By the standards of the late 19th century, Adolf Feller was a very well traveled man. By the late 1890's the Swiss salesman, who would later help modernize electrical outlets and switches, spent much of his time on the road, moving from major city to major city. Each place he went, Feller sought three things: business opportunities, tchotchkes and postcards. Gradually, his postcard fever became more and more acute.
In the age before cheap mass transit and Flickr, postcards were a held in much higher esteem than they are today. Whereas the modern postcard is expected to present a positive or idealized spin on a destination -- perfect palms, small bikinis, pleasing sunsets -- the postcards that spawned collectors clubs were not just a hallmark of cosmopolitanism, but a functional way to sample the landscapes of the world. Feller's growing collection of cards -- both those he picked up himself and those he was sent by fellow enthusiasts -- was a tremendous point of pride. And it kept expanding.
Eventually the collection grew to include 54,000 diverse postcards from 140 countries and, after Feller's death in 1931, was archived at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The Institute has now released a book of the cards entitled "The World In Pocket-Size Format," which should help give a broader audience access to this unique stock. Though the book could not possibly contain the breadth of the vibrant and surprising collection, it does offer a view of the world in the era just before the globalization and militarization of the World Wars spoiled somewhat the intrigue of the foreign. They seem, in many ways, to be Feller's wish list, a catalogue of intrigues and experiences he would have had given the time and the chance.
The World in Pocket-Size Format: The Adolf Feller Postcard Collection from ETH-Bibliotheck and Scheidegger & Spiess is available on Amazon.