Quick Tips for Collecting Postcards
- Most vintage holiday postcards, a form of ephemera, sought today date from the early 1900s to the early 1920s. Photo view postcards dating to the 1940s and '50s are also collectible.
- Publisherâs marks to look for are John Winsch, Raphael Tuck & Sons and International Art Publishing. Cards drawn by notable artists like Louis Wain, Ellen Clappsaddle, Frances Brundage, Samuel Schmuker along with others are also desirable cards.
- Among the most expensive vintage postcards are Halloween examples, which can sell from $15-20 to several hundred depending on the illustration. Common birthday and photo view cards usually sell for $1-5 apiece.
- Vintage postcards have been widely reproduced, especially Halloween and the most popular Christmas postcards featuring Santa Claus. Most of these are not embossed like the originals and some will denote that they are reproductions.
How My Love Affair Began
When my mother ran across a handful of vintage postcards and put them in her antique shop, the colorful greetings with rich embossing taught me about the past and entertained me for hours as a child. Occasionally she would run across an entire album filled with beautifully detailed cards, which intrigued me even more. That was long before I knew about ephemera and how collectible it can be.
By the time I actually decided to collect postcards featuring cat illustrations many years later, and become a genuine deltiologist, I was already a full blown collector of several other things. I probably didn't need to start anything new, but they were so whimsical and amusing, trying to resist was impossible. And, since they were so affordable, I really couldn't think of a good reason to try very hard. When I became more seasoned, I added Santa and Halloween postcards to my list of must haves and left the cats behind.
Shopping for Vintage Postcards
There always seems to be a little stack of postcards to browse through in most any antique store or show. For a dollar or two, I saw that I could find a little treasure to take home and add to my album without going further into debt. Nowadays, it might take $3-5 apiece to get a little collection started, but that's still a very affordable price point.
However, finding Santa or Halloween cards in this way doesn't happen very often, and hardly ever for a dollar or two. In antique shops and at shows, I can expect to pay $5-25 for a Santa postcard when I happen upon them and I rarely see Halloween cards offered for sale beyond online shopping. But, I have found some bargain cards to keep on hand for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Thanksgiving by digging through a basket here and there.
I often turn to online auctions these days to add Santa and Halloween cards to my collection. Iâve even been known to buy a hard to find wedding card or Fourth of July card on eBay too. Prices vary widely, and there are times that a Halloween card will sell for $25 one week, and the same card will bring $100 the next. With so much volatility, itâs wise to watch the market before getting carried away with bidding and to closely watch the condition variations.
Postcard Collecting Back in the Day
Back when I collected cat postcards, I always kept them in an album. I always liked the fact that I was carrying over a tradition from Victorian times by doing so. Most every home in the early part of the 20th century had a postcard album holding greetings from near and far. Students presented them to teachers, relatives used them to keep in touch at a distance, and an occasional beau would profess his love for his lady with a beautifully decorated card.
When antiques dealers and collectors run across a Victorian postcard album now, the album itself is often in tatters. The cards tucked safely inside, however, are beautifully preserved. In fact, for being close to 100 years old, most of these cards have held up remarkably well.
What Collectors Can Look for Today
Every holiday, from New Year's Day to Easter and Christmas, was commemorated with these bright, cheerful cards. The more obscure holidays are generally the most sought after, with Halloween cards being some of the most expensive and hard to find. Another popular theme for collectors is Santa Claus. Some of the rarer versions can be quite costly to add to a collection.
Greetings aren't the only cards popular with today's collectors. Many people enjoy searching for picture postcards of hometowns, landmark buildings and vacation spots. I have a friend who has collected postcard views of her hometown for years. She framed them all and hung them in a hallway that provides a wonderful trip down memory lane for visitor's to her home.
Others prefer humorous cards or those with a risque overtone. The possibilities are endless when narrowing down your focus, or you can chose a variety of cards that appeal to you.
A Good Reference Guide for Postcard Collectors
One title that comes highly recommended is The Postcard Price Guide by J.L. Marshburn. Even if you just pick up a card here and there, this reference guide will give you an idea of what to look for in the way of rarities so you can keep an eye out for bargains. Itâs also lots of fun to page through just to look at the photos, and offers a good historical perspective as well.