Leonard Lauder on Collecting Postcards

“I collect not to possess, but to conserve and to discover,” says Leonard Lauder, whose collection of turn-of-the-century Austrian postcards is the source for Postcards of the Wiener Werkstätte: Selections from the Collection of Leonard A. Lauder. The exhibition, on view at The Wolfsonian through April 21, showcases approximately three hundred and fifty postcards out of a series of nearly one thousand. Lauder collected the cards over the course of about twenty-five years, eventually amassing almost the entire series. He recently donated the postcards to the Neue Galerie New York, which organized the exhibition. The Wolfsonian augmented the traveling exhibition with a large selection of Wiener Werkstätte textiles, decorative arts, and printed materials. 

Lauder describes the postcards as “wonderful and vibrant.” He characterizes his first encounter with a Wiener Werkstätte postcard as a seduction in his essay “My Vienna Modern,” published in the exhibition’s catalogue. Lauder spotted the postcard in a shop window in Vienna in the 1970s: “The array of colors and the rhythmic patterns of elegant ease are still imprinted in my mind.” As he began to learn about the postcards, he “was captivated by the romance of a Vienna past.”

He explains that it was not only the content of the postcards that captured his interest, but also the form. The postcards were produced beginning in 1907 as a way for the financially struggling Wiener Werkstätte to earn income as well as to provide projects for the artists in order to keep them engaged in the workshop. The postcards were conceived as miniature—and affordable—works of art. “I liked the concept that these were originals. They were not copies of anything,” Lauder says. 

Although he has donated the collection, he is still looking. “I’m missing a few from the series, and I’m trying to get the entire series. Also, for those that are worn or used, I’m looking for copies that are less used. I can’t stop. I’ll always be a collector.”

It seems particularly fitting that The Wolfsonian is one of the exhibition venues, as Miami Beach played a key role in Lauder’s development as a postcard collector. In fact, the first two postcards he ever collected were of the Essex House and the Cadillac Hotel, two Miami Beach art deco hotels. During winters spent on Miami Beach when he was a young boy, his mother would urge him to go outside and play. His version of play: going from one hotel to the next on Collins Avenue, collecting postcards of each hotel from the front reception counters, which he could barely reach.

“I’m delighted that the postcards are here,” he says of the show being at The Wolfsonian. “I love everything that The Wolfsonian stands for. It’s a great museum, a great place.”