Over 200 images of Real Photo Postcards from the far western portion of Route 66 are displayed on this web site. The Real Photo Postcard (RPPC) images have been sorted into six geographical areas and are accessible by clicking on the shields at the bottom of this web page. I did not include all of the RPPC images to which I had access for any given city or area (my guess is that would be more than twice the number of images of what is displayed here) but rather a selection of what I thought were the most interesting images. A bit of a historical travelogue in each section provides a thread to help organize the images. My text uses facts that I have gathered from the books that I mentioned as my favorite Route 66 Books, plus other resources such as authoritative internet web sites, contributors to these web pages, Route 66 Magazine, postcards, AAA Tour Books, and other materials.
A Real Photo Postcard (RPPC) is a real photograph printed from a photographer's negative directly onto heavy-duty photographic paper for the purpose of being mailed as a picture postcard.
Most postcards from around World War I to a bit after World War II that represent actual scenes or buildings began as a photograph. In the case of color printed postcards (not Real Photo Postcards), an artist employed by a postcard company referenced the photographic image to create the master color postcard image. Technicians performed a color separation process and the postcard image was subsequently printed on a printing press. Although there was some expense in setting up the artwork masters, once this was done postcards could be reproduced inexpensively and in high volume. Depending upon the process used these postcards may be called "white borders" or "linens". The chrome postcard became popular after World War II. Most photo-chrome postcards are color postcards but there are a number of black-and-white postcards printed in the photochrome process too. These may appear as color or black-and-white photographs when viewed from some distance but these are not true Real Photo Postcards. They were and still are printed on offset presses.
During a similar time period independent photographers were taking pictures either on speculation or by request of scenes in America, developing the negatives, and then printing the negatives onto photographic paper that was strong enough and sized properly for mailing. These were RPPCs. In the USA the photographic paper was often made by the Eastman Kodak® Company but other companies supplied papers too. Some papers had glossy finishes and some had matte finishes. Any identifying marks from the paper manufacturers would usually be on the back side of the RPPC.
The photographer would either write a caption to the picture on the negative in black ink (and hence the caption, when printed on the paper, would appear to be white) or would use a mask with typeset letters for captioning that would usually be set below or to the rigth side of the actual photographic image. But some masks allowed text to be within the image itself. Some RPPCs had white borders beyond the actual image while some did not.
RPPCs are for all intents and purposes black and white and very few have informational printing about the image scene on the back side. Any description was nearly always on the front. Nearly all linen or photochrome printed postcards do have informational printing on the back side.
The absolute way to confirm if a postcard that appears to be a photograph is a true RPPC is to view the image through a magnifying glass. An image composed of a pattern of discrete dots would indicate a printed postcard duplicated on printing press machinery. An image composed of a continuum of shades of white, gray and black would indicate that it is a RPPC.
Here is a typical RPPC with views of both the front image and the back side. Note that the back side has no informational printing on it but does have some identifying marks placed on the photographic paper by manufacturer.
The production volume of most RPPCs was usually much lower than most printed postcards. Some RPPCs are seemingly so rare that they can only be viewed on the internet where someone has actually posted an image for others to see. And for some small-town or cross-roads scenes there are no printed postcards at all: only a RPPC may exist to capture that moment in time.
I think that the most notable difference between a RPPC and any printed postcard is that the RPPC images are clear and crisp. The detail is usually excellent and certainly much greater and more accurate than any printed postcard.
The most famous photographer who printed and distributed RPPCs in the Southwest was Burton Frasher. Mr Frasher was based in Pomona, California, not far from Route 66, and he principally worked in California, Nevada, and Arizona but he occasionally ventured farther afield. There are Frasher RPPCs from New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and even western Texas. Many of his RPPC images are available for viewing on-line at the Frasher archive of the Pomona Public Library. The nice thing about this archive is that each listed postcard is dated with the year taken. However this archive is far from being comprehensive. There are a significant number of Frasher RPPCs that are neither catalogued nor included. Perhaps you have some in your collection.
A distant second to Burton Frasher in terms of photographing Route 66 businesses, buildings, town streets, and scenery in the southwestern United States was the S.W. Post Card Company which was based in Albuquerque. (I was told that the "S.W." stands for "Southwest" and not for someone's initials.) The S.W. Post Card Company left us with many RPPCs from eastern Arizona through New Mexico. Other photographers who did publish Route 66 RPPCs did place their name on their cards but little is known about them. Other RPPC photographers remain anonymous to this day as they did not sign or mark their identity on their RPPC images.
Many of the RPPC images that I have displayed on these web pages come from the internet, and many of them from eBay where I have saved a large number of the images of the postcards offered for sale over the years. Other images have been sent to me by contributors and some are from my own collection.