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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Postcards of Nursing: A Worldwide Tribute

By: Michael Zwerdling

Postcards of Nursing: A Worldwide Tribute is an extraordinary book detailing the history of 20th Century nursing through the eyes of artists and photographers using picture postcards. The book gives the reader a unique glimpse into nursing, and acts as a visual history of a profession that is quite unlike any other.

The book offers the symbols of nursing care, and nursing art in general, which have been created on postcards by the industry’s greatest artists, e;g. Wain, Mucha, Dudovich, Nanni, Kirchner, Bompard, Fisher, Sager, Schmucker, Gassaway, Drayton, etc. The art styles include art deco, art nouveau, modernism, impressionism, futurism and even anime and manga.

The book also has a very good selection of real photo postcards featuring studio portraits of nursing, nursing establishments, and on site clinical care specialties. There is a comprehensive section, comprising over 20 pages of illustrations, on royalty, which delineates their contributions, including of the funding of medical services, donation of funds to build hospitals and nursing schools and the actual nursing that royalty has done in the past century. Over ten wars are covered, with photos of nurses in action, as well as through the art used as Red Cross recruitment posters, propaganda for the war effort in general (including rare Third Reich Red Cross propaganda), and even hand-drawn postcards of nurses done by patients recovering in hospitals.

Naturally, the nursing profession has changed over the course of the century, and that change is reflected not only in the way the uniforms have changed (the book has a stunning comparative section of black and white uniform styles), but most noticeably in the way nurses have been portrayed in advertising, and on stage and screen. The book traces the development of U.S. advertising, using nurses as the model, from 1893 to 2002, and then illustrates the European varieties over the same period. Performers, likewise, are shown in a chronological sequence, from the silent movie era through Star Trek (the nurse on Star Trek was the wife of Gene Roddenbury, the series’ producer) to the modern magna advertisements popular in both Japan and the United States.

Postcards of Nursing is designed so the reader can approach each chapter as if it were a museum or gallery exhibit, each double-page spread representing one wall. If desired, he or she can read the narrative introduction to each exhibit (chapter) or simply walk right in, so to speak, and wander around. Captions offer insights into the pictures. Whenever the reader comes to an image of particular interest to him or her, the endnotes offer more detailed information. A bibliography and an index provide additional support.

At a time when the health-care profession is so clearly in the spotlight it’s nice to be able to take a step back and give credit to the men and women who make up the backbone of the profession-with a book that not only entertains but educates. A Worldwide Tribute indeed.

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I am a full time registered nurse, working in the ER of a central city hospital in Washington, D.C. Before I became a nurse, I was a martial arts instructor, and, although it may seem odd, I see nursing as a natural extension of the martial arts, which, after all, is based on the understanding that the opponent and the self are not two.

I have been collecting postcards for over 25 years, and, while a martial arts teacher, was a part time postcard dealer. Since becoming a nurse, and being interested in the historical aspect of the profession as well as the clinical aspect, I had nurtured a desire to contribute in both areas. In particular, I thought it a shame that the images of nursing as found on postcards, the most interesting of all the various graphic genres, were virtually unknown not only to nursing, but to the general public as well. I decided that one day I would find a way to return those images to the nursing heritage, to be enjoyed by both nurses and patients (the difference between the two is very, very slight…just a matter of time) but always had the project on the back burner, so to speak.

Then, one day, while driving home from work, I saw a billboard on the side of a gas station that said “A dream is a goal with no energy behind it.” That struck home, and from there the book took form. Three years later, with the help of hundreds of generous folks, you can now hold my dream in your hands.



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