Pacific Archive acquires extensive collection of vintage Stockton postcards

Love letters come in countless forms, from beautifully handwritten and emailed to lipstick on a mirror. For Stockton history buffs, they come in the form of postcards – 2307 to be exact.

University of the Pacific Libraries’ Holt-Atherton Special Collections and Archives added Stockton’s largest and most significant public postcard collection to the online site Stockton in the collection of old postcards, thanks to Alice van Ommeren and the late Ron Chapman. Their vast postcard treasures were merged, donated to the archives and painstakingly digitized by van Ommeren, a year-long company that required each of the 2307 cards in the searchable online collection to be digitized and described in detail.

The donation ensures the continued preservation of the postcards and their availability to the public, a key motivator for the two collectors – or deltiologists, as postcard collectors are called – who are dedicated to preserving Stockton’s history. , said the university.

“The postcards illustrate transitions over time, such as the development of Main Street and the history of the Stockton Hotel,” Pacific said in a statement announcing the acquisition. “The oldest postcard image in the collection dates from 1898 with a multiple view that includes the large agricultural pavilion that burned down in 1902. The collection also includes postcards from famous restaurants from the 1960s, including the Islander and the Ye Olde Hoosier.

‘The poor man’s phone’

Postcards, sometimes dubbed the “poor man’s phone,” took a place in popular culture almost as soon as the first was mailed in the mid-1800s. Inexpensive and practical, with images ranging from souvenirs to the cheeky and printed on everything from linen and leather to real photos, someone could send a quick note to family or friends on the back and have it delivered quickly. Their scribbled notes offer a stolen glimpse into the past now as interesting as the images on the other side.

And they’re highly collectable – even more so with books like that of van Ommeren.

Van Ommeren, a Stockton historian, longtime wine author and data researcher now living in Petaluma, met Chapman in 2010 shortly after the publication of his book, “Stockton in Vintage Postcards”.

Holiday postcard from the festive Hotel Stockton, circa 1910, the same year the famous Mission Revival-style hotel opened.  The Holt-Atherton Special Collections and Archives at University of the Pacific Libraries have the same postcard in their new Stockton in Vintage Postcards collection, donated by Alice van Ommeren and the late Ron Chapman.

After:Gallery: Vintage Stockton Postcards

“I quickly discovered that he owned one of Stockton’s largest collections of postcards and had collected them for most of his life,” she said of Chapman, a technician and historian evidence from the retired Stockton Police Department who passed away in 2019. “We quickly became postcard friends, we meet up at postcard shows, share our new finds or talk about card projects community postal services. Over the years, we have mounted numerous exhibitions and made several postcard presentations for the community of Stockton. “

“He’s also become a big supporter of my history projects,” said van Ommeren, who joined Chapman to create the popular Stockton History Facebook group, which now has more than 16,000 members who actively share stories. information about the community’s past.

Although Chapman lived in Woodbridge and not Stockton, he developed a keen interest in the town’s postcards, van Ommeren said, and slowly accumulated his collection, ahead of the internet.

“It meant garage sales, flea markets and postcard shows, which were so much more labor-intensive than today’s online auctions. Even though Ron’s collection was roughly double mine, I had a few gems myself, which kept him looking, ”she said.

This vintage postcard shows the lobby of the Earle Hotel in its heyday.  At the time, it was called the Sutter Hotel.

Windows in the past

Many of their cards date from the golden age of postcards, van Ommeren said when his book came out: the early 1900s, when Stockton was growing in prominence. At a glance, they offer a picture of what the city looked like – a little window into the past. And in some cases, the image is all that is left of the iconic buildings in Stockton, like the one in the city center former courthouse since demolished or its historic and majestic hotels.

“Every now and then we would talk about what we would do with our collections eventually. We had heard many stories of collections shattered and dispersed after someone died, ”said van Ommeren. “It was important for both of us to keep our collection intact and preserved.”

In the end, she settled on Pacific.

“We talked about making a donation to the San Joaquin County Museums and Archives. They had all supported our projects. Over the years, I have been impressed by the special collections and the Holt-Atherton Archives at the University of the Pacific Library, ”she said. “Their Stockton collection was quite extensive, they were open at regular times and were also starting to put their collections online. Ron agreed that the University could be a good place for our collection.

With Chapman passing and moving from Stockton after three decades, the time had come.

“Although he left no specific instructions, his daughter, Nancy, and I made the decision to merge his collection with mine and approach the University of the Pacific for a donation,” said van Ommeren. “Archiving and preserving a collection requires both short and long term resources, so it is a commitment to the host institution and must be aligned with its mission. Mike Wurtz, Head of Special Collections and Archives, thought the Stockton postcard collection would be a perfect fit for the West American digital collection. In order to speed up the process, it was also decided that I would do the archiving. In other words, digitizing and developing descriptive data for the online platform, which took me a year. “

The Stockton Record building, circa 1910, seen in the new collection.

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The collection makes its public debut during National Historic Preservation Month, a nod to its significance to local history.

“Ron would have been delighted to see our collection merged and real photo postcards, which offer crisp and often unique views. These are the postcards that give us vivid images of people playing in the snow in downtown Stockton on New Years Day 1916 online for the public. I am grateful that the University has accepted our collection and that I have had the opportunity to preserve Ron’s legacy, as well as mine, for future generations.

Some of Stockton's vintage postcards collected by Alice van Ommeren and Ron Chapman.

About the collection

The Complete Stockton in Vintage Postcards Collection, dating from the 1890s to the 2010s, captures Stockton’s illustrious and famous past, as Stockton was a prominent and prosperous town in the early 1900s; this time coincided with the immense popularity of postcards, said the University of the Pacific when announcing the launch of the Stockton in Vintage Postcards collection. The collection is permanent and publicly available for free research, viewing and downloading online at the University of the Pacific website at

Strengths include:

  • Unusual postcards such as the unique tri-fold postcard that offers a panoramic view of the interior of the ground floor of the Gummer furniture store which opened in 1912 on Weber Avenue.
  • Several postcards issued by the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office in the early 1900s as miniature “wanted” postcards that would be mailed to nearby law enforcement agencies.
  • Real photo postcards, which offer crisp and often unique views, like the one with striking images of people playing in the snow in downtown Stockton on New Years Day 1916.

Record-breaking journalist Elizabeth Roberts covers the community and the latest news. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ eroberts209. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at

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