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Postcard-Ready Vintage Album Highlights a Lonesome Hanoi in the 1920s

Looking at past albums of our cities today, I’m always stricken by a bewildering vastness — every street, every square, every building seemed to have been constructed in a ghost town, serving lonesome phantoms and nonchalant horse-drawn wagons.

That sense of eerie emptiness extends to this collection of black-and-white shots taken in Hanoi in the 1920s, serving as stock images for postcards and illustrations for books about the city under French rule. Be it major avenues or tiny lanes, the thoroughfares of Hanoi past hosted few pedestrians and fewer vehicles, so they appear breezy and tranquil, a far cry to the pandemonia of today.

This cognitive dissonance can be attributed to Vietnam’s skyrocketing population, the growth rate of which would quickly render even the most generously designed streets narrow and ineffective. When these images were recorded, Hanoi had a population of 81,000, compared to New York’s 5.6 million and Paris’s nearly 3 million. Flash forward to today and Hanoi’s size has ballooned to over 8.5 million people, while the streets depicted here have not changed much throughout the years.

Have a closer look at Hanoi in the 1920s via the images below:

A jewel shop on Hàng Bạc Street.

A customer browses jewelry options.

Jewelry makers hard at work.

A glass display showcasing valuable decor and accessories.

The fashion visual merchandising game was on point.

The intersection between Tràng Tiền and Trần Nhật Duật.

The building that housed the French Veteran Club, and then Unity Club. Today it has been demolished for an office.

Hat makers.

Inside the Hai Chinh hat workshop. It used to produce around 10,000 items a year.

The exterior of Hai Chinh.

The entrance to Saint Paul Hospital, which still exists today.

Tràng Tiền Street.

Tràng Tiền Street from the Hanoi Opera House.

Shops on Tràng Tiền.

Another perspective of Tràng Tiền.

Grands Magasins Reunis, a department store specializing in imported goods from Europe.

A view of Tràng Tiền from the Opera House.

A football match at the Stade Mangin, now Cột Cờ Stadium.

The exterior of Le Coq d’Or, a high-end hotel. Today it's the Hòa Bình Hotel.

Students in the yard of Yên Phụ School.

[Photos via Flickr user manhhai]

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