Ask About Antiques: Collecting Post Cards of Your
by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.
It wasn’t too long after post cards became popular, around 1900, that municipalities and points of interest realized that they were a cheap and effective way of advertising their city or their various attractions. Color cards were then generally printed in Europe, usually in Germany, and were exceptionally well done. Black and white cards were also popular, but cheaper.
When World War I began, the German connection ended and domestic printing began in earnest. The output wasn’t ever as pretty as the German lithographic product, but these domestic firms, like Curt Teich in Chicago, Kropp in Milwaukee, and Asheville Post Card Company in Asheville NC, took and kept the business.
If the reader would like a firm timeline, check some of the many books on post card history for detailed dating.
Most collectors look for two types of cards: the so-called penny linens and real photos. Penny linens are the cards printed in the late teens to late 40s. These cards have a faux linen surface texture and, while in color, are not color photographs. When photographic, they are black and white photos that have been hand colored at the factory before printing. They generally have a white border around the photo on the front and a caption indicating the subject of the photo and may have a more detailed description on the back. The backs are divided for message and address. The cards used to sell to collectors for a penny or so - now expect to pay a couple of dollars for the more common cards.
Real photo cards were produced in a black and white photo process in which the photo is printed on the post card stock itself. Since this is a more time consuming process, real photo cards tend to be rare and more expensive than the penny linens. Expect to pay in the tens of dollars for better real photo cards. (Not all black and white cards are real photographs, some early issues are just black and white printed cards. Postcard reference books can guide you in determining these.)
Locally people collect penny linens and real photo cards of Hagerstown, Chambersburg, Waynesboro, PenMar, Cumberland Valley Railroad, and almost any city in the Cumberland Valley or any attraction that was popular in the last century. Views of these early subjects are mush sought after by collectors eager for a glimpse of what it might have been like in the local area in the past. As in real estate, the value of view cards depends upon location. Collectable cards that show views of places of local interest are at a premium at flea markets and auctions locally today. These cards are fascinating because they can show views of this area that you just can’t see anywhere else. It’s a small view of a world long gone. And, with real photo cards, since they’re actual photographs, you can use a loupe to see deep into the card for details that get lost in the printing process of the penny linens.
Cards with postmarks will help you date the cards and the various series of cards you’ll encounter; although, unused cards tend to be more valuable. Keep note, also, of the numbers on the cards themselves - these numbers, issue numbers from the companies, will also help you date cards that may not have 1 word, by comparing them to cards with 1 word. Real photo cards can also be loosely dated by the coding on the back. “Barr’s Post Card News” publishes a list of these codes every issue or so.
Where do you look for cards? First, realize that there are several avid collectors in your area who gather up everything in sight and hold on for dear life. That’s why collectors check the various card publications and query dealers in various regions that will send out approvals (that is, they will send you cards to look at and to purchase what you wish, returning the rest to the dealer). I expected most of these cards to be postmarked, but, surprisingly, you can find very many in excellent, unused condition. Second, haunt local shows. Sometimes you can drift into a sports card show and find a post card dealer. You can end up with some very nice cards at quite reasonable prices. And, third, keep an eye on Barr’s and the monthly Post Card Collector. Each features dealers’ addresses and lists post card auctions, which can yield valuable cards at reasonable prices.
Auction Action: [Recently sold at Matt Hurley’s Legacy Auction Center, 2800 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle, Pa. 17225]
* Oak China Closet, $500
* Pair of Austrian Porcelain Figurines, $300
* Lionel Train Car, $240
* Pair of Wicker Chairs, $125
* Lionel Passenger Car, $120.
Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 100 years. He is an educator, counselor, and avid antique enthusiast as well as a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers. He has been a collector of antique American Art Pottery and has been a dealer for over 20 years. He is familiar with nearly all lines of American Art Pottery, twentieth century glassware, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau categories. If you have a question about antiques or collectibles, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop him a letter at P.O. Box 328, State Line, PA 17263-0328. An answer to your question may appear in a subsequent column.