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Collectors of Vintage Postcards
INTRODUCTION to a new website feature
It amazes me that, given how massively abundant postcards were in the early 20th century, there are people today who have never laid eyes on a vintage card. What is equally incredible is that anyone who does discover these time-forsaken gems can resist becoming a collector. Of course not everyone has an innate proclivity for acquiring things they love, or a budget to match their taste. But even those who do may hesitate to identify themselves as collectors, feeling the term has an air of seriousness, erudition, or even snobbishness they wish to avoid. “I just do it for fun,” is a common refrain. Or “I don't organize them or anything. I just like them.” Or, as someone told me at the last big postcard show in NYC: “I mostly buy them to use, you know, mail to friends. So am I a collector or not?” That one’s a hard call.
I myself discovered vintage postcards while in college in Rhode Island in the 1970’s, while rummaging through a used bookstore. The cards were in a shoe box in a dark corner. And, though I had no knowledge of or interest in postcards per se, I was very interested in children’s book illustration, my career aspiration at the time. Postcards of such illustrations delighted me. At 25-cents each, they were my first postcard acquisitions. Soon I was adding cards of Maine lobsters and Newport mansions, fond associations with my college years in the years to come.
Even after joining the Metropolitan Postcard Collectors Club in NYC, where I relocated after college, I would not call myself a collector. I just did it for fun, after all. Didn't organize them or anything. But definitely and consistently was amassing cards. So why the hesitation to identify as a collector?
Perhaps I was concerned that if dealers considered me a collector they’d entice me with pricier cards which I'd be unable to resist. There is, after all, a compulsive aspect to the hobby. (More on this in a future article.) Also, I feared, if I answered yes to the dealers' persistent question “Are you a collector?” they would assume an expertise on my part that I couldn’t live up to.
Now I freely and proudly admit to being a collector, and not simply a hoarder of postcards. The difference has nothing to do with how many years one’s been involved, nor how many cards one owns, nor whether they're stored in shoe boxes or notebooks or fine oak cabinets. The difference is: A collector is discriminating. He/she brings discerning and opinionated criteria to each acquisition. And, perhaps most importantly, a collector has the overall goal of building an archive or multiple archives, based on his/her distinctive criteria.
There are probably as many ways and reasons to collect postcards as there are collectors of them, and none is more correct than another. Some choose a topic rife with personal nostalgia or meaning, such as a hometown, a breed of dog, or advertising from childhood years. Others with more extensive knowledge of postcard history may collect one publisher or artist or photographer, or even deltiology - postcards about postcards and postal history. Some select solely for visual aesthetics or printing techniques. Some are attracted to scarcity, relying on one or more dealers to funnel rarities their way. Others are drawn to the most common and can be found clustered around 25-cent boxes at postcard shows. Even here treasures can be found, for value is often in the eye - and collection - of the beholder.
What is common to all collectors, of postcards or otherwise, is the thrill of the search, the find, the acquisition; and ultimately, the building and shaping of a unique collection.
This section of the Metropolitan Postcard Club website will present various postcard collectors via interviews and samples from their collections along with occasional autobiographical statements. There will also be short essays on various aspects of postcard collecting, from the psychological to the practical, and on novel ways of looking at and understanding postcards, hopefully bringing insights to even the most seasoned collector.
This section is intended for everyone interested in postcards, whether you're just starting out or looking for ways to enhance an existing collection. We hope it will be inspiring to all.
How the PC Virus Attacked Me
It was more than three decades ago that I saw the fiftieth anniversary of my birth. In The Netherlands we use to say, I saw Abraham. On that same day it happened; it seemed nothing special but it turned out to be a mustard seed that eventually grew into a big plant; a substantial collection of postcards.
How did this happen? One of my sisters in-law gave me a small photo album filled with a score of postcards that my family had sent to hers. Most of them were of the city of Nijmegen where I lived, 15 miles south of the famous A Bridge Too Far city of Arnhem. There was an accompanying message, “you have a strong interest in history. These cards can be the beginning of a nice new hobby.” Well, up to then I had been a stamp collector, but stamps are so small . . .
Later I found another collecting interest; bilingual dictionaries, more than a century old with Dutch as one of the languages. My interest in them had arisen visiting antiquarian bookstores in search for second hand specialist wordbooks, useful for my translation company in development. Their beautiful bindings just struck me. Well, after several years passed by I saw my antique dictionary collection growing beyond my available shelf space. Dictionaries are so big . . .
Years after my 50th birthday I visited a small downtown postcard street market in The Hague where I bought a card depicting a street in a small suburb of the city where I had lived when I was a schoolboy; nostalgia. In the years that followed I bought a couple more cards of the city I had lived in, and then more, and still more. Then the organizing started. I now have them placed in binders, eight cards per sheet. They are all arranged by individual downtown streets, squares, parks, main roads, statues, local landmarks, you name them.
On my second trip to the United States, in the Nineties, I met with a distant cousin who is as fond of rummaging through flea markets as I am. Under a canvas tarp we found a postcard dealer from whom she picked out a nicely drawn card depicting a Dutch boy and girl along with text in clumsy English. It was meant to imitate the type of English spoken by early immigrants from Holland, but after studying it linguistically I noticed that it was not truly accurate. But IÕm getting ahead of myself. She told me she already had a couple of these cards at home. I was very taken by the category and started buying them myself. I now have more than 2,900 postcards on this topic alone.
Imagine the problem I was confronted with in organizing them. There was no possibility of arranging them by topographical characteristics. Most of them appeared to be published by SB, a company later defined as Samson Brothers. Their quantities abound, not nearly matched by other publishers like Bergman, Gibson, Auburn and the like. Each card has a distinctive characteristic, a series number. So on that basis I have filed my SB cards, which now fill six 23-ring albums. Some cards by Bergman have numbers as well, so I have been able to place them in two similar binders. I then was left with a stack of cards of other known publishers., which became another basis in which to file them. Then I had stack of cards only showing initials and letter trademarks, and I dedicated another set of albums just to them. Eventually I had to find a solution for cards with few obvious details. This stack was too high to simply say, remainder, cannot be filed. In scrutinizing them further I found the distinguishing detail I needed in the absence or presence of variously shaped dividers down their backs. Undivided postcards could be put together easily and any printed text on them provided a chance to sort them further. I then discovered that the dividing elements could either take on the shape of a simple I, a double I (II), a single T or a double T (TT), and even ornamental dividers exist.
I have written this story in hope of finding others that I can connect to that also hold an interest in the Dutch Kids topic. So far, all my attempts have been fruitless, although I know that there are scores of people bidding on eBay for these kind of cards. I hope that contacts with fellow collectors may lead to an interesting exchange of information, swaps and more. You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.