We are always buying postcards and photos from before 1950 - email us at circa1910@tampabay.rr.com.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Deltiology: Collecting Postcards About Postcards

One especially diverse and challenging-to-find collecting specialty is deltiology postcards, or postcards about postcards.

Postcard collecting was an international obsession in the early years of the 20th century.  Below is an early printed French postcard of a woman with a fantastic cascade of postcard greetings.  Articles were published in magazines, decrying the demise of the handwritten letter and tracing the spread of the blight. Here’s a selection of quotes from the excellent book, Picture Postcards in the United States 1893-1918 by George & Dorothy Miller*:

Postcard collecting had become widespread in Europe by the turn of the century. Hearst writer Julian Ralph…went abroad in 1901 and, upon his return, filed a lengthy piece on the phenomenon with Cosmopolitan. Titled, “The Postal-Card Craze,” the article appeared in the February 1902 issue and without a doubt served to catch the American public eye…by 1905 card collecting had reached comparable proportions in the United States...One certain indicator that a social phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions is the existence of topical humor in the popular press. American Magazine in March 1906 featured an amusing commentary on the collecting rage titled “Postal Carditis and Some Allied Manias”…

It’s only natural that the craze produced a variety of postcards about buying, sending, displaying and collecting postcards. We’ve gathered some different deltiology postcards here to show you how wide the collection can be – postcard displays, people holding their postcard albums, postcards of postcard shops, and contemporary postcards advertising postcard clubs and shows.  Here is a real photo postcard (rppc) of a little girl holding a big French postcard.  Below is the interior of a turn-of-the-century postcard store.

Even the ceiling is covered with postcards in this advertisement for the Remembrance Shop in Detroit, Michigan. This image always makes us wish that time travel was possible - oh, the postcards we would purchase if we could go back to a postcard shop like this one! 

Real photo postcards showed people looking through their postcard albums in their parlors...here is an RPPC of friends at the park gathered on a blanket to share their photo and postcard albums.  During the height of the postcard collecting activity, friends sent each other "postals" with messages written on the backs saying, "here's one for your collection."  The unmailed near-mint condition postcards so highly prized today were probably purchased specifically for collecting, or sent to collecting friends and family inside envelopes to protect them from wear and cancellation marks.   

Pretty greetings like the embossed card shown here showcased postcard writing and poetic or peevish postcards asked, "Why don't you write?"  Advertising postcards were sent out encouraging merchants to stock up on views of local scenes or holiday greetings.  Other advertising includes an educational glimpse into the postcards that were available 100 years ago.  See the front and back of the advertising postcard from the British publishers, Rafael Tuck:

Rafael Tuck Publishers did actually produce postcards that had gramophone records attached to them, and if you decide to collect only Tuck postcards you will end up with an enormous collection.  Finally, our favorite deltiology postcard, a real photo postcard showing two young ladies who have created outfits from leather postcards...now, they were passionate about postcards! 

 Price estimates:  Prices for deltiology-theme postcards are generally high.  This is a desirable and hard-to-find topic, so competition at auction is lively.  Expect to pay from $30 - $50 for real photo postcards with postcard albums in them. An especially fine card with a clear, sharp image may go higher.  Real photo postcards of postcard shops and/or photographers who produced postcards are very desirable and will go for over $100 each.  Printed postcards of postcard shop exteriors and interiors range from about $20 - $50 depending on the image of the postcards - more is better, of course, and signs that proclaim POSTCARDS on the store increase the value. The postcard of The Remembrance Shop is a popular card for deltiology collectors and can cost over $65 when found in top quality condition.  Greetings showing postcards like the little girl with the quill pen above are less expensive, and can be found for $5 up.  Please note - estimates are for cards in EXCELLENT condition and are only estimates of current prices.  

*Although this book was copyrighted in 1976, it’s still one of the most comprehensive and useful books for the collector, tracing the history of postcards and illustrating a wide variety of popular collecting areas – advertising, expositions, signed artists, patriotics, greeting, etc. A valuable volume to have on your bookshelf!

Antique Shell Postcards

The Victorians loved shells – fanciful shell art was created, shells were made of silver, bronze, and porcelain and real shells were incorporated into salt cellars, spoons and other elegant versions of household items. Sea shells were collected and catalogued, books and prints illustrated shells for the collector, images of shells graced beautiful trade cards, calling cards and postcards. A comprehensive article from the New York Times reviews the uses of shells throughout history and gives us a view of the current shell collectors’ pursuits. To learn more, go to http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/24/arts/antiques-seashells-for-love-and-money.html?pagewanted=all.  

