By MICHAEL BUSHNELL
May 22, 2013
William H. “Dad” Martin of Ottawa, Kan., is considered to be the father of the exaggerated postcard. Some of his better work featured huge ears of corn, giant apples and peaches, stalks of wheat taller than any man and massive pumpkins uprooting a farmstead. Such cards were hugely successful throughout the Great Plains states where agriculture was the life’s blood of rural America.
W.H. Martin moved to Ottawa in 1899 to serve as an apprentice under photographer E.H. Corwin. Eight years later, Martin purchased Corwin’s studio and began crafting the tall tale postcards that would eventually make him a millionaire.
This week, we feature one of Martin’s exaggerated, real photo postcards entitled: “A fight with a mad Pickrel” produced by Martin’s studio in 1911. The exaggerated image is achieved by the photographer taking two black and white pictures of his subjects – a wide shot and a close-up. The enlarged close-up would be cut, placed and then glued over the wide shot, creating the illusion of giant vegetables or animals or men dwarfed by stalks of wheat.
The card is an excellent example of the genre that Martin worked hard to establish. Most of his exaggeration cards feature scenes from around Ottawa, as well as real live Ottawans, including early photography pioneer Bert Underwood of the Underwood & Underwood Studios. At the zenith of its short, four-year existence, Martin Postcard Company reportedly produced more than 7 million exaggerated photo postcards. They were so popular that other postcard companies often stamped their brand on the back and sold them as their own. One source of the day noted that Martin’s studio actually purchased photographic emulsion by the rail car. Martin by this time had grown tired of the business and sold the company to two Ottawa natives who moved the studio to Kansas City where it was re-named The North American Postcard Company. North American published mostly real photo postcards of various views in the Kansas City region. Today, some of William H. “Dad” Martin’s Western genre real photo cards command top prices at postcard shows throughout the Midwest.