There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates,
and the glare that obscures.

~ James Thurber ~

The fire’s glow in this postcard is accentuated by the red color tinting that also pronounces the contrast of the light with the shadows.  Notice the details in the first postcard: the lamp & framed photograph on the mantel; the wedding band on the woman’s middle finger; the woman’s white, eyelet dress & dark, shiny shoes; the girl’s huge, white bow; the boy’s tie and tie clasp; the healthy baby and frilly blanket; and the warm, affectionate emotions on each face.

Click to enlarge, then zoom in

Click to enlarge, then zoom in

The two postcards were obviously taken at the same time and the handwritten notes indicate these postcards was given to Jim and Maude who were my great grandparents James Lyman Rury and Maude Mae Rury nee Hilton.  To determine who the unidentified individuals are in these postcards I applied deductive reasoning.  Since I knew who the original owner of the postcards was I knew which family to search.  Next, hoping that Jim’s name was listed first as a clue, I began identifying which of his siblings had children who were born in the early 1900’s.  I chose those dates since the postcard was made between 1904-1918 based on the AZO letters and the 4 upward triangles in the stamp placement location (1).  Then I compared my guesses with unidentified and identified photos in my collection.  Eventually, I concluded that the individuals were probably Jim Rury’s half sister, Avis Mayfield nee Marks and her children.

Armed with only my educated guess I wanted confirmation.  Then, as I began considering ways to affirm the identification I remembered that a few months ago one of Avis’ descendants contacted me.  With only a glimmer of hope that he would have seen these photos I sent him an email with a copy of the postcards and within hours he replied saying:

The first one is actually sitting in a frame on my mantle at home. I inherited it from my grandmother (Bessie Mae). I remember her telling me she was the one on the floor that they were all looking at. My version is actually a true black and white, not the red version you have. I have not seen the other photo, but it is clearly the child in the middle of the other photo. — Brad Donnell

James and Avis Mayfield were married in Oklahoma and their children were: Collin Lester born ca 1902, Helen Delores born ca 1906 and Bessie Mae born on February 17, 1911 in Lawton, Oklahoma.  By December 1913 the family had moved to El Paso, Texas.  So, the photos were likely taken during the time the family was living in Lawton.

I was delighted to know the identity of the people in these postcards and that my guesswork was accurate.  However, my curiosity remained about the history of red tinting on postcards.  After several days of finding nothing substantial in my research online and in my local library I submitted a question to a postcard collecting forum and within a few hours I received the following reply:

These are wonderful comments and I’m thrilled to see these red real photo postcards mentioned here. I started collecting them a couple of years ago and had enough to do a display board for our 32nd Wichita Postcard Club show this past October. After numerous emails and queries to real photo smart folks all over, no one seemed to have a name for them so I came up with a term for my own amazement, and I call them Pyro-Type Real Photo Postcards.

When I put all of mine together I found that the common theme was FIRE. These fire related images are broken down to show individuals, couples, or family groups sitting by the fireplace, or a cowboy by his campfire, and the others that I have seem to be big time after dark fires in a town where the entire block burned, or an explosion and resulting fire, or even the fire leaping from industrial views of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at night along the river. The main theme seems to be fire, thus Pyro-Type seems to fit most all of the subject matter that I discovered in my search. I believe that I do also have one foreign made “pretty woman” with an overall red tint…..but she seems to be different and does not fit in with my other American real photo postcards.  — Hal Ottaway

How fitting that my research for this Festival of Postcards along with some serendipity brought so much to light!


  1. How to Identify and Date Real Photo Vintage Postcards
  2. Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City
  3. Red on Wikipedia “Red used with black and white photographs enhances the contrast additionally the psychology of the color red “is associated with bravery, purity, happiness, good luck, heat/fire, energy, and blood, and emotions that “stir the blood”, including anger, passion, love, pain, and sacrifice.”
  4. A Brief History of Postcards
  5. PostcardCollector.org is a forum for collectors

This is my submission for the 7th edition of the Festival of Postcards: The LIGHT issue.