New York and Los Angeles, became the main purveyor of color postcards.

Three years later, Detroit Photographic partnered with Fred Harvey Co., which sold the postcards in its restaurants and hotels along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway lines.

Besides the people and places, the images also showcase methods of  traveling to or in a destination: You’ll see, for instance, the scenic Mt. Lowe Railway, a popular cable car funicular that began in Altadena then climbed to the top of Echo Mountain and Echo Mountain House, a 70-room Victorian hotel, and the 40-room Echo Chalet.


The vibrant vintage postcards and Photochroms in “An American Odyssey,” were compiled from the private collection of French graphic designer and photographer Marc Walter, who first stumbled across an old color photograph 30 years ago at a Paris flea market.

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