If you’ve ever stumbled upon vintage postcards then I’m sure you’ve noticed the unique designs and attention to detail each individual piece portrays. Getting your hands on your own valuable postcards takes time and patience, but can be a great way to expand your personal ephemera collection. To find out more about the history of postcards, how you can begin postcard collecting, and how to value a certain postcard read on!
Quick Recap on How Postcards Began
It’s no surprise that the primary reason postcards started out was to get information out quicker. Just like we use email, text messaging, phone calls, etc., to fulfill our need to converse today, the early pioneers of postcards used them to spread the word at a much quicker rate. Before postcards, businesses primarily used trade cards to give information to current and potential customers. These cards later turned into valuable collectibles, as the use of postcards with actual stamps, took their place and purpose.
In London, a man by the name of Theodore Hook sent the earliest recorded postcard circa 1840. In fact, this exact card sold for more than $45,000 in March of 2002. It’s said to have been postmarked from Theodore Hook to himself! Talk about a lot of money spent on a single 5”x3” card sent and received by the same person!
The Growth of Postcards Over Time
In the U.S., advertisements were among the first printings on postcards, similar to trade cards, and were first sent around 1848. At first, businesses began printing postcards without leaving any space for messages on the back just so their information could be shared. By the 1870s, postcards were made with allocated space for personal messages and became even more useful with the later creation of the stamp. As time went on, postcards evolved and became a favored way to send messages and pictures, ultimately peaking in distribution during the “golden age” of postcards, or the beginning of the 20th century.
But why does the history matter? The individual history behind and value placed on each postcard is the reason why they have become such a highly coveted investment.
How To Begin Postcard Collecting
The following guidelines are great ways to figure out just how to start your own collection of postcards!
Figure out what type of card interests you most.
With so many different cards on the market, make sure you have a general idea of what type of cards you’d like to collect. You might decide you like certain holiday themed cards, vintage cards from before postcards became mainstream, or even ones with amazing photography on the front. Perhaps your interest is in ones that were never sent but have been kept in pristine condition through the years. Or possibly you take an interest in the ones with more historical value which have been stamped, written all over, and tell a story linked to a certain date. Novelty cards like the one pictured to the left are also popularly collected. Attached to the card is a little bag of salt from the lake! It’s up to you to decide which postcards draw you in the most and are worth the money to invest in.
One way to figure out what you like is by buying a couple of postcards. Maybe you give yourself a $10 budget, hop online, and purchase a couple of cards that could possibly interest you. This way you’ll get a better idea of where to begin when narrowing down your unique interests.
Research and decide which era of postcards you’d like to collect.
The design, layout, and paper type may vary due to the era in which the postcard was printed. For example, the very first postcards were primarily ads and did not leave space for messages. In later eras, the postcards left more space for messages, and finally developed into postcards with divided sections for messages and mailing addresses. Each era indicates a different value and layout on the postcard.
Find out which type of venue you’d like to buy from.
There are various ways to go about purchasing postcards, so you have to decide which way feels most comfortable for you. Here are a number of options of where you might find some postcards to collect:
- Online Auctions: There are an endless amount of online auctions selling vintage postcards. Sites like Delcampe, Invaluable, LiveAuctioneers, and Warwick and Warwick are just a few of the many online auctions that have regular bidding.
- Postcard Shows: If you’d rather see the postcards in person, various postcard shows are held across the country. We even attended our first postcard and paper collectible show just recently. To read about our experience, what we purchased, and what the shows are like, click HERE.***
- Etsy and Ebay: These are prime sites to search for vintage postcards and other collectibles. Sellers of postcards may decide to either auction off their cards or set fixed prices. You also have the option to buy in bulk from some of the sellers.
- Antique Shops: Some antique shops also include vintage paper and postcards! Checking your own local antique or thrift shop might be a great way to start your collection.
- Postcard Collecting Clubs: This is a great way to get face to face with other collectors and find out how they go about their collecting. You may even be able to do some postcard exchanging at a club near you. Click the link to find out if there is a local club you can attend.
- Postcrossing: If you decide that you’re interested in sending and receiving current postcards and adding those to your collection, this is a fantastic site that will connect you with people around the world that share the same interest. You can sign up to send a postcard to someone halfway around the world!
- To find other current postcards don’t be afraid to check zoos, museums, national parks, and other places.
When purchasing cards, pay careful attention to the condition of the cards.
