Living the Postcard Life: Catching up on readers’ mail

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Illus 1: National Postcard Week postcard.

Excuse me! I’ve fallen way behind in reporting on readers’ write-ins. We’ll catch up a bit right here, right now.

A recipe card from Betty Montoye showing a Cornish pasty took me back to youthful summers. Betty’s card is from Michigan’s UP and recalled lunches in the town of Colfax in California’s Gold Rush country. Looking at the savory filled pastry packet, the kind that coal miners would take with them into the depths of the earth each day, I catch the scent of braised lamb and turnips and the bite of black pepper.

Wayne Nelson clipped an article on the history of Christmas cards which ended by mentioning the decline of exchanging greetings – only 1.9 billion in the U.S. in 2005. Wayne did his part by upping the postcard’s unmentioned popularity. His greeting showed Bing Crosby in a Santa hat on a vintage Pop Media Free Postcard from France. His message: “I have officially declared the ‘rack card’ era over. Now I can use some of the Xmas ones.”

From Denise Hill came a copied clipping on postal cards from a newspaper of May 1873. It explains that the cards “take the place of paper, stamp and envelope in all cases where the communication is brief and secrecy not an object.” It goes on, “The new style of communication will promote brevity in letter-writing. There will be no long prelude and conventional conclusion; all this will be lopped off. They will not answer for those delicate affaires de coeur for which the mails afford so convenient a confidential agent. There is enough business of a nature not so tender to make the postal card a popular medium of communication.”

Another newspaper clipping tells of the joys of choosing postcards to send and penning brief salient messages to mail from places exotic and mundane. How about the words on a card sent from a boat ride in the tropical rain forest: “Amazing world, but where’s my frappuccino???”

George (George who?) sent a page copied from a retirement magazine suggesting collectibles as possible investments for pleasure and profit. Postcards were listed first. Cited are an 1898 Columbian Expo card as an $11 value – my copy of the same card was 25 cents. A Pig’n Whistle restaurant card with dancing pigs, $38; mine $1, on up to Winsch Halloweens and our apotheosis, the Mucha Waverley Bicycle. The author was only partially misleading his readers. My copies of the first two have soared in value over the 30 years I have owned them. Halloween cards, in general, have gained greatly with growing worldwide popularity of this only in America theme. Waverley, however, argues against the investment strategy. Sisters of the card that brought $13,500 at Milwaukee well over a decade ago have been recently exchanged for around $10,000. Not to worry; for us collectors, the treasure’s in the pleasure.

Steve Howell and Jean Ann Abuhove are at the top of the Reader/Write-In list. Steve and his wife, Patty, recently took a Route 66 trip through the Southwest. More than a dozen postcards, each with a selection of long out-of-print stamps and lettered in Steve’s tight, neat printing, tell of the journey and the attempts to have the cards postmarked at significant stops along the route. Besides mailing postcards, Steve also bought them – by the piece and by the box, along the road and at the wintertime mega swap meet at Quartzite, Ariz. He’s still in search of a fellow he heard had cleaned out an old store’s racks in the 1960s. Steve’s a real postcard fanatic; he doesn’t tie himself to age or category; he just likes postcards. His postcard messages end: “I love this country! Living the Postcard Life!”

Jean Ann’s missives come in envelopes decorated to match the theme of each stamp and filled with clippings from a dizzying number of sources. From The New Yorker was a book review of An Ordinary Spy by Joseph Weisberg, a former CIA agent, that has a “mysterious postcard” at the center of its cerebral thrilling tale.

The BasBleu.com catalog (800-433-1155) listed a number of boxed animal postcard collections.

A clipping from the NY Times reveals how a postcard changed the life of a 17-year-old McGill student. On a 1979 trip to New York City, he was wowed by the color and graphics in one shop but could afford only a postcard, an electric green collage design with one-time supermodel Twiggy at the center. Back in Montreal he dreamed over the card, dropped out of school and became a graphics designer and ultimately an artist specializing in throwaways. He still clings to his recreation of the Twiggy card. “Sometimes the disposable is all we have to hang on to.”

VictorianTradingCo.com (800-800-6647) was offering scarves with holiday postcard designs from their “coveted ephemera collection.”

The New York Times, again, for a column by Frank Warren telling how he originated PostSecret, the blogspot and now several books. You’ve read about how folks write to him anonymously and reveal secrets on self-made postcards. He got the idea while eavesreading messages that his airline seat neighbor was writing on postcards. It’s an infectious idea, and once you log on or pick up one of the books, you’ll be hooked until the last image.

