Postcard Collecting History

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Early 20th Century Golden Age of Postcards

Postcard collecting was a huge craze in the early years of the twentieth century with the peak years being approximately 1907 to 1913. We have the early collectors to thank for the large supply of antique postcards that are still available for collectors today. Postcards were popular among both sexes and all ages. The cards were used to keep in touch with friends and family, for exchanging with strangers in othe geographical areas, and even for courtship.

Official United States Post Office figures for the year ending June 30, 1908 cited 667,777,798 postcards mailed in the United States. By 1913 the total in this country was over 968,000,000, and by this date the craze was reportedly declining (quoted in the book Picture Postcards in the United States by George and Dorothy Miller). In addition, many unused cards went directly into collections.

Mid-20th Century Postcard Collecting

What was left of the old collections was appearing in the stock of antique and some specialized postcard dealers. Some collectors sought out the best quality postcards, but most seem to have been not very discriminating and were willing to pay only a few cents for old cards. Many collectors concentrated on topics that are not very popular today, such as bridges and courthouses. Collecting large letter linen postcards, and later chrome name band postcards, from different locations was also popular.

After World War II, travel was booming. Travelers could pick up free cards from hotels, motels, and restaurants and choose from many scenic view cards of popular vacation spots. An article from the August, 1947 Coronet magazine reported that “Sending picture post cards to the folks back home is a great American pastime.” When choosing cards to send, travelers also bought many for themselves to save as souvenirs of their trips.

There were several publications about postcard collecting and a number of local postcard clubs. Postcard collectors are known as deltiologists, and the “Graduate Deltiologist” postcard (©1959) shows the names of postcard clubs of that time around the border.

Late 20th Century & Early 21st Century

Old postcards increased significantly in value and collectors became more specialized and knowledgeable about quality cards. Some collectors refused to consider any card made after 1920. Real photo postcards became especially valued because of their historical significance. Mid-century roadside and local views increased in price. Mid-century city views actually tend to be scarcer than early views, and fewer cards show individual buildings.

At the same time there were many modern postcards being issued, especially in the 1980s. These included many cards issued in series on a variety of subjects. Well-known comics such as Garfield, Teddy bears, and political topics were especially popular. Books of individual postcards bound together are often found now in bookstores and museum shops.

Free postcards picturing the premises were no longer common in motels and restaurants. In the 1990s another type of free card became available. These were the “rack cards” with advertising aimed at young adults with high disposable income.

Greeting postcards were easy to find in the 1980s, but were uncommon by the early twenty-first century. It is more difficult to find postcards of any kind in the stores now. Even in cities, many of the current postcards show nature scenes and animals rather than local city views.

A new phenomenon in the postcard world is Postcrossing. Postcrossing is an online project that allows its members to send and receive real postcards from all over the world. By joining Postcrossing, members can “send a postcard and receive a postcard back from a random person somewhere in the world!” By the summer of 2010 when Postcrossing celebrated its fifth anniversary, there were about 200,000 users in about 200 countries.


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