A Salty Mystery

Why would anyone copy this old picture postcard?

By Jeffrey Dodge ~ Images Courtesy Jeffrey Dodge

Why, in the early 1920s, would someone on Grand Turk island want to copy a specific 1906 picture postcard that was out of print and no longer obtainable? Was the picture on this 1906 postcard of special interest to someone? Most likely. What was this “important” picture? It was a circa 1875 steam-operated salt grinding plant on Grand Turk. 

This picture from the 1906 postcard illustrates how the circa 1875 steam-operated salt grinding mill on Grand Turk was structured.

The only explanation that makes sense is that someone, perhaps a photographer but most likely someone else, wanted multiple postcards made from a picture of this salt grinding facility because he or she was somehow associated with it.  

Ground salt, known as fish salt, was important to the salt industries on South Caicos, Grand Turk and Salt Cay because it commanded a higher price than unprocessed coarse salt. The reason? The fishermen and fish packers in New England and Nova Scotia required it to preserve fish. 

Josiah A. Frith and Jeremiah D. Murphy formed the firm of Frith and Murphy in 1873 and imported the first steam machine for grinding salt to the Turks & Caicos Islands in 1874—specifically, to South Caicos. Within a year, two such steam grinding machines were operating on Grand Turk. A few years later there were three steam grinding facilities there and two on South Caicos. Steam- operated salt grinding never reached Salt Cay. Instead, Salt Cay turned to wind to power their salt grinding machinery.

The steam-operated salt grinding installation pictured in the 1906 postcard consisted of three parts—a building to house the steam boiler and engine, a wooden hopper shaped in the form of a shallow vee and a warehouse where the ground salt was stored. The two buildings in picture below were connected by the hopper.

The grinding process began by unloading coarse salt from donkey carts onto the hopper. Two men on the hopper would push and shovel the salt down an opening where a crusher would grind it. The ground salt would fall onto a conveyor belt that moved it to the warehouse for storage prior to shipping.

Back to the postcard and the copies produced some 20 years after the original postcard was published. Apparently, someone wanted postcards made of this specific salt grinding facility. Who owned the one pictured in the original postcard is unknown, but it is possible that it was Harrow Murphy. Harrow Murphy died in 1910 so perhaps one of his sons wanted to have this old postcard copied. A more likely possibility, however, is that Frith Bros. & Company, the managers of the Murphy salt business after Harrow Murphy’s death, wanted these postcards to use for promotional purposes or to sell in their store. 

What makes this postcard copying process interesting is that the postcard being copied had been used and stamped, so the photographer had to cover the stamp with something, probably black paper, before he photographed it. You just can see the stamp perforations at the bottom of the black box used to hide the stamp. After the photographer took the photo of the 1906 postcard, he printed multiple copies of it onto photographic paper designed for postcards—the same size as a postcard and with lines for the mailing address. Postcards printed directly from a negative onto photographic paper sized for use as postcards are known as real photo postcards (RPPC). 

There are three known examples of these postcard copies and all were mailed from Grand Turk. One is postmarked 1925 and two were postmarked 1936.

I ask myself, why would anyone want this particular image and use it to make multiple postcards in the 1920s? Was it intended to promote fish salt to prospective buyers? What makes this image so special to someone? Can anyone reading this article help solve this mystery? If so, contact Jeffrey Dodge at 

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