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Disaster strikes in John Kasmin’s postcard collection

Real photograph. Used 1910 SS Princess May wrecked on Sentinel Island, Alaska. From the photobook, Wreck © Trivia Press

A series of five books, Kasmin’s Postcards offers an eclectic and nostalgic trip back to the early 20th century via a unique postcard collection

“Before photographically-illustrated magazines or newspapers, before television and Facebook networks existed, in the first decade or so of the twentieth century, picture postcards were sent by the hundreds of millions worldwide,” writes John Kasmin, introducing his series of five photobooks on postcards published today.

Kasmin is an art dealer who most notably works with 20th century abstract painters, but he’s also an avid collector of early postcards. First popularised in the late 19th century, postcards were an early way to send “images of peoples, places and events to inform and entertain the recipients”, and their use peaked in the early 20th century as printing costs reduced.

Some of the subjects may surprise contemporary viewers, and the five volumes of Kasmin’s photobook series are divided by unexpected theme – Elders collects postcards detailing the older generation around the world; Scrub focuses on washing rituals in various societies; Meat is a bloody volume showcasing slaughterhouses and the butchers who worked there; Size shows people of all shapes and sizes going about their lives. The fifth volume, Wreck, shows intriguing, sometimes tragic, catastrophes around the world – many focusing on the burgeoning modern transport systems of the time.

There are shots of early aviation disasters, with planes crash-landed into fields, ditches and even civilian homes in Czechoslovakia; there are images of railway tragedies, ranging from derailed trains and collapsed bridges to locomotives crashing through the barriers at central stations in Paris. There are once-grandiose cruise ships hanging haphazardly in the air. and sailing vessels with only their masts above the water line. In France, a children’s merry-go-round blazes in a fire; in the Philippines, a resolute driver guides his submerged car through a flood.

For Kasmin, who owns an enormous archive of postcards, these once-ephemeral documents are exciting historical fragments. “I enjoy their survival intact and the hunt for them in dealers’ boxes and albums. And then the pleasure of sharing them with you,” he writes.

Kasmin’s Postcards is a five book series, published by Trivia Press. Each individual photobook RRPs at £12.99. Several postcard collections previously published by Kasmin are also available.

France. Real photograph. Unused. 1930. An unusual merry-go-round with aeroplanes to sit in. On fire in Clichy-sous bois, a village of 1,500 inhabitants then, but now a suburb of Paris. From the photobook, Wreck © Trivia Press

France. Published. Unused. c.1903. We are informed that the engine in this dramatic scene was repaired and running again as late as 1932. From the photobook, Wreck © Trivia Press

UK. Real photograph. Unused. 1921. From the photobook, Wreck © Trivia Press

France. Real photographs. Unused. Two fine photographs by Gatelet of Beauvais in the north of France. From the photobook, Wreck © Trivia Press

USA. Real photograph. Unused. Photo by Roberts of Hoboken NY, showing firemen’s water efforts recorded in ice. From the photobook, Wreck © Trivia Press

Cover of the photobook, Wreck © Trivia Press