Hebrew University receives Holy Land postcard trove

Jerusalem (AFP) –

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A collection of 130,000 postcards depicting current-day Israel and the Palestinian territories since the 19th century has been gifted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the institute said Thursday.

David Pearlman, an 82-year-old retired accountant, began collecting English comic cards as a boy before turning his attention to postcards.

"When I began to see some different cards around the world, I could see that there was a big subject... so I gradually moved over to looking only for cards that featured Palestine," he told AFP by phone from his London home.

The collection's first picture postcard dates to 1892.

In the years prior to the invention of the telephone, postcards were first and foremost a means of communication, before becoming a way to promote businesses or ideas.

"Most countries were allowing postcards to be sent through the post, half the price of a letter," Pearlman said.

"In the 1890s, as the hotel trade began to grow in Palestine, a number of organisations were beginning to produce cards that portrayed or featured their hotel or business establishment."

- 'Little piece of history' -

Pearlman's collection provides a window into the major events transpiring in the small patch of land under Ottoman, British and finally Israeli rule.

It includes cards from World War I British soldiers and postcards featuring drawings by early 20th century Israeli artists.

Others were manufactured in Britain with Holy Land imagery, to be used by Christian or Jewish organisations seeking to promote their causes, he said.

The postcards -- categorised in shoeboxes in Pearlman's garage and accumulating to the point where he had to park his car on the street -- were given to the Hebrew University's Folklore Research Center in November.

Centre director Dani Schrire said the collection could afford a glimpse into the psyche of the land and its people.

"We are in a very good position now to begin research from different disciplines and understanding the imagination of the Holy Land," he said.

There are no immediate plans to put the collection on public display.

Pearlman, who admitted to not having sent a postcard in many years, said that in the early 20th century, they "were like the mobile phone".

They also provide an imprint of a time and place.

"Someone called postcards time capsules," Pearlman said. "They capture a moment in time, and many of these moments have now passed, and therefore they have captured a little piece of history."