Tradio: Postcard Collecting

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[audio:|titles=Postcard Collecting ]

If I said the word to you deltiologist, do you think that would be someone who studies muscles in the shoulder? Do you think it would be someone who studies aeronautical engineering or do you think it would be someone who collected postcards?

Well, I would have to go with the postcards.

You’d have to go with that because it’s so weird. Okay, if I rolled out the postcards since there really is no name like that what would you go with?

Were any of those right?

I’m not telling you.

Repeat them again.

Forget it. I just made them up as I was going.

Okay, that’s what I thought.

Anyway, we’re talking about deltiologist today and deltiologist is actually the name for a person who saves postcards.

It is postcards.


Okay, I was right.

Well, I mean when I hit you with the postcard you’re definitely going to the one that was really bizarre.


Stamp collectors are called philatelists.

Oh, okay.

Coin collectors are called numismatists.


And postcard collectors are called deltiologists. Now, people are going to say why would you collect postcards?

A lot of cool ones out there.

We’re talking about, basically, people still collect picture postcards today. You come to Florida or you travel around and you get those postcards. You send them back home to people. Here I am. You know you put the little arrow. This is me in a big crowd of about 2,000 people. Anyway, postcards became popular about the turn of the century. The post office came out with one cent postcards that you could mail, but they weren’t picture postcards. Some people collect them.

Again, we talked about stamp collecting a couple weeks ago and they collected them for the postmarks, where they came from and things like that, but picture postcards started all the way back around the late 1860s-1870s, just a novel idea. They came out with all kinds of different cards. When I talk about cards it’s amazing all the different topics that you find on these antique picture postcards.

Again, the reason I thought about it is because someone last week came in with some picture postcards. Gee, how strange, I’ve got collections of different types of picture postcards that I’ve collected over the years. People will come in and ask from time to time do you have picture postcards. I’ll go yeah, I’ve got them. I’ll bring out a box with like a thousand of them and they kind of go whoa, my God. They start digging through and usually they can find something.

Some of the more advanced collectors have a hard time finding that stuff because it’s been picked over, but some of the cards that are out there the first thing that comes to mind, which is a real big collectable, holiday cards. Now, when I say holiday cards, they made postcards for Christmas. They made them for Halloween. They made them for St. Patrick’s Day. They made them for Thanksgiving and they made them for Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday. I mean if there’s a holiday out there they made postcards for it and it’s pretty cool.

I mean the Halloween postcards, of course there’s always a jack-o’-lantern on it and a black cat and a witch. They say well, why would people even think about collecting stuff like that? I had a dealer friend of mine who lived up in Sarasota and she happened to be born on Halloween. Now, as an antique dealer she ran into postcards and things like this and all of a sudden she just got a bug up her butt to say okay, I’m going to start collecting Halloween postcards because that’s my birthday and she began collecting them.

Christmas postcards, very, very big collectable and generally they’re collected with pictures of Santa Claus on them. There’s plenty of them with Santa going down the chimney and on a sleigh with his reindeer. Not only are we talking about postcards that were made in the U.S., but picture postcards were made throughout the entire world and I’m talking the entire world. It’s always amazing to see how St. Christopher or St. Nick or Santa Claus is dressed and the value of some of these cards depends on what Santa Claus is actually wearing. If he happens to have a blue suit on, which is European, that’s a more collectable card because it’s unusual to find him in blue. I’ve got cards where Santa is dressed in buckskins. Of course he’s always dressed in his red suit. So the more variations, the more unusual the card is with that particular topic, the more valuable it is, the more desirable it is.

Washington’s Birthday, well, of course, you find a lot of ones that were just pictures of Washington. There are pictures of Washington by his home in Mount Vernon as a President, crossing the Delaware in boat. All the stories that you would hear about different folk heroes and things that were related to the different holidays are pictured on postcards.

This is no different than when we talk about how manufacturers realized people are starting to collect a particular item. We talk about baseball cards. Back in the ‘80s all of a sudden the companies realized not only can we sell this gum with the postcards, but people are just saving these cards. Let’s crank them out and that’s what these postcard companies did.

I mean we didn’t have electronics and we didn’t have cameras, so how do you communicate? You would send a postcard. You went to Europe, send back a postcard from Europe. It would get on the boat and it would come back over here. They didn’t have planes when these things were first started. So it was a way to communicate across continents, but again they would make different topics that appealed to different people.

So you have your holiday cards. There are birthday cards. Actually, they would make these cards and it would show a little stork with a bundle of joy flying over. I heard you had a new kid and on and on and on. It would have the date and everything impressed into the card. There are people who collect birthday cards.

There are anniversary cards. Hallmark wasn’t around yet, so you wanted to communicate something mushy you would send an anniversary card and it would be a postcard. It wouldn’t be just a normal greeting card type of thing.

Special events, all kind of expositions and fairs and things always had pictures of all the elaborate buildings that were set up at different sites when they would have an exposition, the Columbian Exposition or the Cotton Exposition of 1867, 1904 World’s Fair Pan Am Exposition. They would show pictures of the different exposition buildings and lots of times the post office would issue a stamp in conjunction with these expositions and if you went to the post office at the exposition you could buy that stamp, a picture of the building that might be pictured on the stamp and a special exposition cancellation.

