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.
- Publisher's 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 Schmucker 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 somewhere on the card.
- To learn more about storing old cards, click here.
Postcard Collecting Back in the Day
The first deltiologists, or postcard collectors, approached the hobby casually. 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 more than 100 years old in many cases, most of these cards have held up remarkably well.
What Collectors Can Look for Today
Every holiday, from New Year's 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. Framed collections like these make quite a conversation grouping when hung down a hallway. In fact, it's like taking a wonderful trip down memory lane for visitors to a home or business.
Others prefer humorous cards or those with a risque overtone, and these make unique groupings in the appropriate setting as well. The possibilities are endless when narrowing down your focus, or you can chose a variety of cards that appeal to you.
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, you can find a little treasure to take home and add to your stash without going 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, collectors can expect to pay $5-100 or more for a Santa postcard when they happen upon them and they rarely find Halloween cards offered for sale beyond online shopping. For bargain cards, keep an eye out for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Thanksgiving by digging through a basket here and there.
Many postcard fans turn to online auctions these days to add Santa and Halloween cards to their collections. Hard to find Fourth of July cards can be found through online shopping as well. 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, it's wise to watch the market before getting carried away with buying. Closely watch the condition variations as well to make sure you don't overpay.
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. It's also lots of fun to page through just to look at the photos, a wish book of sorts, and it offers a good historical perspective as well.