Living the Postcard Life: On The Road Again

It had been more than five years since Janet and I were on the long distance postcard trail, and we were itching to see old friends and new-to-us cards. Wichita! Why not? We’ve gotten to Postcard Central USA (literally and geographically) by both road and air in the past. There would not be time for the drive – a month long camping trip – so I booked airline tickets from San Francisco to Oklahoma City and returning from Kansas City two weeks later. I cashed in some of our frequent flyer miles for upgraded tickets. This trip was not only going to be fun; it was going to be comfortable. And it was.

But to begin at the beginning …. It was an early take off, so we spent the night at a motel near the airport where we could leave our car. On the way down we stopped at our favorite San Francisco coffee house which included a dash across the street for a rack-card rumble. Got a few for trading – nothing to keep or show here.

The next morning we were sound asleep (after an elegant Chinese feast the night before) when the cell phone rang at 3:20 a.m. “Your flight has been cancelled…rebooked at 11:30.” Annoying, but far less so than spending hours watching other planes take off and land.

Next stop: a brief layover at Dallas-Fort Worth and a fast shuffle between gates aboard a futuristic shuttle train (No postcard!). Thirty-two minutes later we were in Oklahoma City, greeting long time postcard friends, John and Jean Dunning.

OKC has changed since we were last there. New buildings going up throughout the city, and old ones being spared. The brick behemoths in the warehouse district are being converted to lofts, shops, restaurants, clubs and bars, and nightlife is the order of the day. We eschewed the glitz and headed to an oldtimey restaurant in Cowtown for (the obligatory) chicken fried steak.

John Dunning and his postcards have been regularly seen at shows within a few hundred miles of his home base, but lately he’s been wandering less and concentrating on his antiques and collectibles business, Western Trail Trading Post. Located on the Route 66 Belt Line (Western Avenue) in the northwest corner of OKC, it’s crammed with antiques, Americana, books, records, souvenirs and, oh yes, postcards. Once a month John hosts a market day with music on the Woody Guthrie Memorial Stage, and up to 20 dealers set up in covered pavilions. It’s a must stop-must see for lovers of good old stuff! (Call 405 842-8306 for more information.)

1 Lew Jan08.jpgLooking through one small box of John’s cards I came upon a section of Fred Harvey Phostints. Detroit’s color and detailed clarity always astound me. Look at this portrait of Buffalo Calf, a Jicarilla Apache from Arizona (left), and the intricate weaving on the wares at this early card of an Indian basket market. A somewhat later card – used in 1931 – of tourists at the Grand Canyon is one of my favorite views of that gaping chasm shown with subtle coloring and implied grandeur (below).

We did lots of junking in OKC but little postcarding and spent most of one afternoon watching and cheering the Oklahoma centennial parade which featured bevies of state grown Miss Americas and astronauts amid high school, college and university marching bands.

At nearby Arkadia we discovered the area’s cool new roadside attraction, Soda Pop’s, a modernistic glass walled oasis offering 500 varieties of… soft drinks. And at the OK History Center I picked out two interesting moderns. One is a display of John’s political buttons, on view at the museum (previous page); the other a collage of images of Jay Kola, according to Ebony in 1947, “the nation’s oldest Negro bottling firm” (below).

The radio’s weather forecast warned  of “possible multiple tornadoes,” but the two hour drive to Wichita was eased with a postcard-antiquing stop just south of the Kansas border.

We arrived at the show headquarters motel in time to look through dozens of boxes of cards that evening. Many dealers and collectors arrive in Wichita early in the show week. We checked in on Tuesday and the Wichita Inn East was already fully occupied. But we got the last unfilled room at the motel next door. Signs were taped to the walls and doors: “Postcards in Room –––,” and we went from building to building, floor to floor and room to room over the next three days.

We did take time out to pay a visit to “Mother” Hewitt’s antique shop downtown. Ma Hewitt is no longer with us, but her shop remains filled with well sorted and desirable stuff.

On Friday, dealers began packing up for the move from motel to show venue.  That evening was the preview for club members only.