The three of things tied together, now you’re talking about the people who collected the postcards, you’re talking about the stamp collectors and you’re talking about the people who save cancellations. You know you might have a $5 postcard, you might have a $2 stamp and you might have a $3 exposition cancellation and when you put the three of them together it could be a $50 to $100 postcard, so it became very popular.

Believe it or not here’s how macabre we are. There are disaster postcards.

Oh, God, really?

From the Great Earthquake or the Great San Francisco, earthquakes and things like that.

Having a blast. Wish you were here.

Yeah, having a blast. Wish you were here. A lot of the floods that happened in the ‘20s and things like that were sort of the later ones. So a lot of those disaster postcards are actually sort of another type of postcard. Not only were they disaster, but they were photographic postcards. Now, there were two different types of photographic postcards. There were actually the ones where they would take a photograph, transfer it over to a plate and then they would manufacture these disaster postcards.

So the disaster postcards are quite collectable and it wouldn’t be just one picture. They would show a lot of different ones. It’s amazing. I’ve got some earthquake and San Francisco fire postcards and things like this. A lot of times you’ll see the same shot from different angles, depending on what company produced that particular postcard, but the disaster postcards are quite collectable.

I mentioned photographic postcards. A lot of these are actually companies that would take photographs and the photograph would be transferred over to a postcard back. They would adhere it to a piece of backing that said postcard and it had a place for the address and everything like that on it. Well, there are people that collect postcards with pictures, picture postcards, but actual photographic postcards.

Now, people say how can you tell the difference between a real photographic postcard and one of these you just talked about, just a transfer? Again, here’s where if you’re a collector, I told you, go out there and get yourself a loop. A loop is a magnifying device. If you look at the front of the postcard you’ll find lots of little dots that make up the coloration in that picture. If you look at a genuine photographic postcard — usually it will be some sort of glossy postcard — there won’t be any dots because it’s a photographic process as opposed to a printing process. Sometimes they’ll be in black and white. Sometimes they’ll be in a sepia color, which is sort of a brownish color.

Now we just kind of flow right over from the photographic postcards to wartime postcards and lots of times the wartime postcards were actually genuine photographic postcards. Lots of times some of the really macabre, unusual and the kind of stuff that sort of turns your stomach postcards were pictures originally. They were transferred over onto a printing plate and were reproduced as postcards. Some of the wartime postcards show the troops in action or behind a machinegun firing at the lines. Some of them show the troops training at training camp.

Some of the more bizarre, more macabre postcards show bodies lying around in trenches. We find a lot of the 1918 World War I postcards with all kinds of people in trenches. We find them with planes that have been shot down and crashed. We find medical postcards with pictures of being operated on in the operating rooms under really severe conditions.

I mean some of these pictures are pretty brutal. They’re very graphic. There are people who collect these and believe it or not they bring pretty good money. One of the French photo viewers I bought had hundreds of these slides. They were actually photographs and when you held it up to the stereo viewer you would see. These slides were actually made out of glass.

It was funny because I found postcards later on that were actually copies of the photographs that I had from the glass plates, so a lot of these really graphic pictures. Lots of times these photographers would work for one company and they would turn around and sell their negatives to a postcard company who would print these and would in turn print multiple copies of these wartime postcards.

We have what we call hold-to-the-light postcards. These are kind of cool. What they would do is they would take tissue paper and a postcard. Sometimes it would be an exposition card, sometimes it would just be a building and the windows would be cut out in the building. They would take that card, attach a piece of tissue paper and then put the back side of it on, attach the three pieces together and when you would hold that postcard up to the light the windows would light up. This is what we call hold-to-the-light postcard and it’s pretty cool. Depending on what it was, some of them were kind of risqué and some of them were, like I say, expositions or just normal buildings and things like that.

We find a lot of picture postcards that show different towns and buildings and things in different towns. That’s probably one of the biggest collectables. People were born in some obscure town and they make it a point to find all the postcards they can that were mailed or had pictures of that particular town. There are people who save transportation postcards, the old-time cars, fire trucks. After 1918 we find postcards picturing planes and dirigibles.

I mean you name it. You have a topic that you like, somewhere out there there’s a postcard that been done on it. I’ve talked about Art Nouveau period of time in the 1890s to about 1910 where we found women with long flowing hair and nature evolving into the hair and things like that. There are lots of Art Nouveau postcards out there, which are really, really cool. I collect a lot of that stuff myself.

There are novelty postcards that were made out of silk or leather, wood, aluminum. Lots of times you’ll run across the different outfits of foreign countries. Brazil did a lot of them. China did a lot of them. The actual dresses were needlepoint and that was done on the postcard or the dresses were made out of silk and then that was just glued to the postcard to do that.

Now, what are some of the things that affect postcards as far as their value goes? Number one, a lot of times the artist who did the artwork on it makes a huge difference as far as what the value of a postcard go. Raphael Tuck & Sons was a company that did a tremendous amount of postcards. I mean you name it, they did it. It was a big company. They did animals. They did beautiful women. They did chickens and things like that.

