LINENS & BEYOND: Curt Teich topical linens at the Jackson Auction

For anyone at all interested in linen postcards, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006, was a remarkable day. That was the day that duplicate linen postcards from the Curt Teich archives were offered for auction at Jackson’s Auctions in Cedar Falls, Iowa. There were also some chromes, white borders, black and white, and other styles of postcards from the archives as well, but clearly it was the linen postcards, particularly the topical linen postcards, that generated the biggest buzz. And from my perspective of having collected linen postcards for 30 years, most of the results were amazing.

First, a bit of background information, in case you were not aware of the significance of this event. The Curt Teich Company was the leading publisher of linen postcards from their introduction in 1932 until well into the 1950s when linens no longer dominated the postcard market. In 1982, the Lake County Museum acquired the archives of the Curt Teich Company, which was in business from 1898 to 1978. The archives included the records and samples of almost all the postcards the company ever printed.

Most serious linen collectors have long known that the archives contained multiple copies of many of the linen cards. There had been rumors and speculation over the years that some day the museum might sell some of the duplicates. Apparently in 2006 the museum board came to the conclusion that they only needed to keep three copies of each postcard: one for the permanent archives, one for possible circulation in exhibits, and one as a back-up copy in case of loss or damage. If there were more than three copies in the archives, the duplicates could be sold. This would raise needed money to maintain the archives and free up some storage space.

Naturally, this would also be good for the postcard hobby and a golden opportunity for collectors and dealers to acquire some fabulous and rarely seen linen postcards in mint condition. Of course, most of the cards offered were not rare or fabulous. The bulk of the cards were views, including linens, chromes and white borders. However, even these presented a once in a lifetime buying opportunity for the postcard hobby.

This was something I had to see, so I flew out to the can’t-get-there-from-here town of Cedar Falls, Iowa, to spend two full days previewing the linen cards (which were just a fraction of all the cards being sold by Jackson’s in this postcard auction). If you’ve seen the impressive catalog for the auction you got a healthy dose of the treat that was in store for linen collectors. Newly (my wife and postcard partner) and I have been collecting linen postcards for 30 years, so I was familiar with most of the outstanding topical cards. However, there were scores of great linens that I had never seen before in anyone’s collection or stock, and I have looked at literally millions of linen postcards. What a treat it was.

Since I couldn’t be at the auction itself, I was glad I chose to preview the cards the week before the auction. I had the well-lit Jackson display area and the friendly Jackson staff practically to myself, and I was able to slowly look at and visually absorb all of the topical lots in an extremely quiet environment. Not only did I learn a lot by studying the cards that were there, I also learned a lot by realizing how many of the great Curt Teich linens of which I am aware weren’t there.

Over the years I have been able to meet and/or correspond with most of the serious linen collectors and dealers and I was sure that they would be just as eager as I was to have a shot at some of these cards. Although I put in many strong bids on many of the topical lots, I was realistic enough to know that I would be lucky to win any of them.

The highlights of the auction were, for the most part, the advertising postcards that were offered singly or in small lots of up to 150 cards. Here were some of the more outstanding results. The prices I am quoting include the 17.5 percent buyer’s premium added to the hammer price because that represents the actual price paid for the card or lot.

The top price for an individual card was the advertising card for a Santa Claus snow dome (shown above). It sold for a whopping $793! The next highest price for one card was for a “Little Mammy” snow dome that fetched $441. And the third highest was a polka dot truck with a kiddy merry-go-round on the back of the truck (top of page), that brought $382 (although the duplicate only realized $235).

As for the highest per card price paid in any multiple lots, the winner, hands down, was the five-card lot of linen postcards advertising Norfolk Paints. The lot sold for $1,880 or $376 per card. It included four cards showing two cartoonish black children and one card with a snowman (shown above). Two prior lots for Norfolk Paints only had four of the cards and they went for $588 and $646. The buyer of a two-card lot consisting of the polka-dot truck and a Harley-Davidson dealership must have been pleased to pay only $411 considering the prices paid for the truck alone.

The bidding on a lot of three trailer trucks delivered a price of $441 ($147 per card). Other smaller lots (2 to 18 cards) brought anywhere from $12 to more than $100 per card (on the very smallest lots), with cards in these lots selling in the $25 to $50 per card range. Among the larger lots of linen advertising postcards, the lot containing approximately 175 auto related cards including many auto dealerships and service stations, brought the highest per card results. It ended at $2,115 or about $12 per card. The least expensive larger lot of advertising linens contained approximately 150 cards of buildings and products. It closed at $470 (about $3.15 per card). So you can see that there was quite a price range in the better lots.

Overall I was not entirely surprised at the results. Many of these cards are rare because they were essentially junk mail and were thrown away back in their day. Even though Curt Teich may have printed 10,000 or 20,000 each of some of these cards they are difficult, if not impossible, to find. One thing I am grateful for is that Newly and I started collecting them exactly 30 years ago. In my next column I’ll talk about how collectible linens went from ten cents to $793.

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