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Collecting Mt. Lowe Postcards

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

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At the top of the Great Incline
It was John Robinson’s book Trails of the Angeles that led me to discover Mt. Lowe and the hidden treasures below, Echo Mt. and Rubio Canyon. John’s great description draws the hiker to the mountain and then Professor Lowe’s magic begins to take over.

For me, that was in 1991. Perhaps the Professor’s wand was working overtime that wonderful day I hiked the mountain, for I’ve been bit by a bug that just won’t let go.

In my early quest for knowledge and information about Mt. Lowe I turned to a hobby that millions of Americans have followed since right about the time the Mount Lowe Railroad opened, namely postcards.

Postcards were first widely distributed in the United States at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. Let me note here that 1893 was the year the Mt. Lowe Railroad opened and the Exposition was the first public appearance of what was billed as “the worlds most powerful searchlight,” later purchased by the Professor.

Postcards were quite the fad in Europe for many years and America was quick to follow suit. In 1898 the Private Mailing Card Act opened the U. S. Market to great competition for publishers who created the cards. They offered pictures of places, called views, along with holiday greetings, artist’s renditions, and topicals, which could be a picture of just about anything from alligators to zeppelins.

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A rare and unusual view

From the late 1890’s to the early 1920’s collecting postcards became the rage in America. Although the population of the United States in 1908 was only 88 million people, over 677 million cards were mailed! These small 3 1/2 by 5 1/2 picture cards offer up to us our history and heritage with every viewing. Locally we are blessed to have history abounding and for the readers of this publication we have our magical Mt. Lowe.

The variety of different Mt. Lowe postcards number in the hundreds. I have over 410 different cards but have seen at least 20 others I do not have. I’m not sure where to begin expressing the pleasures I have found in searching for my collection of Mt. Lowe Postcards. Every time I find myself believing, there just can’t be another different one out there, a box will reveal a jewel I’ve never before laid eyes upon.

If you’ve never collected postcards before but would like to give it a whirl, all you need is a subject and some spare change. Say your subject is Mt. Lowe and you have a few bucks to spare from this weeks paycheck. There are a number of places you can hunt. Garage sales seldom produce good results, but estate sales in the Pasadena and Altadena areas will occasionally release a number of good cards from their dusty storage boxes. Antique stores will on occasion have a box, or more commonly a basket of postcards. Many times though they are over priced. In the Los Angeles area the Rose Bowl and Pasadena City College Swaps and flea markets are excellent sources, but be prepared to spend hours as they cover a large amount of ground and a wide variety of vendors.

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On the Circular Bridge
By far your best bet is a postcard show. At most shows, for the small price of $4.00 admission, you will have the history of the world laid out before your eyes in hundreds of storage boxes holding millions of colorful postcards. Nearly every dealer at the show has the cards separated in categories and the prices are neatly posted in pencil on the back. 

The dealers are great because they expect you to look and browse through their merchandise. Chairs are provided just for that purpose so you can relax. Look for the divider card that says Mt. Lowe and get set to view our beloved mountain in views from 1893 till its final demise in the 30’s.

Most Mt. Lowe postcards run from $2-4.00 although as with any collectable an unusual card can fetch as much as $75.00 or more. I would have to say that 3/4s of my collection were bought for under $5.00 each.

Some of the dealers provide boxes of unsorted cards for 25 cents to a dollar. Looking through these can be very time consuming but sometimes the rewards are great. At the last show I attended I exhausted all of my regular sources and decided to sit at one of these boxes of jumbled up cards. I asked if there was a possibility of finding any Mt. Lowe cards and the response back was, “sure.” When I finished I had pulled out over 50 Mt. Lowe cards! Only five were not already in my collection. I asked for a price and was told $5.00, as they were all a buck each. As I walked from the table I had a huge smile on my face. One of the cards was fairly rare showing an open-air rail car in a spot photos were normally taken from a different direction. In addition on the back a woman was depicted in Victorian dress. The copyright of the card was 1908 but the photo shot I’m sure was pre-1900. To me the card was worth $20.00.

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A Christmas Greetings featuring Mt. Lowe

Remember there are many areas of the Mt. Lowe Railroad to collect so you can specialize in one area and then move onto the next or tackle the whole railroad at once buying what you can afford. Luckily for me the card shows are spaced out every few months so I can save up for new cards and organize my collection in my spare time.

Some postcard dealers also offer plastic pages to protect and preserve your collection.

What a perfect way to view the mountain as it used to be in all its glory. Travel through Rubio Canyon, to the Incline, and upward to Echo Mt. Be sure to check out the Observatory and the searchlight before you hop on board the Alpine Division headed to Ye Alpine Tavern. Along the way you’ll pass through the many wondrous canyons, cross Circular Bridge, and stop for a photo opportunity at Granite Gate. Once at the tavern you can check out the dining room for a scrumptious lunch or sit by the great fireplace. Afterwards it might be a novel idea to ride a mule on up to the top of Mt. Lowe or head on over to Inspiration Point. That’s right you can see it all in postcards. I hope you all enjoy the journey back in time.


Anyone needing help getting started please feel free to e-mail us at lsdg@e-adventure.net

You may be interested to know about two postcards that were printed in 2000 from the image collection of Land~Sea Discovery Group. For detailed information on them click on the photos to the left or you can find them in the e-Adventure Marketplace.