Most are old and faded and some are wrinkled. But to Earl T. “Hammer” Smith, the decades-old postcards are perfect.
“Some of these are more than 100-years-old,” he said, flipping through plastic pages in a hardback notebook that help preserve the cards.
More than 40 of Smith’s postcards – all scenes from around Henry County – appear in the newly released book, “Kentucky’s Historic Postcard Art.” Also included in the book’s 200-plus images are other postcards depicting scenes in Shelby and Spencer counties – some issued as long ago as the early 20th century.
Smith, the county’s official historian and curator for the Henry County Historical Society in New Castle, provided captions for the book’s 42 Henry County postcards. The postcards are particularly important historically, he said, because they feature sites and scenes of buildings and landscapes that no longer exist.
“I think it’s extremely important to conserve what exists for the people of tomorrow – for the coming generations. If no one does, it will just disappear,” said Smith, a recent recipient of the Patrick Henry Award, given periodically to a Henry County citizen who has contributed substantially to the advancement of Henry County.
“Kentucky’s Historic Postcard Art” – a four-color book – was co-published by Shelbyville resident William E. Matthews and New Castle resident Mae Peniston.
“There have been numerous books on postcards produced in Kentucky, but virtually all have presented only black-and-white images, with many converted from color to reduce costs,” Matthews said. “Our book contains 4-color cards – if they were originally printed in 4-color – and black-and-white cards if they were printed in that format.”
Smith’s favorite postcard – postmarked in 1909 – depicts a scene in Eminence.
“Whoever took the photo was standing in front of the Chat ‘N Nibble or the building where the CVS is now,” Smith said of the postcard he purchased about two decades ago. “It’s taken back toward the Christian Church across Main Street.”
“There is a fellow driving a buggy in the forefront. And there’s a little mule or colt running alongside the buggy. From being an old farm boy, I know that if the driver was driving a mare, the colt would stay right with his mother.”
“To me,” Smith said. “I can’t look at that picture without giving a chuckle.”
Other Henry County postcard favorites include scenes at the old train depot in Eminence and the old hotel in New Castle.
“People would live there by the month – local people,” Smith said of the hotel Smith and his wife, June Stivers Smith, have purchased dozens of postcards over the years from junk stores, flea markets and antique stories.
“We’ve even found them inside books sold in Good Will stores, people used them as bookmarks,” he said.
Matthews said that two people, Carl Howell Jr. of Hodgenville and Nancy Hill of Shelbyville, primarily are responsible for the book. Hill is regarded as a primary historian on downtown Shelbyville, and Howell has more than 31,000 postcards that were accessed for the book.
“The cards tell much about the rich history of the three counties,” Matthews said.