The physical condition of the postcard can greatly impact the value of the card. It can sometimes be hard to know how great of condition the cards are in when buying online, so look for specific words like “mint” or “poor” to help you differentiate.
My husband finds postcards that have gone through the postal system (have writing, stamps, etc.) to be very appealing. He loves the fact that they tell a story. Whereas other collectors want clean cards with no markings whatsoever.
Depending on what interests you most, a premium will most certainly be paid for ones that have been kept in mint condition. More about valuing postcards can be found later in this article.
Purchase postcard sleeves and find a safe place to store your cards.
Once you’ve found some cards you’d like to add to your own collection, it’s important to purchase plastic postcard sleeves, like these from Amazon, to keep your cards well maintained. Important factors to keep your cards preserved include keeping your postcards away from moisture, high temperatures, and sunlight. Store them flat, and out of the reach of animals or small children that could possibly bend or ruin them. To read a more detailed description of how to properly store and preserve postcards, or any ephemera for that matter, read this How can I store ephemera article!
Another great way to store your collection so it is more accessible to be viewed is in a postcard or photo album like this one. It’s a fun way to share your postcard collecting journey with others.
How To Value a Postcard in 5 Easy Steps
Figuring out just how much a certain postcard is worth can be a time-consuming process. However, with these 5 easy steps, you’ll be well on your way to figuring out an estimate of your card’s worth.
1. Start by figuring out the postcard’s approximate age.
Looking at the stamp postmarked on the card can help identify the age. You may need to carefully decipher the card to read the stamp, but normally the date can be found there. This is difficult if the card contains no stamp, but the date may be legible elsewhere. For example, the date may also be found if the postcard has been written on, and the author decided to date it. It’s important to know that much of the cards printed after 1960 have very little to no monetary value.
Postcards printed in the US before 1898 are of higher value. Understanding the exact age of a postcard can be challenging, though, especially without a stamped date. Luckily these Guidebooks to purchasing postcards are super helpful with figuring this out.
2. Figure out which type of cards you have; topographical or subject cards.
Topographical cards are usually those containing street scenes, buildings, or depictions of real life happenings. They show more about what specific living conditions and social outings were like during the time of their printing. The comparisons made between then and now often draw collectors to these type of cards, not to mention their high monetary value. The more minute details portrayed in the card, the higher it’s overall value.
If a postcard focus on a specific topic, it’s a subject card. For example, there are cards all about holidays, states, or animals. The list goes on and on. Postcards of this type which have been painted by renowned artists, including Raphael Kirchner, are worth large sums of money today. Halloween cards are one of the most popular as far as subjects. They can reach sums of $150 or more for a single card.
By researching examples of the two types of postcards, you’ll get a better hang of knowing which type you have.
3. Assess the condition of the card.
Through the following steps you can accurately assess the condition of a postcard:
- Check to see if your cards are battered or stained as these are often worth less value than the well-preserved ones. Check for torn corners, mold, and other factors that often lessen the value. The pictured postcard contains discoloring as well as writing all over it. However, deciding to purchase this card was based purely on the content of the card.
- Postcards have labeled conditions ranging from “mint” to “fair” and everything in between. Understand what each label means about the card and you’ll get a better idea of what your card is worth. Check Collect-Postcards for more information on the condition of a card and the terminology used to describe it. Then decide the condition of your own card.
4. Check the rarity of the card.
Postcards are far more likely to be greater in value if they are one of few that were printed at their time and have survived the test of time. Just make sure that the subject of the card is interesting because as rare as the card may be, the interest in it is also important. To find out more about what makes a postcard rare, click this “What is a rare card” link.
5. Check the demand of the card.
This is probably the simplest way to get a rough estimate of your card’s value. By looking up your card on a site like Ebay or any of the other auction sites mentioned above, you’ll get an estimate of what the card is selling for, and if it is getting much attention. The demand on a card will up its value significantly.
Having a professional appraise your postcard is a great idea to figure out the price! They can help you figure out the exact monetary value of your postcards. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Click here to get started on finding a local appraiser.
The life of each postcard is unique to its individual time of printing, the history behind the card, and how the card has been preserved over time. Following the guidelines listed above will enable you to collect what interests you most. And if you ever happen to stumble upon a vintage postcard make sure you figure out its monetary value to see if it’s worth collecting yourself or selling for some extra cash!