Thirteen states have chosen a state shell. North Carolina has the Scotch Bonnet . You can check and see if your state is among the shell-honoring at http://www.jaxshells.org/listing.htm.

In this post, we show a variety of popular shell postcards and "shell border" designs from before 1915. If you love the beach the way we do, you may already have glass containers of shells you’ve collected or other shell art. Shell postcards frame up nicely, and would make a colorful addition to your shell collecting finds – just don’t expose postcards to bright light or display them (even framed) anywhere that moisture gathers.

Shell postcards were often printed with a space in the center to showcase local attractions, so you may find the same design with a scene of Atlantic City, New Jersey on one card and a scene from Long Beach, California on another. Frequently, the shell card had a special place to add the name of the seaside town. Sometimes these names were printed on, and sometimes the names were hand-written in ink or glitter. Some postcards could be purchased without a place name and the sender could write their own name instead. We include two novelty shell postcards here that have die-cut flaps that open so a message can be added inside.  Shell postcards were popular even far away from the seaside, as our Iowa card illustrates.

Other shell postcards incorporate shell images into fantasies, holidays or greetings, creating attractive postcards that are not from beach resorts to round out your shell collection. 

We show a pretty little blonde girl by well-known postcard artist Ellen Clapsaddle inside a shell with cat-tails, water lilies, more colorful shells and sailboats decorating a birthday greeting, and a shell carriage with little girls being pulled along by a giant fish, with the location Bangor stamped on. 

Here is another novelty shell postcard  enlivened with a pair of Victorian bathing beauties.  The shell they are holding lifts up and a long strip of paper is revealed with scenes of the town...the strip is folded accordion-style to fit inside the shell when closed.  You might find this kind of novelty postcard listed as a "mechanical" postcard because it has a moving part.  Mechanical postcards are their own collecting specialty with lots of intriguing varieties.  We will focus on mechanical postcards in a future post.   

Price estimates: Shell cards are colorful, fanciful and fun, usually embossed, sometimes with bright gold added.  You can collect them from about $8 - $15 each. These prices are    for postcards in EXCELLENT condition, and they are only estimates of current prices.

If you are interested in framing antique or vintage postcards, by the way, we offer our exclusive custom-cut mats in our eBay store. They are the perfect size to display any antique or vintage 3.5X5.5 postcard, fit into any 5X7 inch frame, and can be purchased in white or cream. These mats and their crystal-clear presentation envelopes are just the thing to turn a postcard into a gift. Click on our postcardiva.com link below to be taken to the store.

You AUTO Be With Me

Anyone who collects Victorian postcards knows that the collectors of that era were not all prudes and that sexually suggestive puns abound in antique postcard designs. There’s a great variety of automobile postcards with this underlying theme; we introduce a few in this post.

The automobile drove in a new age of sex and romance – on the roads and in early postcard images through the end of the 1920s. While courting couples’ “spooning” had previously taken place in the parlor or on the front porch, under the watchful eyes of the older generation, the growing popularity of automobiles meant that young folks could take a drive far from their traditional chaperones. Once out on the road, romance blossomed without old-fashioned constraints, and sexual exploration could take place in privacy.

Since automobiles were machines and therefore belonged to the world of men, just the idea of a woman driver was considered provocative. Women did learn to drive, however, and they were clearly also aware of the freedom and romantic potential in the automobile. See our lady seated in her beau’s lap, Learning How to Run A Car. In the early days of open automobiles, ladies wore protective motoring outfits, complete with leather gloves and hats wrapped with long scarves. At the top of the page, we see a beauty in a long dress, wearing a red hat to match her bright red automobile, with the come-hither phrase, You Auto Be With Me. This caption graced greetings and Valentines, combining pretty women with snazzy cars.

