Living the Postcard Life: Having a great time …!

WRITE AWAY! The past weeks have been busy and distracting for me, so this column’s approaching deadline took me by surprise. No real crises, but plenty to do and plan for with the many economic changes we all have to accept. With gas near $5 a gallon, I’ve been spending as much time making lists to consolidate chores and errands, as to tend to them. Janet and I did go to the city twice last week – once for an unavoidable appointment, and once for just plain fun with a carload of friends, so we did not feel prodigal. The group trip took us to the Haight Ashbury, sharing our memories of summers of love with those not old enough to have been there. All of our friends know of our postcard proclivities and were not surprised when we gleaned what we could find of local advertising cards. [Ill. 1] Alone, Janet and I stopped at our favorite not-Starbucks, which no longer offers rack cards but is across the street from a Chinese run coffee house (!) with a M@X rack. The cards on it were not only dreadful, they were the same designs I had harvested three months earlier, and they were outdated then. Outdated and disappointing, but I needed some fresh cards to send in exchange for a special rack card that had just come in answer to a request. In Keith Edmonson’s free card column in Picture Post Card Monthly he had shown a Superman card from Paris, and I had written asking for a duplicate, if he had one. He didn’t, but he sent the card, which I am happy to have in my Super Heroes mini-category. [Ill. 2] It’s a bizarre card, having been issued by the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris! Why, I wondered, and then turned it over and read that it promoted an exhibit on Jewish comic strip authors and artists. Even more bizarre is that the day Keith’s arrived, so did another Super Hero at the domestic rate. The USPS Captain America card [Ill. 3] from a reader brought news of an online group of bock beer enthusiasts. A good mail day! I did send Keith the best of my racking results and received a friendly (if low key) thank you.

RP PRO Bob Bogdan has a couple of projects in the works – one on the relationship between people and animals – and asked me to send scans of a few goat cards for consideration. Well, I confess, my cards are not in perfect order, but going through the boxes of photo cards, the two full albums and many mixed categories that hold real photos, made me realize anew that those monotone images can be… entrancing… exciting… astounding! As I looked I relived many of the moments of acquisition, an extremely pleasant diversion. In fact, I’ve been spending a good deal of time looking at RPs for our club project of cataloging Northern California real photo makers. In the process, several of us have been working to recognize the nuances that help identify otherwise unidentified photographers. Some hid their logos and signatures—hardly noticeable on a phone pole, perhaps. Others liked to have their own cars within the images. (License plates can help date images.) Still other photographers had recognizable lettering styles. (It’s the barely recognizable ones that take study to identify with confidence.) A few surprises have turned up. A group of exceptional small town cards for which we had ascribed to an unsigned woman, were apparently made by a roving photographer from another area. The lettering, subtly unique, provided the clues, and research confirms the deduction. This fellow’s images were well framed and crisply clear, and they were carefully processed. A century later there is little discoloration or silvering. Once a photographer’s name has been added to the list, research begins online and at public libraries scouring old city directories and phone books, searching on Google and and looking through private collections.

Readers Write: There’s a passel of mail from Jean Ann Abuhove with many clippings from the New York Times. Here are just three: A story about the drooping economy and skyrocketing prices told of buying a postcard in Scandinavia. The cheapest was 99¢ and the postage home was $2.17. (Not too bad where a Big Mac combo rings up at $15.80!) Another story quoted Andrew Martin on his “The Guardian” blog: “Figures…show a revival in the fortune of postcards. 135 million cards were delivered to British homes in 2006…an increase of 30 million over 2003.” It went on to say that proper postcards offer the tangibility yearned for by senders and receivers of electronic missives. The punch line was, “Postcards are something between a message and a present.” Hear, hear! The third clipping was a letter to the editor from Alfred Gescheidt, the photographer who created the postcard showing Nancy Reagan wearing a crown. “The publisher received an official White House letter from Ronald Reagan’s lawyer, warning him that many considered it the ultimate in bad taste. Yet Mrs. Reagan herself said on TV that she would never wear a crown because it would only mess up her hair.” Gescheidt’s income tax was audited for three consecutive years. … After a few weeks in Berlin, a postcard friend on extended holiday revealed that his postcarding has been restricted to rack cards as convenient reminders of museum schedules. “Postcards are not a popular collectible here,” he has decided. His reasoning is based on the piles of shoeboxes left behind by shoppers each day. When purchased, shoes are put in a bag. Ergo: no shoeboxes at home for kids to store collectibles, postcards in particular. In their zeal for recycling, Berliners are losing storage containers and so have nowhere to keep the cards that must, now, also be dumped in the paper bin. Ach du lieber! … And from Betty Montoye, surprised at finding herself mentioned here, came a card of the Russian Tea Room. Closed in 1996 and reopened several times, but never the same, the RTR is a substantial part of Janet’s Tea Room category. The restaurant put out many cards that were offered for the taking at the checkroom entry. One of my faves shows that very door. [Ill. 4]

