Photochrome postcards are an important step beyond linen postcards when it comes to accuracy. A photochrome postcard is printed from a photographic image but it is not a "real photo" postcard since it is not printed on photo paper with a silver halide process like a Kodacolor® photograph. It is printed on a cardstock material with an offset press and the image is composed of tiny dots of color. Look at any photochrome postcard under a magnifying glass to confirm this. (The "dots" of a photochrome postcard are not exactly like the "dots" from today's computer printers. The dots can be simple dots but are often arranged in mini-patterns that may look something like a wheel under a magnifying glass.) Any old Kodacolor® photograph that you may have from a decade or more ago was printed using continuous color tones and hues and this also can be verified through your magnifying glass. Whereas a linen postcard is an interpretation of an actual image by an artist (hence linen postcards are often not accurate either in scale, color, detail, background or setting), a color photochrome postcard is usually an accurate representation of the subject of the postcard itself. (But some photochrome postcards were re-touched or otherwise manipulated.) Linen postcards are still my favorite color postcards but photochrome postcards have just as important a place in my collection too.
I decided to choose and display my favorite fifty photochrome postcards from Route 66. There are thousands of photochrome postcards from Route 66 so how can anyone even choose? And, more importantly, where can someone even find "most" of the postcard images? My principal source was Joe Sonderman's huge web-based postcard collection, plus some photochrome postcards from my own collection and some postcard images that I have seen on the internet. My favorite postcards are not your favorite postcards. Yours would be a different set as we would assess things differently. That's because we would place different values and importance on certain features and aspects of the image on color photochrome postcards. In fact, if I were to chose my favorite fifty photochrome postcards in the future, it would probably be a different list than what I have today. But "choosing favorites" is a fun exercise to do.
(By the way, I restricted myself to photochrome postcards here. Cousins to the photochrome postcard are postcards printed in a chrome process but using an image that is artist-prepared artwork. Often the artwork was the same or very similar as that which was used for an earlier linen postcard. Such postcards are sometimes called "early chrome" postcards and I excluded them from my selections here.)
Some postcards could have been among my favorite fifty but I passed on them because the image on the postcard was fundamentally fuzzy. I am not sure why. Most color photochrome postcards have reasonably clear images. Also, some postcards of some of the most famous places on Roue 66 did not make my list because I did not think that the photochrome postcard itself was particularly interesting.
My guess is that about two-thirds of all photochrome postcards from Route 66 are from motels and other lodging establishments. About 20% are from other roadside businesses like cafés, restaurants, trading posts, and gasoline stations. And about 15% are street scenes, town scenes, and highway scenes. But my selection of my fifty favorite photochrome postcards are way under-weighted in motels and over-weighted in trading posts, cafés and restaurants. At first I was not sure why since I like motels very much and, like many Route 66 fans, I am an amateur student of the architecture and history of motels. (In fact, there are a couple of books published that cover the history, design, and evolution of the quite-American motel.) The problem with most of the many photochrome postcards of motels, to my eye anyway, is how many of them are devoid of activity. Aside from the narrow architectural point of view (which can be important), many motel images don't interest me that much. One reason perhaps is that motels are usually large, sprawling structures and this fact could have made it difficult to capture an image well. Very nearly all motel postcards show no people in them and most motel postcards have either few or no automobiles parked in their lots. I am not sure why the motel owner or operator seemingly gave instructions to the photographer to shoot the motel grounds at perhaps mid-day when there were no guests present. So consequently many motel images look sterile to me. That's too bad because many motel postcards show unique or interesting architectural elements that may be particularly noteworthy. The few motel postcards that I include among my favorites are interesting to me often because they have old cars parked in front of the rooms or a swimming pool that is full of activity. Late in the day when travelers pulled into motels to check in and visit their room for relaxation and rest, or when the family hit the swimming pool after a long day's drive in an un-air-conditioned automobile, remind me of my days as a youthful family traveler.
By contrast most café and restaurant postcards did show numerous cars parked at their business. The owners seemed to understand that the appearance of a busy parking lot in their postcard conveyed a sense that their eating establishment was a popular place in town and good food could be had. (But, surprisingly, there are some café and restaurant photochrome postcards that show just the opposite: an empty parking lot and/or an empty interior.)
Trading Posts are a favorite and most intriguing business to me so there are a number of these postcards among my selection of fifty. Many such trading posts also include a pair of gas pumps, gas signage, curio shop, and maybe a café and other architectural details all rolled up into one business. So a single photochrome postcard could be a triple-winner when it came to these interesting elements.
And finally one smaller theme that most frequently passes through these fifty photochrome postcards concerns the signboards. The choice of these photochrome postcards shows my weakness for Googie design. And Googie is just not made anymore! (If the term "Googie" is unfamiliar to you, just type Googie and Signs into a search engine and look for Images. You will discover that you do know what Googie is but you just may be unfamiliar with the term!)
I display fifty small images of my favorite photochrome postcards below. They are ordered from left-to-right and then down, along Route 66 from East to West. If you click on a small image you will be taken to a new web page where there is a larger image with an informational caption.