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collecting postcards

The next time someone sends you a postcard, think twice before you throw it away. It just might end up being worth a small fortune to a postcard collector!

Royal Courts, London

Postcard collecting has become a very popular hobby since the postcard's obscure beginnings in early 19th century Germany. The hobby boomed in the late Victorian period, when practically every home possessed a postcard album. Publishers encouraged the popular pastime by producing numbered series and themed collections for their postcard-buying clientele, and even organized competitions for postcard collecting. One British firm, Tuck's, offered a prize for the most posted Tuck's cards in a single collection - a prize of ONE THOUSAND POUNDS! In 1900, that was a small fortune!

Tuck's Postcard

Postcard collecting's popularity has continued for several reasons:

(1)Postcards take up much less space than most other types of collectibles. Postcards, modern and vintage, can be found just about everywhere today, and they certainly pack much more easily in your suitcase than a souvenir deskblotter. Much lighter than art glass, more compact than furniture, postcard collecting does not limit you to areas within a van rental of your own home!

(2)Postcards can depict pictorial history of both personal, local, and general interest, and postcards' written texts often carry information of historical importance. Many hobbyists and historians focus on a particular person, place, or event in which to specialize for their interest, and postcards have been created for just about everything of significance since the invention of the camera and before! Train enthusiasts search for photographs of early locomotives, archivists adore early postcards of their cities and pertaining to their documents repositories, and lucky historic homeowners turn up vintage photographs of their houses on cards! Imagine possessing a postcard written by the American President Kennedy from Texas?

(3)Postcards are easy to display. A complete collection of postcards nicely matted and framed makes a stunning wall decoration. A beautiful collection of hand-colored Christmas engravings on postcards from the turn-of-the-century appears each December on display in a New Westminster home. Some collectors even place their cards in plastic sleeves in an open-top recipe-type file for easy flip-through viewing. Another very imaginative display use for postcards is laminating the postcards between thick glass plates (sealed), and using them as reversable coasters! You collectors may shudder at this, but the cards are perfectly preserved, and you can place your drink on them without harm to the card. It is very hard to set your drink on these marvelous coasters at first, because you are too busy reading the messages and postmarks through the glass!

(4)You don't have to be a millionaire to start a postcard collection. Not all postcards sell for hundreds of dollars or pounds! Current postcards retail for between 25 cents and 2 dollars each. You can also find lovely vintage postcards at reasonable prices. All you have to do is decide on what type of cards to collect. Your collection can vary from the estoteric to the ecletic. If you live in a place of interest, collecting local postcards by year is a great way to create a nice collection. Military postcards can be collected by country, by war, by armed forces division, and by simple uniqueness. Prisoner-of-war (POW) postcards bring top-dollar if in good condition and of historic or national interest.

Hopeman Street Scene

Here are some simple rules for collecting vintage postcards:

  • Postcards should be in good condition: no creases, no folds, no rounded corners, no dog-eared corners, no tears, no water damage, and no glue marks on the reverse from albums.
  • Postcards which have stamps with legible postage cancellation marks have higher value than unposted cards, as it not only dates the postcard, but many cancellation marks and stamps have their own collector value!
  • Make sure the price of the card has not been written directly on the card, or applied as a sticker - this damages and devalues the card. Cards stored in plastic dust jackets or loosely in priced boxes retain their condition.

Interview With a Postcard Collector...

I've been collecting postcards for over 20 years. Like just about everyone, I started with scenic postcards: mountains, churches, and cathedrals. These postcards rarely have any value whatsoever, unless they date from the 19th century. From there, I went on to collect British street scenes from all over England. I narrowed my collecting tastes to the Midlands, Leicestershire area. I collected scenes of Leicester, Hinkley, Earl Shilton, Barwell, anything from the Leicester area. The postcards I collected had to depict something of interest: either people wearing period clothing, shops with advertising of the era, shops with goods hung on display to attract commerce of the period, early automobiles, horse-drawn carriages, any interesting period transportation. The postcards increased in value for resale if they contained heritage material such as shops which no longer existed or shops that have been passed down through the same family for generations. Other depictions which increased the monetary value of the postcards were lifestyles and events which are vanishing or no longer exist. An exaple of this would be coalmen.

Yarmouth MarketWilmington Giant with PloughmenPiccadilly Circus, LondonCoventry Street Scene

After some time, I had a very extensive street scenes collection, and I shifted my focus to other unusual types of cards. I stumbled on a series of postcards from Japan, in which the picture was not a reproduced photograph, but actually a miniature painting! These were very lovely and elaborate.

I also began collecting British historical personages on postcards. Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill are both quite popular amongst collectors. From there, I began to collect military postcards. The postcards fetching the highest dollar were depictions of war crimes and disasters, such as the execution of prisoners of war (Japanese), the liberation of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, and the soldiers in the trenches of both World War I and II (British and American). A field postmark greatly increases the value of these types of cards.

Elizabeth and GeorgeCoronation ERIIElizabeth, George, and Churchill

English in TrenchesField Posted SoldierBritish Military Camp

I also collect vintage humorous (comic) postcards. I stay away from the Blackpool cards, though these are also extremely popular. I have visited a fish-and-chips shop literally wallpapered in these randy comic cards! Unfortunately, my fish-and-chips went cold while I was reading them! What I look for in a comic postcard are the artists's signatures. This is where the value lies in these types of cards, in addition to the general condition and postage cancellation.

Humor: I Got MineHumor: Atlantic CityHumor: TravelingHumor: Late Posting

I think of postcard collecting as my inexpensive vice: I don't smoke, rarely drink, and never gamble to excess, I just enjoy buying vintage cards. I have made some money from my postcards over the years, but I would have to part with more cards than I am willing to in order to make a killing as a dealer. For now, I am contented to look at them, and look for them, to add to my collection.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Nicholson, S. B.: The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards,copyright 1994, Wallace-Homestead Publishers

Burdick, J.R.: Pioneer Postcards, copyright 1956, Nostalgia Press Publishers

Copyright 2001, by T. Fairfax

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