Call 800-669-9999 for vintage state postcard pillows!

A page from a 1939 Life Magazine shows how “British Postcards Laugh at War.” Like our own fade-aways, these blackout images have enough details showing – white against black – to make the subjects come to life, like the woman’s hat, purse, gloves, stockings, postcard and dog approaching a pillar box.

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NPCW is always a surprise. After 20-some years of participation, we’ve never been able to get our cards designed, printed and mailed in advance of the celebration itself. Here’s Janet’s creation for 2008 with her cat and goat characters perusing a map of the Great White Fleet’s route from a century ago. Guess who’s who. [Ill. 1]

This is the 25th official year for NPCW in the U.S., and a few original participants have announced it will be their last. How great that they had the desire to be in at the beginning and the dedication to stick with it for a quarter century!

Down in Texas, Demaris Elrod Swint has set up an online display of NPCW cards from the past three years. Take a look at www.npcw.multiply.com, and if you don’t see your cards up there, send them or scans to Demaris: Ezrestexas@aol.com or PO Box 703, Pharr, TX 78577.

A couple of oversize cards have come my way and will be conveniently filed in my oversize box. The first, a Rick Geary original for Rick’s original book, The Beast of Chicago, this time a promo card for his exhibit in his new hometown of Carrizozo, N.M. [Ill. 2] The show has closed, but the card will be around for quite a while. The second shows the Pony Express statue for Friday Station where express riders changed mounts on the route between Sacramento and St. Joseph. The background is from the mural of the entire 1860-61 mail route. [Ill. 3]

What do you call it? An online discussion on the postcard list centered on what to call a black and white printed card that has a white border. A white border? Not really; they’re mid-early printed color cards. Lithographically printed monotone was a rather highbrow suggestion. I say, who cares? One of the most pleasing aspects of collecting postcards is that there are no rules other than one’s own. Just relax and say its a b/w printed card. Another writer wanted to know how to describe (for eBay, of course) a card that had another image covering its original “risqué” portrayal of a young lovely with a partially bared bosom. I won’t touch this subject other than to say, “Don’t make it seem too saucy or eBay will pull it.”

And speaking of eBay… Thanks to those who wrote to express your agreement with my comments in the last issue and those who said so in person at recent shows. I must confess that that column was written after several weeks of no buys online! Since then I have found quite a number of desirable cards and snagged most of them. My opinions have not changed, but my motivation for mewling has weakened. Here are two of my recent acquisitions. Ingweiler synagoge shows the Alsatian community my grandfather left in the 1890s to come to San Francisco. The card, circa 1903, was published by K. Schneider, whose grandson sells postcards and photo supplies in today’s Ingwiller. [Ill. 4] Many of the towns in this part of France have synagogues today, but there are few if any Jewish worshippers left to support them. Several of the buildings have been converted into town museums and cultural centers. I fought all the way to 35 to win the card. A Robinson Crusoe book promo card from about 1905 is the newest star in my heavenly goat collection. I hope that you can see the brilliant blue and red plumage on the parrot. [Ill. 5]

Politicking: For all the campaign brouhaha, I have seen very few presidential postcards. An ardent collector showed me his 2008 category of about a dozen cards. Mine rests at two, both pro-Obama. But I did capture an unusual postcard issued by a local school district. No illustration, but printed on pink stock, it is a “pink slip” addressed to Governor Schwarzenegger, who has cut school finances, advising him that “funding for your position has been eliminated in the next budget cycle.” The card is in its third printing as Ross Valley voters send them to the Terminator by the thousands. QSL postcard

Fun in the 25¢ box: A club member brought a box of QSLs to a meeting recently. QSL cards are sent by ham radio operators to confirm reception of another ham signal. The backs are filled with radio info such as time, date and frequency, but the fronts are often specially designed cards for particular hamsters – much like our NPCWs. Here’s one of several amateur art cards I got last week. [Ill. 6]

Share your postcard thoughts and experiences. Write Postcard Life, PO Box 621, Penngrove CA 94951 or editor@postcard.org.

More Images:

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Illus 2: The Beast of Chicago
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Illus 3: Pony Express Memorial postcard.
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Illus 4: Ingweiler synagoge postcard
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Illus 5: Robinson Crusoe book promo card

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