2012-09-13 / News

John Marsh Donates Postcard Collection To Mackinaw City Library

By Martha Stuit


Georgia Marsh, John Marsh, librarian Jolene Michaels, and Mackinaw Area Historical Society member Susie Safford observe Mr. Marsh’s postcard donation at the Mackinaw Area Public Library Friday, August 10. Eight albums stow the 1,348 postcards in Mr. Marsh’s collection, which now belongs to the library in Mackinaw City. The cards paint a living history of Mackinaw City from the early 1900s to the mid-20th century, incorporating pictures of iconic places such as motels, railroads, the state park, ferry docks, and Central Avenue. Georgia Marsh, John Marsh, librarian Jolene Michaels, and Mackinaw Area Historical Society member Susie Safford observe Mr. Marsh’s postcard donation at the Mackinaw Area Public Library Friday, August 10. Eight albums stow the 1,348 postcards in Mr. Marsh’s collection, which now belongs to the library in Mackinaw City. The cards paint a living history of Mackinaw City from the early 1900s to the mid-20th century, incorporating pictures of iconic places such as motels, railroads, the state park, ferry docks, and Central Avenue. Antique collector John Marsh’s postcard collection numbered 1,348 cards, and he bestowed it to the Mackinaw Area Public Library Friday, August 10. Mackinaw City of past years is the theme of the set, particularly places, buildings, and structures such as the railroad, state docks, motels, freighters, the old archway by Fort Michilimackinac, Wawatam Beach, and Central Avenue. Most of the postcards portray the town before the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957, but Mr. Marsh did acquire some cards depicting the bridge.


John Marsh flips through his meticulously organized albums containing his postcard collection, which took him from the early 1980s until 2012 to complete. He catalogued the cards by subject, as well as chronologically. Librarian Jolene Michaels intends to scan the images onto the computer and generate a CD for people to view the cards without handling them because fingerprints can eventually damage the paper. John Marsh flips through his meticulously organized albums containing his postcard collection, which took him from the early 1980s until 2012 to complete. He catalogued the cards by subject, as well as chronologically. Librarian Jolene Michaels intends to scan the images onto the computer and generate a CD for people to view the cards without handling them because fingerprints can eventually damage the paper. “I have always thought that postcards are a living history of a town,” said Mr. Marsh.

Starting in the early 1980s, Mr. Marsh became obsessed with postcards, but only those picturing Mackinaw City. At an antique show, Mr. Marsh absentmindedly flipped through a box of postcards organized alphabetically. Under the M’s, he found old postcards for Mackinaw City, and he subsequently purchased a few at each show.

His interest grew, and he started haunting every shop that sold postcards, going to antique shows, joining the mailing lists of dealers, and searching the Internet. Family and friends learned of his quest and offered their old correspondences to Mr. Marsh.

“The pleasure is in the search,” said Mr. Marsh’s wife, Georgia, who similarly accumulated a tin toy collection she gave to Albion College.

Mackinaw City captures Mr. Marsh’s interest because he grew up there, moving there with his family from Cheboygan in 1943, when he was four years old. Family members owned businesses there, like the Daisy CafĂ© owned by James Desy and the Desy Gift Shop and Dairy Bar. Mr. Marsh’s mother was Marguerite Desy Marsh. His mother’s parents were James and Blanch (nee Wheeler) Desy. Now, Mr. and Mrs. Marsh live in Marshall, where Mr. Marsh was an elementary school principal and is active in the community.

The postcard collection grew and grew, but Mr. Marsh stopped collecting when it became to difficult to find the cards he did not already have.

Unusual postcards appear through- out the albums, such as a picture of a teepee with mountains in the distance, which reads, “Greetings from Mackinaw City.” Mr. Marsh said he joked with the dealer that they must have moved mountains for that shot, but the dealer didn’t like the teasing. Other cards show dead deer stacked on railroad cars during hunting season.

Mr. Marsh remembers the bears, named Maggie and Giggs, housed in the state park in the 1940s, and included images of the animals in his collection. He said he went to feed them one day, and he inched too close to the cage to pick up a piece of bread that did not make it through the bars when he threw it. When he bent over, he said either Maggie or Giggs pawed his back and ripped his new suit coat. His sisters were afraid of what their mother would say.

Not only has Mr. Marsh been intrigued with discovering distinctive postcards, he was methodical about organizing them. There are eight albums, and the postcards are organized by category, as well as chronologically within the category. He gave each postcard a number, and he wrote the number telling the order in which he obtained the cards in pencil on the back of the cards.

“I’m a collector by heart, my wife and I both,” he said.

The oldest card in the collection has a 1903 postmark, and the most he paid for a card was $69. The cards range from the early 1900s to the mid-20th century.

The couple’s interest in antiques stems from their purchase of a 1857 Victorian gothic revival-era home in 1979 and Mr. Marsh first sought out Victorian-era pressed glass tableware. They no longer live in the house, but maintain their antique hobby.

Now at the end of his postcard collecting journey, Mr. Marsh is at a crossroads. Last year, he donated another one of his collections, a set of books by Mackinaw area author Francis Margaret Fox, to the Mackinaw Area Public Library. While Mr. Marsh reads and gardens, Mrs. Marsh said she will find other projects for him now.

Wood planes used in woodworking were also part of Mr. Marsh’s donation, and the Mackinaw Area Historical Society will display them in a tool shed at Heritage Village. Susie Safford, a member of the historical society and one of three lighthouse keepers on St. Helena Island, accepted the planes from Mr. Marsh.

Librarian Jolene Michaels will store the postcards out of the light and keep handling to a minimum, because fingerprints can eventually damage the paper. The albums are the ideal storage location, she explained. Mrs. Michaels hopes to scan all 1,348 cards to a computer and create a CD from which people can access them without handling them directly. The papers detailing where and when Mr. Marsh bought the postcards also went to the library.

Of his postcards, Mr. Marsh looked over his albums on the library table and said, “I am glad that they are here,” in Mackinaw City.

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