Go postal with postcards

Bob Doran
Mad River Union

It was maybe a decade ago when I ran into my friend Steve Lazar at a party at the home of the late Gregg “Vinny” DeVaney. At the time Steve and Vinny were both in a “floorcore” band called Starving Weirdos, but we didn’t talk music. 

Steve had something else he wanted to show me that he thought I might find interesting: his latest eBay acquisition, a packet of vintage photo postcards he’d paid a pretty penny for, all of Humboldt County scenes. 

I was indeed interested, for many reasons: I’m into local history, I’m a photographer and collect old photos and postcards, and I had written a story about Peter Palmquist selling his massive collection of local photos to the Beinecke Library at Yale. 

Our conversation led to a story for the North Coast Journal about deltiologists (postcard collectors) titled “Postcard Kings.” We’ve been talking postcards ever since, in fact almost every time I see Steve he gives me a reproduction of a classic Humboldt card. 

I’ve also followed his exploration into a particular photographer, Jesse A. Meiser, who lived and worked in Eureka during the first decade of the 20th Century.

This weekend Lazar will share his research at the Clarke Historical Museum, 240 E St., Eureka, for their Saturday Speaker Series, in a talk titled “Turn of the Century Photographer Jesse Meiser,” at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 18, in celebration of National Photography Month. 

Lazar has a day job as a county planner, but he’s obsessed with postcards. He’s created a website, thehumboldtproject.org, and began sharing images from his collection. At this point, he’s scanned over 2,000 postcards with Humboldt images, and he estimates he has another 1,000 to go. He thinks he may have enough, at least for now.

“In early 2018, I stopped collecting and began focusing on researching turn-of-the-century photographers and firms responsible for producing many of the cards in my collection,” he said. 

While other local photographers like A.W. Ericson have been well covered by Palmquist, Meiser was not as well known, but Lazar kept seeing his name on cards.

In an attempt to compile, study and present a faithful collection of Meiser’s Humboldt body of work, Lazar visited an assortment of state and national institutions, as well as a number of collections found in private archives. 

He called me from the Beinecke Library, and also went to the Huntington and Bancroft libraries and the California State Library in Sacramento. ‘

Then there are card collections in HSU’s Humboldt Room (Genzoli, Carranco and Tim McKay collections], the Humboldt County Historical Society and Clarke Museum. 

Lazar notes, “Though Mr. Meiser lived in Humboldt for less than a decade (c1904-1910), he is responsible for an amazingly large percentage of all local postcards that were produced during the earliest years of the medium. Specializing in ‘scenic photography,’ many of his postcards and real photo postcards are highly sought after and are found sprinkled across a number of local private collections.”  

So far close to 500 local images produced by Meiser have been uncovered. In sharing his preliminary research, Lazar hopes to inspire other local collectors and historians to contribute and collaborate, and help refine and improve our collective understanding of the work of this important and overlooked Humboldt photographer. 


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