Hi, thank you for checking out our new blog, Folsom Unveiled. My name is Kaitlyn Scott and I’m Folsom Historical Society’s historian. Each week I will be highlighting a different topic related to Folsom’s history that not everyone knows about by diving deeper into a place, event, person or piece in our collection.
Most people like to collect something, from stamps and coins to the more obscure post-mortem photography or undeniable proof that Bigfoot is real. I myself collect Disney pins which I hoard in a protective case and when I counted last, I had over 150 pins. Mickey Mouse could honestly sell me anything.
If you have been following our Facebook page, you may already be familiar with our short artifact videos where I introduce some pieces in our collection, if you don’t follow our Facebook, you should. Anyway, one of those videos was on Emma Spencer, Folsom’s madam. I won’t go too in depth into her life story because you can hear some of it on the video or better yet, you can come learn about her more in depth when we reopen, as she will be featured in one of our upcoming exhibits.
Being a madam wasn’t Emma’s only defining feature, its easy to take people who lived in the past and pigeon-hole them into a box based on what we know them as today, as with everyone, she was multi-faceted. Emma, like so many of us today, was a collector. She collected books and postcards, but it is her postcards I want to talk about today.
Postcards fall under the category of ‘ephemera’ which are typically paper based and meant to last short term, like ticket stubs. To have a large collection of postcards from a single person is quite remarkable. It shows us their tastes, where they’ve been, who they were friends with and what was important to them.
Emma received her postcard album from a friend in 1909 and her postcards date from 1903 to 1917. Like today, I am sure that a postcard was among the most inexpensive souvenirs to purchase during a trip, its typically the first thing I reach for when I visit a new place because it doesn’t take up much space and usually costs a quarter.
Strangely enough, postcards were extremely popular during the period Emma collected. They were by no means new, but they offered a way for quick communication, were cheap and their small writing spaces made them perfect for quick notes back and forth. Think of them as an old style of text messaging.
Postcards can show us how places we might be familiar with today, looked like over a hundred years ago. For example, one of Emma’s postcards is of the Santa Cruz Casino Arcade, which is next to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I can’t explain how excited I was when I saw this postcard. One, because I grew up not far from there and went to the boardwalk multiple times a week in the Summer and two, because I am terribly homesick. Another one of her postcards shows Oak Park in Sacramento, which depicts the original archway sign.
Most of Emma’s postcards seem to be collector items only, as in they do not have writing on the back and were never mailed. However, some were sent to her by a woman named “Amanda” or a woman only known as “Mrs. J.W. Haskins”. A quick search (or not so quick as you now know from reading my blog last week), reveals that without a last name, an Amanda who knew Emma cannot be found and Mrs. J.W. Haskins was the aunt of a local girl in Folsom.
I hope Emma’s postcard collection has inspired you to take a look at what pieces of ephemera you have that might one day be in a museum or to look at the old postcards being sold at thrift and antique stores, you never know what you might find!