January 18, 2007

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Greetings from Manchester: Postcards from New Hampshire’s Queen City, by Mary L. Martin and Nathaniel Wolfgang-Price (Schiffer Publishing, 2007)
By Lisa Parsons news@hippopress.com.

You can get a lot out of a book like this.

If you’re a postcard collector, you get a price guide. One color postcard showing Elm Street, cancelled in 1919, is worth $10 to 12 now.

If you’re a nostalgia buff, you the postcards as postcards (e.g. Can you believe they thought that scene was worth a postcard? Or, Can you make out the handwriting on that one?) and the postcards as photographs (e.g. look at the pavilion that used to be at Lake Massabesic).

The book is organized by topic—churches, schools, bridges, etc.—and includes images of some 300 postcards, displayed two or three per page, with one-sentence descriptions. It’s a wide paperback with thick glossy pages.

Unfortunately — this would sound like an advantage, but it isn’t — the publisher is “the world’s largest postcard operation,” a company that owns a warehouse full of millions of old postcards and produces the nation’s largest postcard show each year. These folks publish similar books for various cities around the U.S., from Miami Beach to Cincinnati to Portland.

The are not experts on Manchester. It’s doubtful they’ve ever been here, and if they have it wasn’t for long, I’d wager.

They talk about, and show postcards of, something called Merrimack Common without quite saying where it is. They show postcards of the Derryfield Club, which apparently was prominent, and the Calumet Club and Club Joliet — big, impressive buildings, but no street addresses given. Where are/were these? Do they still stand? And there’s something called “the Oak Hill Neighborhood,” which the authors don’t further identify.

Not everything in the book is so frustrating. Postcards of downtown in the 1930s; the hospital that became CMC, depicted around 1950; the Amoskeag mills, flooded and not flooded; an old railroad station on Elm Street and the churches on Union Street circa 1910 — these are cool and self-explanatory to the average Manchester resident.

But the Beacon Hill Hospital — where was that? Looks like a lovely stately old home, might still be standing, maybe somewhere on the east side … but they don’t say. Just the postcard and the caption “The Beacon Hill Hospital. Cancelled 1908, $4-6.” And “The Main Building of Elliot Hospital,” circa 1940s — intriguing, and disappointing that we have no indication of where exactly it was/is.

The text reads like boilerplate, like it’s the same for every book they produce, just swap in Your City Name Here, e.g. about hospitals: “Besides helping those in need, places like these were a point of pride for many Manchesterians, who saw them as tangible representation of the compassion and generosity of the city and of its citizens.” Not that they depict or quote a single citizen of Manchester.

You can get a lot out of a book like this. But it could’ve been a lot more.

p.s. “Manchesterians”? CLisa Parsons