BYE-BYE EBAY? A dealer who claims to be the largest postcard vendor on the mega auction site has announced that he will move all of his “better items” from there to by the end of the year. Postcards are less than nickels and dimes in the cyber coffer, but perhaps the small change will signal our great dissatisfaction to the eBay webmasters who have sapped much of the fun from the site. Joys and disappointments are part of auctions and add to the overall excitement. I know I get downright irked when I see a card I searched for decades ago and bought at a high price now closing on the ’Bay for less than $10. I also know I get downright delighted to win other rarities at similar prices. As a collector I’ll continue to search and buy wherever I can, and I will also continue to praise and kvetch….

OTHER MAGS: The National Geographic devoted full pages to postcards in two issues. A June article with front and back views of a real photo explained the popularity of “instant messaging” a century ago and the appearance of the dividing line. In August a photographer, not having a real mermaid, held up a Lorelei postcard to complete his photo of the Rhine. … British “PPM” came through again in August with an article by Liz McKernan on Yvon, the between-the-wars French publisher of local views and customs. Pierre-Yves Petit was an artist captivated by the beauty of light, and some of his images are still on the racks almost 50 years after his death. Yvon? That was his childhood nickname. … The “American Philatelist” is featuring more and more postcards. Their latest multi-page display focused on tax overprints on stamps, a fascinating postal history sideline.

THE CIVIL WAR IN SPAIN droned on through an endless half semester of my college years. When I discovered it on postcards, however, my interest was aroused, and I built a satisfying small collection in the early ’90s. I rediscovered the cache recently, and the passion was reignited to see art used for political ends. The horizontal card, signed LCT, shows Russia, France, Britain and the US as a “union of democratic nations” joined to “end war forever.” [Ill. 5] The dramatic vertical card is a plea for support of the Red Cross. [Ill. 6]

VIA EMAIL came word of John Margolies’ presentation for The Architectural League in New York City. John, a chronicler of the American built environment whose photos appear in books and on postcards, shared the evening with other leading architectural photographers. … Hy Mariampolski wrote to the postcard list telling of buying a card online that appeared to be counterfeit – a photocopy. What should he do, he asked. “An honest oversight,” was the gist of some responses; “Turn the #*%&* in,” read others. Hy returned the card and received a refund along with a meek apology for not spotting the fake. He ended the discussion by saying that “as our hobby starts to attract REAL money, the more that counterfeiting becomes a concern. We don’t have authentication procedures comparable to other hobbies. We’ve all done business on the basis of handshakes and courtesy. I hope that we can continue to operate on the basis of trust and confidence. Nevertheless, I’m going to be suspicious from now on.” … Other postcard list contributors seem to jumble advanced collectors, who have definite focus to their collections, together with old style mail traders who swap card for card with little regard for era or topic. There is a difference, and there is room for all of us as shown by an email from Mary Ellen Ponte. Mary Ellen “just likes postcards,” which she collects and sends. Her brother poo-poohed postcards as a passing thing that no one wants any more. To prove him wrong, she sent him a card a day for a month, each one with only one word on it – 30 days for the complete message. Not satisfied, Mary Ellen sent USPS state postal cards, addressed to the disbeliever, to far off friends to mail to him. Her final fillip was a fried egg look-alike card with message about “egg on your face?” Fun with postcards? You bet!

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