The Newark Scenic Postcard Man and His Two Sons: Their Story

by Nat Bodian


If you've ever encountered one or more of those old Newark scenic postcards, it may interest you to know that they more than likely first passed through the hands of a Newark father or his two sons during more than half century they were in the scenic postcard business, selling picture postcards of Newark.

The Founding Father

The father of the scenic postcard family was Isaac Braunstein, born May 30, 1877 in Russia and was brought to America by his parents who settled in New York City.

Isaac had established himself as a seller of scenic post cards in the early 1900s by selling them, along with candies and gums, on excursion boats out of New York City.

In 1904, on one such boat--the steamship General Slocum--Isaac was a survivor of the worst disaster in the history of New York City up until the Twin Towers 9/11 happening.

While sailing out of lower Manhattan up the East River, the boat caught fire and 1,021 lives were lost, mostly women and children on a church outing.

Isaac, an expert swimmer, saved himself by jumping into the East River at 90th Street and swimming to safety.

He was engaged in the sale of scenic postcards throughout his adult years and after having been widowed earlier, remarried in Newark in 1920 to a widow, Hattie Newman. He was 43 and she was 34. They took up residence in Newark's old Third Ward.

Isaac's business consisted of selling scenic postcards, which he carried in two heavy suitcases, Daily he called on retail stores, mainly candy stores, in various Newark neighborhoods.

His mode of transportation was on foot or by bus or trolley. He never learned to drive a car.

Source of Scenic Cards

Isaac's inventory consisted of interesting Newark and New Jersey scenes that would have sales potential in the greater Newark area.

His merchandise originated at the Manhattan Post Card Company which published scenic postcards of many different cities in New York and New Jersey.

The scenic post cards came 1,000 to a box of a design, banded into 100s. Isaac would buy 10 to 20 different scenic views, carry them home from New York City by train and bus, and at home sort them into lots of 100, which he would sell to the retailer for 60 cents.

The retail store-keeper would in turn resell the cards, usually for a penny each.

Isaac operated his business out of his living premises, a railroad flat on Stratford Place, a two-block-long extension of Prince Street that ran from Waverly Avenue to Clinton Avenue.

When the room was needed for living space, Isaac rented storage space in the back of Pearl's Candy Store on Waverly Avenue, across from Charlton Street School.

He would carry 5-6,000 cards in his two grips, along with some greeting cards. If he took in $15 to $20 on any particular day, he would consider it a good day's business.

Steady Depression Years Income

Isaac managed to feed and support his family during the Depression 1930s, and he began adding greeting cards to his line because in that era very few candy stores carried them and they offered a 100 percent profit to the storekeeper.

Dual Use of Scenic Card

The scenic Newark picture postcards in that era served a dual purpose in the money-tight Depression years. One could pick up a penny card in a neighborhood candy store, write a brief message to a distant friend or relative in the message area, and mail it for another penny. The Newark scene on the back of the card then served as an enhancement adorning the brief message on the back.

By the end of the 1930s, Isaac found that as the economy began to improve more and more of his sales were coming from the greeting cards, although they required two cents postage instead of the one cent still required for the Newark scenic cards.

As the 1940s began, leading up to the outset of World War II, both sons, Henry and Murray, had attended Charlton Street School while living on Stratford Place and, later, Bergen Street School when the family moved to Clinton hill. Both attended South Side High School

Changes in Card Business After the War

When Isaac's two sons, Henry and Murray, were separated from military service1 after World War II, Isaac brought them into his business as partners. But try as they might, the sons could not adapt to their father's old fashioned ways of doing business, and they quickly learned that he was too set in his ways to change.

So, in 1947, after a brief period, the sons made an amicable separation, and started their own wholesale greeting card and postcard business.

Sons Modernize Scenic Card Operations

The sons realized that no new Newark scenic cards had been produced for many years, and that the business would have to be updated in order to survive in the post World War II era.

They also sensed that their father's business had moved increasingly into greeting cards, and out of the outdated Newark scenics2, and by updating the Newark Scenic cards they would not only be able to continue their father's business, but also move into their father's faster-growing greeting card business, which they did.

They contacted a scenic card manufacturer -- one of only two in the business -- and contracted with them to produce twenty newer scenes of Newark.3

They agreed to purchase a minimum of 7,500 cards of each design or at least 150,000 cards and made a sizeable investment. They also selected the scenes they wished to have printed and they engaged a professional photographer at their own expense to take the pictures for the new scenes.

Changed Methods of Operation

They also changed from their father's long-established method of sales operation. Where Isaac had been selling his Newark scenic cards in lots of 100 assorted, the sons switched their new Newark scenes to lots of 1,000 cards.

Each lot of 1,000 cards contained 20 different Newark scenes, banded 50-each-scene, and sold them in lots for $20 a lot.

Retailers sold the newer Newark scenic cards for five cents each and, theoretically, earned $30 for each 1,000 sold.

The new Newark edition quickly caught on and sold so well that the brothers later added an edition of Jersey City scenic post cards as well, and continued to sell both lines as long as they remained in business.

Competition form Sons Doesn't Deter Isaac

When the brothers started their scenic card operation, many of Isaac's small storekeeper customers remained loyal to him. However, others, especially larger operations, switched to the sons for the newer Newark scenes, and for the cards' greater freshness and profitability.

Isaac was not deterred by his sons' business success, or the loss of some of his larger customers, still traveling by buses, until the day before he passed away in 1961.

Isaac's Final Day and His Death

On a Tuesday, September 6, in 1961, Isaac came home from a day of making calls and complained of chest pains. He was taken to the Beth Israel Hospital by his son Henry and died there the next day. He was 84 years and three months old when he died.

Son Henry recalling the circumstances and time of his death to me said, "My father was the old fashioned type and never went to see a doctor."

Sons Business in Next 26 Years

Henry and Murray operated their new business, which they named the Deluxe Greeting Card Company, out of a small vacant store on Avon Avenue in the Third Ward.

As the business moved more toward greeting cards and away from Newark scenic postcards, they moved their operation to larger and more accessible quarters at 55 William Street in Downtown Newark, corner of Washington Street.

The business had grown substantially from their start in 1947 and they had expanded heavily into greeting cards and related lines. They had also started a mail order business, supplying boxed greeting card assortments4 to various organizations around the country, who sold them for fund-raising purposes.

Brothers Sell Business: End of an Era

In 1973, after 26 years, the brothers accepted an offer too good to refuse and sold their business and turned to other occupational pursuits before their subsequent retirement, Henry in San Diego, California, and Murray in Union, New Jersey.

For the Braunstein family, the scenic postcard era started by Isaac more than half a century earlier, had come to an end.


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: