This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine.
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Jefferson R. Burdick, a man of very modest means, left approximately 80,000 old postcards to the Metropolitan Museum of New York in 1963 as part of a much larger ephemera collection.
In the late 1970s, Russian Nikolai Tagrin claimed to have the world’s largest postcard collection, more than 700,000, in his crowded Leningrad apartment where shelves filled with albums covered every wall.
Surprisingly, neither of these collections was the largest ever. One Czech collector was rumored to have several million, although confirmation of the card count in huge collections is impossible.
Others, including at least one in the United States, claimed to have a million.
If this sounds like a numbers game, it was. In the first half of the 20th century, postcards were cheap, often one cent and rarely more than five cents on the racks. Worldwide exchanges were common, making it possible to gain huge variety without being rich.
Those days are gone forever, but collectors today are just as avid about their acquisitions.
What postcards are bestsellers today? The people most likely to have the pulse of the hobby are dealers who offer thousands of cards to the public every year.
Ron Millard, long-time owner of Cherryland Auctions, and Mary L. Martin, known for running the largest store in the country devoted exclusively to postcards, have offered some insights into the current state of the market. Both dealers have taken a son into their business, a sure sign of the confidence they have in the future of postcard collecting.
Real photo postcards of the early 1900s are highly rated by both dealers. Mary Martin, who sells at shows as well as through her store, reports that interest in rare real photos is “increasing faster than they can be bought.”
Ron Millard, whose Cherryland Auctions feature 1,800 lots closing every five weeks, indicates that real photos seem to be “holding steady with prices actually rising among the lower-end real photos as some people shy from paying the huge prices they have been bringing … Children with toys and dolls have been increasing and also unidentified but interesting U.S. views.”
Cherryland bidders have also been focused on “advertising cards, high-end art cards, Halloween, early political and baseball postcards.” Movie stars, other famous people and transportation, especially autos and zeppelins also do very well. Lower priced cards with great potential for rising in value include linen restaurant advertising, “middle range” holidays, and World War I propaganda.
Millard also cites vintage chromes, especially advertising, “really starting to take off with many now bringing $10 to $15. (These were $1 cards a few years ago.)”
At one time, foreign cards were largely ignored by collectors, but online sales have broadened the international market. In Millard’s experience, “the sky is the limit on any China related.” A few months ago Cherryland had a huge influx of new bidders from Australia, and the number from Asia is also increasing.
Martin sees hometown views as the most popular category, with real photo social history, dressed animals and Halloween also in high demand. She reports: “We see a lot of interest in military right now, and I don’t believe it has really peaked yet.” Social history from the 1950s and ’60s also does really well. She’s encouraged by the number of new and younger collectors at postcard shows.
Will anyone want your postcards when you’re ready to sell? It’s a valid question, and our two experts have good advice for anyone with a sizeable accumulation, say 500 or more postcards.
Auctions are one good option, both for direct purchases and consignments. Millard is always looking for quality postcards to offer collectors worldwide. His firm can handle collections of any size from small specialized to giant accumulations and are willing to travel for large consignments. Active buying is a necessity for dealers to keep their customers supplied, which should reassure collectors that their cards will have a ready market. Contact Millard at CherrylandAuctions@charter.net.
Martin suggests that collectors go back to some of the dealers who sold them cards when they’re ready to sell. Her firm is always willing to buy back good quality cards. She also sees reputable auction houses as a good avenue, and strongly suggests: “They should never be sold as a very large group if they can be broken down into different subject matter or topics.” Martin can be contacted at email@example.com.
Both experts agree there’s an active demand for quality collections. That would exclude postcards in poor condition, a caution for collectors expanding their holdings. Look for the best and pass up damaged and dirty cards.
Billions of postcards were produced in the last century on practically every topic imaginable. As collections become more specialized, new subjects are sure to attract attention.
Many outstanding collections were put together with moderate expense by people who were among the first to recognize the value of a new collecting area.
As an example of an area yet to be fully explored, the photographers who made postcards possible haven’t been widely collected in their own right. Many were anonymous, but some, like Bob Petley, famous for Western views as well as comic humor, have attracted collectors’ attention.
The Tucson Post Card Exchange Club has made a specialty of gathering and listing the output of their “favorite son.” No doubt there are fresh, new specialties just waiting to be discovered.
Postcard collectors love history, appreciate fine art, enjoy humor, and above all, are imaginative. There’s every indication that today’s favorite topics will be joined by new and exciting ones in the future.
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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