With Thanksgiving and Christmas almost upon us, it is time to start thinking about sending out our greeting cards. Postcards were the common way that warm greetings were sent to friends and loved ones at the turn of the last century. Similar to today’s greeting cards, antique cards feature vivid colors and eye-catching graphics.
Postcards are fun to collect for many reasons. First of all, they are affordable and can be purchased at antique shops for as little as 25 cents. Have you seen the prices that large greeting card companies charge now for their greeting cards in the racks at drug and grocery stores? Today, thrifty shoppers are buying bargain-priced unused antique postcards to send through modern mail to friends and family !
Postcards are perfect for collecting as they are small, easy to store and transport, and easily shared with others. They can be kept in shoeboxes, placed in sleeves and organized in notebooks, or placed in hard plastic sleeves. Inexpensive plastic sleeves protect vintage cards from being mishandled or smudged by fingers when showing your collection.
People collect postcards for any number of reasons. Some collect only certain holidays while others just want “real photographs.” Some collectors even purchase cards specifically for the postal cancellation stamp from post offices that may no longer exist.
Postcards provide a nostalgic glimpse of the past. For example, Christmas cards may feature trees with glass beads and burning candles attached to the branches. Thanksgiving cards sometimes feature Pilgrims to portray the origin of the holiday.
Millions of postcards have been sent and collected over a number of generations. Many have minimal value while others are worth more.
Condition is very important—blemishes can adversely affect value or render otherwise-valuable cards valueless. These include: bent corners, cut-down cards, creases, stains and tears, cancellation stamps bleeding through the card from back to front, writing on the face of the card or on the artwork, or if the postage stamp was removed in a damaging manner.
Cards that have been glued into albums are problematic because glue soaks into the cards and removing the cards from albums can cause the cards to tear. People have tried steam and soaking the cards to try and loosen the adhesive, but I have not had much success with any method of removing glued cards.
Subject matter is very important as well. When collecting postcards featuring Santa Claus, for example, the cards that command the highest prices are the unusual ones. Advanced collectors look for Santa wearing a different color suit opposed to the widely seen red suit. The rare Santa postcards feature Saint Nick wearing a blue, green or brown suit. Some were produced in very limited runs, making them scarce and of greater value.
Artist-signed cards add a premium. At the turn of the last century, postcard companies had various artists design the holiday postcards for their companies. Many of these have the artist’s signature or name printed on the front at the base of the artwork. Famous holiday postcard artists include Ellen Clapsaddle, Francis Brundage and John Winch, among others.
Contrary to popular belief, writing on the back of the card and/or postal cancellation stamps do not detract from value! A postmark can specifically date and add provenance to the postcard. Writing on the back of the postcard can provide for some very interesting reading, indicating where and when the card was sent and to whom the card was written.
The stamp box (the place where a stamp is affixed to the postcard) can provide clues as to when an un-cancelled postcard may have been produced. On the Internet, there are several websites that explain the variations of the stamp boxes and the dates the cards were manufactured.
Please be aware that there are reproduction postcards out there! Old postcards usually display an amazing attention to detail. Colors and lines are crisp and the cards are sometimes embossed. Embossed cards have “pushed out” paper details. Reproductions typically have poor color separation and typically have a shiny finish.
It’s time to get your holiday cards out—and please come and visit us for your holiday shopping!
Dwight and Christy Schannep, owners of the American Antique Mall in Tucson, have been buying and selling postcards for over 20 years. Come and visit the Mall, where several dealers offer postcards and protective sleeves for sale. The American Antique Mall is located at 3130 E. Grant Road @ Country Club, Tucson. www.americanantiquemall.com.