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Postcards collection

The postcards in the Museum collection focus on scenes in Iraq, from the British invasion to present day.

Object lives

What is a postcard? Normally, it is a piece of heavy paper with an image on the obverse side, and a stamp, address, and message on the reverse side. The image often has a description — maybe one or two lines — and there may be a publisher's byline or other branding as well.

What is important about a postcard is that it typically has an image pre-printed, so the sender picks it out as a way to communicate about their present location.

Postcards are a sort of mass-produced media, but they can become intensely personal objects due to their astonishing variety as well as their many possible personalizations — stamps, postmarks, destinations, and of course handwritten messages. They have a duality. Even a postcard with nothing written on it might have been picked out by someone to show a scene — like their own personal photograph, but with a clarity exceeding their own photographic talents. However, postcards are not just printed photos. They often feature publisher's notes, and capture quintessential themes sought after by visitors to an area. In this way, even a totally unmarked postcard preserves a degree of dual qualities as both an impersonal and personal object.

The life of a postcard generally goes through a few stages. They are produced somewhere, retailed (or perhaps ordered from a catalog), bought, and ultimately sent or kept in a collection. Generally, to have survived the decades, they must have been kept in reasonably good conditions. They ultimately wind up for sale somewhere, stripped of much of their history besides their visible qualities.

Postcards are a relatively inexpensive window into history. They tend to show a sort of heightened reality.


The photos in the collection mostly cover the period from 1915 to 1980. They begin with a few photos from the British invasion of Ottoman Mesopotamia taken very crudely, develop into more of an art media by the 1930s showing cultural scenes with gorgeous photography and monochrome printing, and from the 1950s onward begin to show more touristic scenes with jarring color and a decrease in aesthetic refinement. The first color postcards seem to appear in the 1950s.




These postcards mostly focus on scenes of the invasion.


These photos mostly show politics and administration related to British rule


Beautiful panoramas. It seems that Shell also got involved.








In this period, it seems that content becomes more widespread.



Most of the postcards in the collection come from a few publishers,

• Tuck's postcards
• Dominican Mission to Mesopotamia
• Governmental publishers