Postcards from the Past

Rhawn St looking west from the Pennsylvania Railroad trestle at Holmesburg Junction, circa 1910. On the right is the American Manganese and Bronze Co, established there about this time as was Torresdale Ave. The large house in the far center may be the old Green Hotel at Ditman. (Photo courtesy of Fred Moore)

The Northeast Philadelphia History Network is on the verge of purchasing hundreds of century-old picture postcards that were collected by Bruce Conner, a local historian who died two years ago.

Fred Moore and Jack McCarthy, of the local history group, tracked down the items from a dealer in Lancaster County. They are only about $1,000 shy of their goal, but a deadline is looming.

“I knew he was a collector, but I was stunned at the depth and breadth of his collection,” McCarthy said of Conner’s batch of picture postcards and other items.

After Conner’s passing, his family sold the collection to “some guy down in South Philly,” Moore said.

Recently, another Philadelphia-area historical society told the Northeast group about seeing some of Conner’s items on eBay.

Moore and McCarthy learned that the collection had been resold to Lancaster-area manuscript dealer Chris Hannon.

When they asked about buying back the whole collection of more than 700 picture post cards, the asking price was $19,000, a sum too steep for the local history group.

The next step was to pick out certain items from the collections.

“We went through it with a fine-tooth comb,” Moore said.

Back in the early 1900s, the Sliker family of Bridesburg operated a studio photography business. The father and son team of William and Charles Sliker, on horseback, would take photos of neighborhood happenings using a Kodak box camera, develop the images as postcards and sell them to the people pictured.

The postcards also featured roads, bridges, buildings and landscapes.

Conner, a Bustleton resident who died in March 2011 after suffering injuries in a car accident, likely bought them on eBay and at card and trade shows.

Now, Moore and McCarthy are trying to get them back. In looking at the full collection, they saw some duplicates, pictures from similar angles and others that were outside the Northeast.

While a couple of dozen originals were sold since Conner’s death, the bulk of the collection is intact.

In the end, Moore and McCarthy identified 341 postcards they’d like to buy.

“It’s every neighborhood in the Northeast, from Frankford to Torresdale and Lawndale to Somerton,” said McCarthy, a certified archivist and archival/historical consultant.

The asking price is $5,500, along with some items that Conner’s family donated to assist in the sale process.

The Northeast Philadelphia History Network, founded in 2007 by McCarthy and the now-deceased Harry Silcox, meets the first Wednesday of the month and has an e-mail list of about 200 people.

In the last few weeks, the group has sought small tax-deductible donations from supporters. The response has been positive. Already, $4,500 has been raised to buy the collection.

“It’s a grassroots effort,” McCarthy said. “Everybody wants to pitch in.”

“It warms your heart,” Moore said.

Hannon is also impressed with the response. He has already given the cards to Moore and McCarthy, anticipating final payment.

“They’re bending over backwards. We’re very fortunate that we tracked it down, and these people are easy to work with,” Moore said.

For now, the postcards are in two shoeboxes at Moore’s home. They will be preserved at the Historical Society of Tacony.

The postcards will also be scanned and distributed to donors.

Donations are going into the bank account of the Friends of Lower Dublin Academy, a non-profit organization founded by Conner that, McCarthy said, was “near and dear to his heart.”

Each person donating $100 will receive high-resolution images of the collection in CD and DVD format.

Anyone who donates $50 will be entered into a drawing to win a free one-night stay at the Times House Bed and Breakfast in historic Jim Thorpe. The B&B is owned by Diane and Chris Prokop. Diane is a former Northeast Times reporter and friend of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network.

Donations must be sent by Feb. 6.

“Everybody is pulling together like family, like Bruce was drawing us together when he was alive,” Moore said. ••

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com

Get involved . . .

Checks can be sent to Friends of Lower Dublin Academy, c/o Fred Moore, 2557 Mansion Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006.

For more information, contact Jack McCarthy at 215–824–1636 or jacksnotes88@verizon.net or visit http://lowerdublinacademy.org