Tall Tale Postcards

Photo courtesy Northumberland County Archives

Cobourg, Circa 1915

If you think this photograph is particular to Cobourg, don’t be fooled. This postcard image was originally created by an American, William H. Martin who worked out of a studio in Kansas between 1908 and 1915.

Martin was considered a master of the popular “tall-tale” photographs that appeared on postcards in the early 20th century. He produced a vast collection of doctored photos that portrayed an exaggerated rural life – corncobs so huge that only one would fit on a wagon, onions that required three men to lift, wheat fields that towered above threshing machines like old growth forests or as in the case of this postcard, poultry that was as large as a good-sized pig.

Martin’s technique was a primitive precursor to Photoshop. He delicately cut and pasted pieces of different photographs to create manipulated, out-of-scale scenes that were then rephotographed. He sold the rights to these images to companies like the Canadian Postcard Co. that would in turn print the images on postcard stock, swapping out the names of the towns depending on demand.

In an era when postcards were the equivalent to a quick text message, Martin’s wildly popular images sent a tongue-in-cheek message to many a mailbox.

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