Dealers at the show came from all corners of the U.S. as well as the postcard rich central states. Most had been set up in the motels, and some dealers had separate room and show stock. Ralph Bowman, for instance, left behind the dozens of dollar boxes that had intrigued his Wichita Inn customers; Ralph’s tables were now loaded with thousands of individually well-priced cards.

Barry Yancy hadn’t done any room dealing, but he deserves the glitz award for his sparkling upright showcase holding rare and unusual postcard treasures.

A smaller room, down a few stairs behind the main hall, held another dozen dealers and the competitive exhibit boards. Exhibiting is – for a dwindling number of collectors – a vital part of the postcard hobby. It takes effort and a good deal of self evaluation to create an effective exhibit board. Rarity, condition and completeness are important, but in choosing cards for a winning board a collector has to use creative ingenuity as well. Were I writing the course reqs, Exhibiting would be a mandatory lab section of Postcarding 101. It is a fast, if occasionally painful, way to learn about one’s own collection.

Sunday morning we returned to the show venue to pay for a few cards left at dealers’ tables and to bid our adieux before heading east by north east. Our  travelog continues in the next issue with Felix Street, St. Joe and the Lyn Knight auction.

My postcard reading of late has included several recent issues of Picture Postcard Monthly, the British magazine filled with postcard imagery, news and comment. (Visit

Through our common language we are closely allied with collectors in the United Kingdom. Hometown views are, like here, the most favored category, but, like everywhere, all interesting postcards are sought after, avidly collected and discussed in PPM’s pages.

Shows and Internet-based auctions are a primary topic. Participation at large shows in major cities – primarily the annual Picture Postcard Show in London – have felt the pinch from dealers and collectors because of the high costs of both setting up and attending. Although distances are shorter in the UK, travel and lodging are costly; consider the £8 per day “congestion charge” to bring a vehicle into central London. Smaller shows throughout the country continue to be well attended, if modified a bit by the eBay effect – a few less collectors replaced by a few more online vendors shopping for stock.

PPM, the magazine, does much to provide postcard information and stimulate enthusiasm. It’s a fine reference for researchers of World Wars I and II and signed artists, but any topic is likely to be found in its pages. (Donald McGill’s saucy comics are a personal favourite!) With the current levels of the £ and the $, those of us considering a junket across the pond would benefit from a bit of pre-takeoff reading.

Back at home I found a bit of Oklahoma waiting at the Penngrove post office: two new Rick Geary designs commissioned by Dick Poore and the Tulsa Postcard Club (918-622-9447). One is a map of the Sooner State, bisected by Route 66, issued in celebration of its 100th year; the other shows the new Bok Center in Tulsa.

Also in the mail was a card from Wayne Nelson which testifies to the popularity of Halloween. It’s a rack-card by CARTCOM for a university in Nancy, France, encouraging foreign study: “Going abroad is not magic.”

I have to laugh at some of the descriptive terms innovative new-to-postcards vendors come up with. White borders are now being described as “pre-linen”!

More mail: An oversize card promoting the 400-card exhibit, A Pictorial History of Minnesota through the Postcard, currently at the MN Historical Society in St. Paul. … The Vancouver club bulletin reprinted a 1901 article from the “Nelson (BC) Daily Miner telling how King Edward VII, while on his continental holiday, sent pictorial postcards to his grandchildren each “giving a view of the place from which it was written.” … From Jean Ann Abuhove came two very postcardy non-postcard items. One is a legal size file folder covered inside and out with images of postcard backs. (, 719-487-0062). The other is a folded note card with a postcard image of lovers and man in the moon on the front and the card’s Winsch-type verso with message shown on the back. Nifty! (, 617 924-3250) …Judaica collectors will want to know about Dr. C. Naaktgeboren’s new publication, Jugendstil en zionisme, Postcards by E. M. Lilien. Written in Dutch with English captions, its 52 pages present many of the variations of Ephraim Lilien’s Art Nouveau style designs used on postcards. (12.95 by PayPal to

Share your postcard passions. Write Postcard Life, PO Box 621, Penngrove CA  94951 or See ya in print!