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USF Libraries Exhibits

Florida Digital Postcards: Introduction


Florida Digital Postcard Exhibit

The Florida Digital Postcard exhibit, created in fall 2015, is a curated presentation of the digitized images from The Hampton Dunn Florida Postcard collection housed in the University of South Florida Libraries Special Collections.  An output of the first stage in the full-scale digitization of the collection, this exhibit features over three hundred postcards on Hillsborough County.  Drawn mostly from the first half of the twentieth century (and many from the Golden Age of Postcards), the images bring to view the streets, waterways, industry and society from the founding of modern Tampa.  The exhibit provides a visual history of significant events and everyday life, of buildings and travel, of nostalgia and progress that characterized Florida.  Inscribed with brief narratives of correspondents, the cards record the voices of travelers, businessmen, separated friends and family who passed through this place in history. Filled with alligators and airplanes, palm trees and bridges, the postcards raise questions about how people approached this exotic and fruitful land in the days before air conditioning. The cards invite us to join them in the past and re-envision the place we inhabit now.

Hampton Dunn Collection of Florida Postcards, 1900-1985

The Hampton Dunn Collection of Florida Postcards 1900-1985 is one of several eclectic archives donated to the library by the famous Floridian journalist, Hampton Dunn (Camp, Collecting Florida).  With over 16,100 items, it is the most significant collection of Florida postcards in the world. The images on the cards consist primarily of views of specific locations, and so they provide an ideal opportunity to trace the construction of place in Florida. Organized in 34 boxes by county, the collection covers the entire state, though only the cards from Hillsborough County are ready for digital exhibition. This unique and extensive collection offers a treasure-trove of information for a wide variety of audiences, from the collector to the student.  The ongoing digitization project aims to make the collection fully accessible in extraordinary ways.  The pilot phase of the visualization will be available in early 2016.

History of Postcards

Ubiquitous yet ephemeral, the post card reached its height of popularity in the 20th century. Begun in Europe in the 1870s, the postcard was always aimed at a popular audience.  At first, people worried that the open messages would be read by “servants,” and they mistrusted a mode that required only a “ha’penny stamp,” and hence could be available to most classes of people (Staff 7).  Businesses however recognized the advertising potential of the postal card, and sales in the first years exceeded everyone’s expectations.  German advances in lithography led to the “Golden Age” of postcards (circa 1905-1911), with a higher rate of production and sales across America and Europe.  These golden era postcards initiated the transition from ephemera to collectible.  Postcards were the “craze,” which coincided nicely with the rising tourism industry in Florida. After the Great War, postcard production shifted to the United States, with the rise of white border cards, and drawn and airbrushed images.  For more detailed history and information about postcard production, see

After stamps and coins, postcards have been the most popular collectible in the US, and golden age postcards continue to be highly sought.  The postcards in the Hampton Dunn Collection feature many cards from the Golden Age, as well as some real-photo postcards, undivided back cards, white border cards, and many colorful airbrushed images.  With the advent of personal electronics and Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest, travelers have become less reliant on post card mementos, and the once familiar beach-side racks of sunny Florida images are disappearing.  Historians have noted that postcards initiated a shift from long-form Victorian correspondence. The even more abbreviated styles of communication of Twitter, Facebook and text messaging make the postcard appear by comparison rich in textual possibilities.  Certainly our current epoch-shifting change in digital communications allows us to view the postcard with renewed curiosity for what it can reveal about epistolarity. 

Florida and Place-making in the Twentieth Century

From the courthouse in Tampa with trolleys and horse-drawn carriages in the narrow, gas lit street, to the magnificent arches of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, these postcards show us the development of human interactions with the environment, the construction of Florida as a place now inhabited by nearly twenty million people.  The full digitization project has as its central purpose the discovery of place-making in Florida, both as a historical process recorded by thousands of people who lived or traveled through the state, AND as the objective of the present user-experience. That is, by virtually traveling through the postcards in a digital exhibit, the present day Floridian (or visitor) also experiences a sense of place-making that engenders an ethic of care.  The postcards are arranged into three primary categories that represent dominant representations in the collection: military Florida, waterways, and cultural attractions.  Many of these places enjoyed by people of the past either no longer exist or exist in conditions that testify to the enormous changes we have witnessed in this state.


Military Florida highlights the role that politics, war and military culture serve in the history of the state. The geographical situation of Florida, poised on the Gulf Stream between North and South Americas, made the land attractive as a military site from the first European contact in the fifteenth century, and military forts are some of the oldest permanent structures dotting the state. Tampa, in particular, played (and continues to play) a strategic role in U.S. defense.  This exhibit focuses on the many representations of MacDill Air Force Base, and includes some older military sites, such as the Fort Hesterly Armory and the old U.S. Garrison at Fort Brooke.

The Florida Waterways features the most precious and controversial environmental resource of Florida: its water. From its 1350 miles of coastline, to its legendary springs, to the one-of-a-kind Everglades wetlands, Florida’s waterways have been deservedly featured on postcards throughout the century. This exhibit features the glorious Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay, and the numerous buildings, bridges, and parks that capitalize on their functionality and beauty.

Tourists have been traveling to see the sites of Florida since the turn of the 20th century, and Disneyworld wasn’t founded until 1971. The Cultural Landmarks exhibit curates the images and stories of the roadside attractions, glamorous hotels, monuments, and memorials that emerge out of Florida’s cultural mélange. This exhibit features the former tourist attraction of Sulphur Springs, complete with alligator slide, the Arabian architecture of the grand Tampa Bay Hotel, now Plant Hall at the University of Tampa, and the turn-of-the-century Romanesque Sacred Heart Church in downtown Tampa.

After visiting, please take a moment to provide feedback on this exhibit.

For more information:

Camp, Paul Eugen.  Collecting Florida: The Hampton Dunn Collection and Other Floridiana.  Tampa:  University of South Florida, 2006. Print.

Cresswell, Tim.  Place: An Introduction.  Second edition.  Malden, MA and Oxford UK:  Wiley Blackwell, 2015. Print.

History of MacDill Airforce Base

Jahoda, Gloria.  River of the Golden Ibis. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973.

Manzo, Lynne C. and Patrick Devine-Wright.  Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Methods and Applications. London and New York: Routledge, 2014.  Print.

Mormino. Gary R.  Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida.  Gainesville, FL:  University Press of Florida, 2005. Print.

Sacred Heart Parish History

Staff, Frank.  The Picture Postcard and its Origins.  New York and Washington: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966. Print.

The Lafayette Street Bridge  Lucy D. Jones, MA in History from USFSP Florida Studies Program, 2006.


Florida Digital Postcards: Introduction