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The mystery of the “same sky” postcards

An obsessive collector noticed something strange in his 11,000 postcards. 

Coleman Lowndes is a lead producer who has covered history, culture, and photography since joining the Vox video team in 2017.

James Brouwer has been collecting postcards for more than 30 years. His collection numbers over 11,000; images of old-age homes, ugly restaurants, onlookers, and 1960s advertising are neatly organized in boxes in his Canadian home.

But James started to notice that some of his postcards — dozens, in fact — appeared to have the exact same sky. Looking even closer, he noticed that the same-sky postcards were all made by one publisher: Dexter Press out of West Nyack, New York.

Dexter Press was once one of the largest publishers of “chrome-era postcards” — postcards made from color photographs became popular in the 1940s. By the time James started collecting in the 1980s, “chrome cards” were mostly overlooked by collectors, and could be bought cheaply in flea markets. It wasn’t until he looked through a lot of these cards that he noticed the same sky repeating itself.

You can explore Brouwer’s full postcard collection online.

Darkroom is a history and photography series that anchors each episode around a single image. Analyzing what the photo shows (or doesn’t show) provides context that helps unravel a wider story. Watch previous episodes here.

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