I’m telling you, it’s crazy all the stuff that Raphael Tuck did. Some guy probably just sat there all day long and I don’t know what he was smoking, but they said here’s your job. Think of topics to make postcards with and they did and they had thousands of topics. Raphael Tuck or Tuck & Sons, you’ll find that in the corner of the postcard or on the back side and these are quite collectable because a lot of times they would hire really super artists of the time to do the artwork on these cards. Depending on what the topic was and who the artist was who did it, that’s going to affect the value of it.

Ellen Clapsaddle is another name you’ll see on the front of a card sometimes. She did a lot of children’s postcards, pictures of kids, a very well-known artist at the time in the early 1900s, did great features, very, very good artist. Again, a lot of her cards are coveted because she was such a great artist and she did such a great job on the pictures of the children.

Winch is another name you’ll find. Again, a very good artist at the time, did a lot of animal-type stuff as well as children and quite collectable. Brundage is another name to look for on postcards. Again, a lot of children’s cards. The pictures of the kids were really, really done well. Wayne is another artist that was very well known. Nash is another name you’re going to look for.

You say well, how do I find these names? On the front of the card in the corner lots of times the artist signed the card. Again, the artist didn’t sign their name to every postcard that was done. Hundreds of thousands of these postcards were produced, but on the photographic process on the printing plate that name appears.

How does it affect the value of a card? A normal, just average everyday postcard could be a five to ten to twenty-five cent postcard. A signed artist card could be a $1 card. A better-known artist who just did a run-of-the-mill card could be a $3 to $5 card. Some of the really rare artists it could be a $15 to $20 card.

Again, as all our collectables and hobbies have changed there are a lot less people who collect the antique postcards. So when you look in these value guides and you say well, this is a $25 card. I’m looking at my 1995 catalogue and it’s showing that it’s a $25 card. Well, you know what? It’s not a $25 card anymore. It might be a $5 or $10 card. A lot of times people will come in and say to me Steve, I looked this up. It’s a $25 card. I say well, you know what? It’s not anymore, but because you saw it in the catalogue and it’s a $25 card and that’s what you want for it, I would contact the fellow that wrote the catalogue and maybe he’s buying them.

Sounds like he’s going to give you a good deal.

Yeah, he’s going to get a great deal for that one. You have to understand that when you look these things up it’s not what it appears to be all the time in these catalogues that give you valuations, but this is something that you do want to look for when you have these picture postcards.

Now, how can you tell how old they are because most postcards aren’t really dated? You can look on the back and look for postmarks and that will certainly tell you that that card was made somewhere around that timeframe, but if you look on the back side of a postcard, stamped on the back side it may say private mailing card. This was one of things that was required by congress. If it said private mailing card that would make it a one cent rate. So, of course the companies put that on there because it was the cheapest way to go as far as sending a postcard and these were around late 1890s to the beginning of 1901. You’ll see these private mailing cards are dated that way.

Then another card you may find when you look at the front of it you’ll see a white boarder around the card. It could have all these different topics that we’re talking about, but when we see that white boarder, they only did that white boarder on cards from around 1915 to 1930. So even if you find a card that’s not postmarked and you can’t figure out when this was done and you’re going ah, this has got to be one of those really old postcards because I’ve never seen anything like it, look at the old cars, they stopped making those white boarders in 1930 and they started in 1915 so it can’t be before 1915. So if you see a white boarder on a postcard that’s going to help you date it.

You may find postcards that actually feel like linen. You look at them and it looks like it’s almost a woven design on top of the picture. You run finger across it and it will feel like linen almost. The era when they did this was 1930s to 1945. It was popular. It had a good look. It was a novelty so people thought wow, these are cool. I’m going to buy some of these and send them off to my friends. So when you see these linen cards that’s going to tell you, again, it can’t be any newer than 1930 and it can’t be any later than 1945 because they stopped making them after 1945.

Then they went to the chrome cards, which were sort of what they pretty much do nowadays. When you used to come to Florida it had the pictures of the hotels where you stayed. This stuff is from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. We had foldout postcards and a lot of stuff was from the ‘20s all the way up into the ‘40s. You went to Europe or you went to Yosemite and you bought this little book and you opened it up and there was all these different postcards attached to each other. You’d separate them and then put a stamp on them and mail them out to your friends.

Postcards are still a collectable. They certainly don’t have the value that they used to because the younger people get on the Internet and this is where their knowledge comes from. Some of us older folks used to learn and get our knowledge from stamps, postcards, old letters and things like this. Things have changed a lot, but if you’ve got the time on your hands and you want to get into a hobby where you don’t have to spend a lot of money and it sort of gives a shot again at the old nostalgia—picture postcards. It’s out there. You could become a deltiologist without even trying.

Actually, I thought you were going to say it was somebody who collects memorabilia from the Delta region of the United States.

I wasn’t quite quick enough to think of that.

I would have been a good answer.

I was off the cuff. I’m Steve Duke the owner of Westchester Gold & Diamonds talking to you a little bit about collecting picture postcards today.

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