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October 11, 2022

Humorous Vintage Postcards of Ford Model T by Cobb X. Shinn From the 1910s

As World War I loomed, a varied group of talented Indiana illustrators, comic artists, and cartoonists were beginning their careers. While none of these Hoosiers are household names today, Cobb X. Shinn of Indianapolis became the most prolific and collectible postcard artist of the group.

Conrad (“Cobb”) X. Shinn was born in 1887 in Fillmore, Indiana. He attended the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis from 1907 to 1909. Even as a student he published postcard cartoons on various subjects.

About 1914 Ford Motor Company hired him to pen a series of humorous cards that portrayed the Model T as iconic, inexpensive, yet superior to other cars of the day. Henry Ford was reputed to have said that “every time someone laughs at a joke about the Model T, I sell another car.”

Many of Shinn’s Ford cards were published by Commercial Colortype Company and were often copyrighted by them, but not always. Some of the Ford cards make use of pidgin English with German or Dutch accents. It isn’t certain whether Shinn’s postcards involving Charlie Chaplin were created before or after the American entry into World War I. As Chaplin had no control over the use of his character, Shinn was legally able to create cards featuring takes on the “Little Tramp” image.

What is certain is that in November 1917, Shinn at age 30, volunteered for the Army. He ultimately was assigned to a unit that made camouflage cloth to confuse enemy air strikes. He sent home humorous cartoons of his army life, which the local paper says were also printed by many other newspapers.

Shinn returned safely to Indianapolis in 1919 to a changed art landscape. The “Golden Age” of postcard collecting had faded and with it had gone the demand for his postcard designs. Shinn adjusted by changing to book illustration and writing books of his own.

Shinn died on January 28, 1951, and was buried in Bluff Creek Cemetery in Greenwood, Indiana.


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