TUCSON, Ariz. - How serendipitous is this? A husband and wife who deal in out-of-print books, prints and postcards attend an Arizona Historical Society convention and set up their booth right next to a history book publishing company that specializes in ''postcard history'' books.
The result is ''Native Americans of Arizona,'' 225 postcard images from the 1,500-postcard collection of Tucsonans Paul and Kathleen Nickens crafted into book form by Arcadia Publishing to offer a wide-ranging overview of the rich imagery of Native people in Arizona in the early 1900s.
''Picture postcards were used by promoters like the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad to sell the Southwest. Travelers came from the East, where they got on a train at one end and traveled on that train car to the other end visiting designated tourist stops in Arizona and New Mexico, where they took side trips to buy postcards and picture books to validate their trip,'' said Paul Nickens, an archaeologist specializing in the American Southwest who now sells Southwestern collectibles (www.SabinoBooks.com).
''This focuses on Arizona's 21 tribes and nations and is a pictorial walk-through of the history of the first half of the 21st century,'' he said. ''There are images in here that are real gems, probably not seen elsewhere, that couldn't be replicated today. Some of these images were spontaneous, some posed, and if you look at them with a critical eye, you'll see the details of the time.''
Although he has written close to 200 articles and reports in his professional career, this was the first joint book venture of the married team.
''Paul chose images from our collection, laid out the postcards by chapter/tribe, and wrote the cut-line captions,'' Kathleen Nickens said. ''I did the read-through, fact verification and editing.''
''Aside from it being the right opportunity to do something that has been on our minds for some time,'' Paul Nickens said, ''our principal purpose in writing the book was to provide readers a graphic impression of Arizona's first citizens.''
The market for this picture book is diverse - from tribal museums and cultural centers to history buffs interested in Indian culture and lifestyle to dedicated postcard collectors.
''Postcard hobbyists are a serious bunch,'' Paul Nickens said. ''They'll spend hours and days going through boxes and boxes of postcards looking for that one gem to add to their collection. The thing about this book is that it draws several popular elements together. Old postcards is one aspect, visual Native American history is another and a compendium of Fred Harvey/Santa Fe efforts to promote and publicize the Southwest is another. Postcards were cheap so people who traveled West by train could buy these pictures of where they'd been and what they'd seen and send them back home so others could marvel at the sights.''
The book is organized by tribes or tribal groupings; some, such as the Navajo, Hopi and Apache, have full chapters due to the fact that they received significantly more tourist attention than others and therefore had larger numbers of images produced. For example, the Navajo and Hopi in northeastern Arizona were profoundly impacted by the efforts of the railroad, the Fred Harvey Company and, later, by the famous Route 66 which runs near or through their reservation. Not to mention this area offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the state - and in the early 1900s was natural and unspoiled.
Also included is a chapter of non-Native institutions that resulted in changes to the American Indian cultural system, things like trading posts, boarding schools, church-based missions and non-reservation tourist enterprises.
Be forewarned that there are other books in the offing. When the Nickens left Colorado on the journey that eventually brought them to Arizona, they had 350 boxes packed full of books, postcards, vintage prints and maps and American Indian jewelry and crafts. Much of it remains unpacked in the back of their Tucson store. According to the writer/editor team, ''This first book has been a positive experience and we're working on a second postcard volume dealing with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico.''
''Native Americans of Arizona'' is available at online bookstores and independent retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com.