Here is your trivia word for the day: Deltiology, the study and collection of postcards . Not that it is trivial to the millions of post card collectors all over the world. Haunt enough auctions buying up odd box lots and you are sure to end up with a collection of old postcards. Do not take them lightly. When they arrived on the scene in the 1860’s they were a rather utilitarian item. They provided a cheap means of communicating a short, informal, message. Think, the Twitter of the letter writing era. Later on they became a virtual art and photography publishing medium. Post cards became collectible in short order and the variety of images gave them an appeal to people with a wide variety of interests.
My favorite postcards have always been the transportation scenes, especially aircraft, ships and trains. The amount of available material for collecting is unbelievable. The early real photo postcards form an illustrated history that often includes events or vehicles not well recorded in books.
Cards featuring aviation related subjects may have photos of aviation pioneers or rare experimental aircraft that have become lost to history.
Back when eBay was in full swing in time to a vigorous economy they were a good source of regular sales in the $10.00 to $20.00 range with occasional “oh wow!” surprise bidding wars. One of the beauties of postcards is that you often get duplications in lots purchased. On those occasions I kept one copy for my personal collection and sold the other. It can be a hobby that pays for itself.
Trains are another universal favorite. They suited early photographers because they were good still subjects. Quite a few early cards featured train wrecks.
Later on when cameras got better at stopping motion trains were often captured moving through dramatic scenery. The railroad companies found postcards to be a handy advertising medium. As a result a lot of railroad history is preserved for both scholars and railfans.
The hunt for old postcards is fun because so many people saved the cards informally. You find them in desk drawers and pigeonholes, in shoe boxes and coffee cans. They appear to have been the number one bookmark of all time. They often come as part of a stack of paper items perhaps meant to be scrapbook material. You can find some good old advertising items, trade cards, tobacco cards, or small engravings.
It seems like printed cards of all types become handy items to trade. Barter and baseball cards is practically a rite of passage for American children. The value of post cards varies widely, naturally, the older the better. Condition counts a lot. It’s not unusual to have messages written on the front of early cards as the postal regulations reserved the back of the card for addresses only. Tears and bends are what really downgrade a card.
When I started selling collectibles postcards came on to my radar screen along with vintage photographs. They go hand-in-hand. So much history was preserved at the same time that it was made accessible to the public. We take that aspect for granted in the internet age. At the time postcards were invented America was a largely rural society. Radio was largely theoretical and the modern marvel of the day in personal transportation was the bicycle; another worthy topic for a post card collection. You have the advantage to explore a century and more of our world unfolding before you in a handy format that is very user friendly. Hitch a ride on history and be transported.