Exaggerated Fantasy Postcards and H.G. Wells

As a historian, personal property appraiser, and consultant to auctioneers, I see obscure bits of history nearly every day. As a Wellsian, that is to say a scholar of H.G. Wells, the pieces that resonate most with me have some sort of connection to an aspect of his work.

Some time ago, I was cataloging items for an auction when I came across a set of four early 20th-century photo postcards the industry commonly characterizes as “exaggerated fantasy,” and were created through the period’s popular photo composite technique.

Though I couldn’t find any evidence that the photographer, William Martin, was influenced by H.G. Wells’s novel, The Food of the Gods (1904), they certainly fit the bill.

Wells described his novel as “a fantasia on the change of scale in human affairs,” and, in true Wells fashion, deconstructs that early-Edwardian era in unflinching terms. In the novel, a group of scientists invents a compound called Herakleophorbia IV, which causes miraculous growth in organisms.

Eventually, the food escapes its original home on an experimental farm, infects animals and men alike. Several B-movies have been made based on the basic concept of the novel, and all have been dreadful.

So anyway, regarding the images.

Each photo here depicts some oversized plant or animal paired with a recognizable real world object for perspective. While I’m not asserting any real relation, it’s interesting to note that the copyright dates on four of five the cards were from five years following publication of The Food of the Gods. However, the lynched grasshopper image entitled A Necktie Party dates to the mid-1930s by another photographer, F. D. Conard of Garden City, KS.

Exaggerated fantasy images and photo postcards were by no means limited to the midwestern United States, but a common theme of most is the attempt to demonstrate the fertility of an area’s farmland.