What’s It Worth: Vintage Postcards

Picture postcards from the past are fun and valuable to collect. Here's what you need to know.

Vintage Postcards: Children with pumpkins and turkeys

What's It Worth: Vintage Postcards

Thanksgiving greetings. Embossed 1910 card features children frolicking with pumpkins under a turkey's watchful gaze. $7.

Vintage Postcards: Woman with turkey Thanksgiving card

Calendar Girl Postcard

Calendar girl. Undated, embossed card leaves no doubt as to which date is the most important in November! $5

Vintage Postcards: Pair of turkeys and pumpkin postcard

Turkeys Postcard

After the football game. Embossed 1908 card features brilliant color, gold trim, a pair of turkeys and a giant pumpkin. $20.

Vintage Postcards: Boy and turkey postcard

ThanksgivingPost_06

Patriotic holiday. Especially popular with immigrants who had passed through Ellis Island, the flag motif was one way to show patriotism. Strong color enlivens this 1908 postcard with gold borders. $7.

Vintage Postcards: Girl making pie postcard

Pie-Making Postcard

Pie wishes. Also appealing to doll collectors, this sweet card features an illustration by H.B. Griggs. $20.

Vintage Postcards: Little boy and menacing turkey

Boy Vs Turkey Postcard

Just you wait! Droll 1912 card with illustration by H.B. Griggs. $6.

Vintage Postcards: Turkey and hatchet postcard

Turkey Postcard

Pain in the neck. Wry 1908 card. Estimated value: $6.

Vintage Postcards: Message on back of postcard

Message written on postcard back

While some collectors love pristine cards, others love ones with a personal message, especially if an historic event is mentioned.

Vintage Postcards: Green and gold postcard album

Postcard_album

Postcard Album. Condition is typical for the era; albums were made with inexpensive paper-pulp material that did not hold color well and was never meant to last. $7-$10.

 

By Barbara J. Eash

If you want to see how your sister is doing, you might send her a quick text. A hundred years ago, though, you might have jotted a few words on a postcard and dropped it in the mail to her. From 1907 to 1925, America went wild for postcards; in 1908 alone, the U.S. Post Office reported delivering 678 million of them—at a time when the population numbered just 89 million!

Picture postcards today are primarily associated with travel, especially beautiful shots of tourist destinations. But at the height of the craze, cards were as likely to be illustrations as photos, and travel was just one popular theme. Others were holidays (like our Thanksgiving cards here), religious events, elections, even natural disasters. And some cards were simply sweet or silly.

True, the messages weren’t private—and postmasters undoubtedly read them! But at just a penny to buy and another to send, no one seemed to care much about the lack of privacy and writing space.

At those prices, the cards might have been tossed out once read. But instead, people treated them like little gifts, mounting them in albums alongside treasured family photos. They displayed them in special frames and even bought storage chests with pullout viewing drawers.

Collectors today continue to buy, swap and sell postcards, along with other ephemera like movie, sports and political memorabilia, magazines, sheet music, certificates and invitations.  You can find vintage postcards, sold in protective, inexpensive, acid-free sleeves, online and at flea markets, estate sales and antique malls, where they’re often hidden away and packed in tightly, inventoried and filed by subject matter.  Prices can range from $5 apiece for common cards in fair condition to $100 or more.

What to look for

  • What makes a postcard valuable?  First, check its category. Among the most valuable are rare Halloween cards and mint-condition Santa Claus cards.
  • Next, look at its condition. The card should be free of creases, bends or splotches from fountain pens. Are the colors bright, and is the paper textured?
  • Also look for an artist’s signature (sometimes well hidden). Publishers often sought out established artists of the day; three illustrators whose cards are popular today with collectors are Ellen H. Clapsaddle, Samuel L. Schmucker and H.B. Griggs.
  • Look for embossing, glitter or other embellishment that might set it apart or somehow link it to postal history. Is it part of a numbered set?
  • Read the message! Some collectors want only unused cards, but others will pay more for a card that had a personal message, particularly if it mentions a historic event.

Most text messages today get deleted without a second thought. But it’s fun to look back into history at those everyday moments captured in collectible vintage postcards.

A few quick tips from Barb

What’s in a name?

Deltiology, a word coined in 1945, is the study or collecting of postcards. In terms of world popularity, postcard collecting ranks right up there with collecting stamps and coins.

Starting point.

It can be hard to know how to get started; collectors may focus on one subject that coincides with another interest. One very popular start: collecting “town views,” postcards featuring modern and historical scenes from a specific town or region.

Share the love.

A vintage birthday postcard sent to an antiques-loving friend is sure to be kept and treasured. Use vintage postcards as both place cards and favors at a holiday dinner. Hand out old romantic cards to read aloud at a wedding shower; they make a great souvenir for the bride.

Barbara J. Eash, Country Woman Magazine’s antiques expert,  is a certified personal property appraiser specializing in antiques and collectibles.

 Photography by Country Woman.

Ron Galeas 1 August 30, 2014 at 3:49 pm

I inherited about 6,000 from my mother with many of them from the 1910′s to the 1940′s. Some are the actual photo cards and holiday cards. I have 27 cards from the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair. I also have many movie magazines from the 1950s and 1960s. Most of these items would probably only sell for 5 to 10 dollars. I don’t want to go through the time in trying to sell these one by one. Is there anyone who would be interested in looking at my entire collection and making me an offer? I also have many hardcover books from the 1940s to the 1960s. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

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Adam William Fisher, Ph.D. 2 August 30, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Where does one find a business for the purchase of antique post cards ?

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sharon 3 September 3, 2014 at 6:58 am

Typically businesses do not buy vintage postcards, only independent collectors/antique dealers who sell such items through antique malls. There is not much profit in selling ephemera. You could A) go to antique malls and sell them to people who work at the counter or b) sell them yourself online.

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