By Karen Knapstein
Regardless of its obscure history, Valentine’s Day has evolved into an opportunity to celebrate love and friendship. According to the Greeting Card Association, Valentine’s Day is the second most
popular card-sending holiday. (Of course, Christmas is the most popular.) Limitless numbers and varieties of sweet antique and vintage postcards are available for celebrating the romance of Valentine’s Day. The greetings, which are keepsakes in themselves, are more often kept and preserved than not, making them plentiful and affordable for collectors.
Mary L. Martin, of Mary L. Martin Ltd., Havre de Grace, Maryland, says postcard collectors don’t always start out as collectors. She says someone might buy a card or two with a holiday theme (like Christmas or Valentine’s Day), or maybe views of their towns. But then they fall in love with collecting.
When asked if she sees seasonal buying trends, such as an uptick in sales around holidays like Valentine’s Day, Martin says absolutely; a lot of people will come in to the shop around Valentine’s Day and buy cards. In fact, she’s known many valentine collectors for years, and most of them are men.
Antique valentines are beautiful and affordable. “They’re cheaper than Hallmark cards. You can buy early valentines that are 110 years old for under $5. The signed artist ones are more, about $50 to $100,” Martin says, “but a majority of early beautiful embossed postcards are under $10.”
When asked about which themes or styles of Valentine’s Day postcards are more collectible, she says the Samuel Schmucker valentines published by the John Winsch Company, published in four or six-card series, are more expensive, but they’re readily available. The Schmucker artistic postcards with beautiful ladies are more eagerly sought after, realizing higher prices, than the cute little valentines with children, but the postcards with children are still collectible.
The best examples of children on collectible postcards may be on cards designed by artist Ellen Clapsaddle. Clapsaddle was one of the most prolific illustrators of postcards and greeting cards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; it is estimated that she completed nearly 2,000 postcard illustrations during her career as an artist, which were published by International Art Publishing Company and the Wolf Company. Since so many cards were produced with Clapsaddle’s designs, her valentine postcards are excellent examples of signed postcards that are affordable. There are a plethora of Clapsaddle’s valentine postcards – both signed and unsigned – in excellent or better condition available from sellers for less than $20.
One of the highest regarded names in the antique postcard trade is Mary L. Martin Ltd. Possibly the largest postcard shop in the world, the firm is celebrating its 50th year in business in 2016. A lot has changed over the last decade in the postcard collecting community. Where in years past a lot of buying and selling was done through magazines like Postcard Collector, and seen at shows where collectors could browse and shop from the stock of several dealers, now the Internet allows collectors to make selections from thousands of dealers’ inventory. Although business has changed drastically, Martin says, “It’s so much fun to collect now because there’s so much available.”
EBay is still the most accessible and largest buying and selling platform on the Internet, and its
valentine postcard offerings are ripe for the picking. For example, a recent eBay search for “vintage Valentine’s Day postcard” yielded 3,226 listings, with prices starting at as little as $1.99. Switching out the word “vintage” with “antique” netted another 1,548 listings.
If you’ve abandoned eBay, then Etsy offers a vast array you may want to look into. Searching Etsy for “Valentine’s Day postcard” kicked back another 2,343 examples. However, those results are not all vintage or antique, and some are even digital downloads so buyers can print their own Victorian cards at home. (One digital example, listed in the DigitalEffects Etsy shop, offers 20 different scanned images of Ellen Clapsaddle valentine postcards, zipped into a single downloadable file, for just $2.50.)
At 438 listings, TIAS.com (The Internet Antique Shop) offered a much smaller selection in the “valentine postcard” search. At this writing (two weeks before Valentine’s Day), prices start at $1.95 and top out at $22.49, with the majority of the cards listed for $10 or less. The priciest card was posted in Illinois in March 1912, and is listed by the shop “A Date In Time,” which specializes in vintage magazines and collectibles. The card features a picture of a child in a red, white and blue costume with the caption “With Love Greeting.”
No matter where you buy your antique or vintage postcards – whether from a shop, a dealer at a show or online, through an advertisement or from an individual online seller who is selling an “inherited” collection – it’s important that you have a guarantee that what you are buying is accurately represented and authentic. Postcards are ephemeral, but the joy and satisfaction you get from your collectible purchase shouldn’t be. Collectors should share their love with vintage and antique valentine postcards, but protect your heart while doing so.
About our columnist: Karen Knapstein is Print Editor for Antique Trader. A lifelong collector and student of antiques, she lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Joe, and daughter, Faye. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.