Robert Allison Collection


Robert F. Allison, Ph.D. is a retired professor of Business and Health Services Administration who taught at five universities and was an executive at three hospitals. Most of his research required interviews and histories of university-owned teaching hospitals. Consequently, he was instrumental in launching the oral history project of the American College of Health Care Executives by Lewis Weeks, which can be viewed in the Ray Brown section of the American Hospital Association Library in Chicago.

Early on in his retirement beginning in 1995 he began to appreciate the potential of postcards for capturing snapshots in time of people’s experiences around the globe beginning late in the 19th century. Cards are not all that different from a random sample of the nation over a century of our history and the only visual record recorded in color prior to World War I.

Provenance of the Allison collection is as follows. In the 1990s Allison began attending the Tulsa Postcard Club where one night he encountered a mysterious stranger from Louisiana who was offering to sell a collection of Oklahoma City postcards. After seeing them in the trunk of his car, it was obvious that they were a valuable collection-which his asking price confirmed.

The seller purchased the collection at an auction along with other possessions from various sellers and had no information about the original collector. From the cards there is evidence of a collector with the initials “JH” who may have served in World War II then worked many years in Oklahoma City. Included were 17 cards of Durant, circa 1900-1930, which may indicate the collector had a relationship with the south Oklahoma community.

The Collection:

The photographs have an unusual number of pictures of a 1920s-era house north of NW 23 in Oklahoma City. The collector had taken pictures of rare photos – some of which also are represented in this collection. He also had a keen interest in the interurban and its then terminus at Belle Isle.

From his photos and inscriptions on them he realized the importance of the I.M. Pei plan and planned destruction of hundreds of downtown buildings. the photographer took pictures downtown to capture images before buildings were they were destroyed and during demolition. It is hard to know his particular interest in doing so, but he was careful in many pictures and cards to write on the back of the photos the place from which the picture was taken and the direction in which the camera was pointed.
Of what value or use are these images? Here we have only the front of the cards. Of equal or greater interest are the messages on the backs. A century ago people rarely communicated by telephone when they were out of town.

Often these cards are some traveler saying they would be home within a day or two. They used cards then like we use email today-for brief and timely messages. As such, they provide an illustrated and annotated sketch of life gone by-usually narrated by friends and relatives. For many, it is their only journal.
For outsiders, cards provide historical insight. Allison writes a column for the Shawnee News-Star entitled ‘Cards-N-Time’ in which he uses cards to illustrate historical themes. There is hardly a topic for which there is no set of cards providing a timely-and copyright free-illustration in color.

“My favorite story is of my Dad, the Carnegie Library in Guthrie on statehood day in 1907 and a country road south of town,” Allison said in providing this collection for display at Retro Metro OKC. “I had the story in memory and the two cards close at hand in my collection. My column has run regularly for several years now, each using several cards, and I have yet to want for appropriate cards to illustrate the story. My reason for giving these images to this collection is to encourage and help others to enjoy the history of OKC as told in cards.”

– Robert Alison
Scanning by the Retro Metro OKC Resources Committee