Imagine walking across a field with a metal detector and finding $5 million worth of Roman coins. Dave Crisp of Wiltshire, England, did just that, amazing himself and the world with his find. Maybe there’s a little treasure hunter in all of us, especially those who pursue antiques and collectibles.
Fortunately it’s not necessary to tramp the countryside with a metal detector or dive on old shipwrecks to bring home a treasure trove. Anyone can play the game just by knowing the value of overlooked or undervalued objects.
Postcard collectors aren’t likely to make a great find in old barns, sheds or junk yards, although my son once found some great old football cards at the city dump — before the trash master in charge chased him and his young friends away. His cards must have been a recent discard because they were in very good condition. Generally, though, the value of anything paper is destroyed by dampness, mold, pests or weathering. That doesn’t mean a postcard collector can’t strike it rich, even today when people are much more knowledgeable about the value of what they have.
The first step is to be sure the people in your circle of family and friends know what you collect.
My collection was greatly enriched by my father’s acquaintances because he always said, “Send me a postcard,” to anyone leaving on a trip. My greatest all-time buy came from a family friend who sold insurance. He visited in a lot of homes, and one of his clients showed him a suitcase full of early postcards. Yes, a suitcase! He only wanted the ones from Kalamazoo, so he showed the rest to me. I ended up buying them all for five cents each, but he didn’t want to bother counting them. He counted a hundred and used the width to measure out the rest. Granted, that was quite a few years ago, but it was still a breathtaking treasure trove of early 1900’s cards.
The point is, if my hobby hadn’t been well known among my father’s friends, I never would have had the opportunity to buy them. The same was true with my friends and family. My collection has been greatly enriched over the years by people who didn’t care about old postcards but knew that I did. Secret collecting isn’t the way to grow a collection. One friend was so well known for his hobby that he once received a letter addressed to: Mr. Postcard, Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
A good way to advertise your interest is to display them in libraries or schools, wherever there’s a locked case. Local newspapers are often willing to feature town views from the early days and credit the collector. To avoid worry about theft, be sure to get a fine arts rider on your insurance. Waiting for treasure to come to you doesn’t always pay off, at least not in the short run.
Those who find postcards are those who are looking for postcards
Besides the obvious sources, shows, estate sales, and shops, I’ve found postcards at garage sales, church rummage sales (look in little bundles or boxes of stationery) and, of course, auctions. One small town auction was proudly displaying two albums of old postcards, but there was nothing special in either, mostly greetings that may have been a dealer’s culls.
But since I was there, I poked around in all the boxes, including one pushed under a table. There was nothing but junk on top, but underneath was a virtual treasure trove of postcards mailed from East Germany in the Iron Curtain days. I bought the box for practically nothing, while others bought the albums for high prices. I took my treasure home, greatly pleased because the cards were franked with colorful DDR stamps, seldom found used on cover.
A network of traders is another way to strike postcard gold. Lucky collectors live near a postcard club with members willing to exchange, but it’s also possible to make good trades with people who don’t collect cards. I’ve traded books, photographs and paper dolls for postcards, sometimes to dealers.
If you’re looking for a few special cards to fill out sets or series, let your favorite dealers know. But if a big bunch of postcards is your idea of treasure, enlist those close to you and always keep your eyes open for the unexpected. ?
Barbara Andrews has contributed postcard articles to Antique Trader for more than 35 years. She’s an author of women’s fiction, working on her 50th book in partnership with her daughter. She is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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