“Sparking” took the place of “spooning” as a term for cuddling and kissing, and allusions to the “sparker” or spark plug were common.  In the image of the woman leaning forward to kiss the driver from the back seat, the caption is While The Sparker Ceases to Spark. At least the mechanical one has!
We find a daring pun on the Wells postcard, copyright 1907, of a demure Gibson-girl beauty in full motoring outfit, with the caption You May Go As Far As You Like in My Auto. Of course, we still see car commercials today that try to add sex appeal to advertising. But when it comes to postcard collecting, we like the witty way our grandparents had of bringing romance and automobiles together. Two elegant images of couples out in an open auto on PFB (Paul Finkenrath Berlin publishers) embossed postcards offer poetic descriptions of just how private  and romantic motoring could be: We pass the birds on flashing wing and leave them far behind us – We rush along with merry song. ‘Twill puzzle you to find us….No time to waste! There are, these days, no horses but horse-power. Our seat we take and love we make at sixty miles an hour!

Considering that the current owners of the famed Model T seem to agree on the Model T Ford Forum that the optimum speed in one of these classic cruisers is between 25 and 40 mph, either our postcard lovebirds are fantasizing or they are driving a souped-up European car.

Our last entry, the RPPC (Real Photo Post Card) of the sexy young flapper, is a glamorous example from this collecting genre.

Automobile theme postcards are easy to find and fun to collect. Not all are romantic. There are some witty cartoon cards criticizing Ford’s reliability with hapless motorists trying to fix automobiles that have left them stranded and auto owners bemoaning that their entire income goes to keeping their automobile running.

Price estimates: Most auto cards are flat and cost between $4.00 - $8.00. The PFB cards shown here have exceptional artwork and detailed embossing, but they can still be acquired for $10.00 each or less. As always, estimates are for postcards in EXCELLENT condition, and they are estimates of current prices only. A word on condition – the Wells copyright postcard of the Gibson Girl has ‘album corners’ – discoloration where the postcard was once kept in a postcard album that had slots to hold the cards in the paper pages. It is not in excellent condition because the album corners and the partial cancellation on the front of the card reduce its value.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Thoroughly Modern Santa Circa 1909

The Golden Age of Postcards from 1898 to 1918 was a time of remarkable technological innovation. Conveniences we take for granted - that we cannot imagine living without - were new exciting developments then. Inevitably, postcard artists incorporated these inventions into holiday postcard designs. Santa Claus still had his reindeer and angel helpers, but he was now being portrayed in autos, airplanes and dirigibles making his rounds. Here’s a brief history behind Santa’s new and improved methods of toy delivery.

Even years after its invention, the auto was a novelty and a source of fascination. Automobiles were produced in the 1890s, and the first closed circuit automobile race was held in Rhode Island in 1896. But it took some time for automobiles to appear on the unpaved roads of the time, zooming along at 20+ miles per hour, causing ladies to wear hats with long, wraparound scarves to keep the dust off their faces and their hair from flying in the breeze. Henry Ford introduced the popular black Model T. in 1908, and built his first assembly line in 1913, using efficient production methods to drive down the cost of buying a Ford. In 1914, he made 300,000 cars, and refinements on the assembly line helped the price continue to decline for several years, finally making the automobile available to middle class families as well as the wealthy. Santa, ever in the forefront of technological development, was portrayed with an open auto packed with toys early in the 1900s. Sometimes he was driving, occasionally he had a driver. Usually he was driving through the winter snows, not taking to the skies in his “flivver”.

Overhead, airplanes were taking off and postcard Santa Clauses were on them. The Wright brothers made history in 1903, flying a powered, controlled airplane for a “sustained flight” for the first time. On that day near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the best flight of the day covered just over 850 feet in 59 seconds. It took two more years for them to introduce the Flyer, the world’s first practical airplane.

Soon after, dirigibles were developed in France and Germany. In 1910, a rigid dirigible (renamed a Zeppelin) was flying regular trips between Dusseldorf and Friedrichshafen, a distance of 300 miles. Perhaps Santa took to dirigibles so readily because most holiday postcards of the time were designed and printed in Germany, the worldwide center of postcard production.

Dirigibles and airplanes were an obvious boon to a fellow who has to circumnavigate the globe in one night. In the John Winsch copyrighted designs of Santa in airplanes Winsch has given Santa the added time-saving advantage of tossing the toys from the airplane to children below, eliminating that exhausting chimney climbing.

Santa prepares all year for his hectic Christmas eve trip. Communications mean a lot to a man who has to keep track of all the world's children. The busy postcard Santa adopted the telephone and the wireless to help him stay informed. Marconi, who was taking credit for inventing the wireless (see Eric Larson’s engaging book about this, titled Thunderstruck.) struggled at the start of the century to make his wireless communications between continents more reliable. The world was impressed with the ship-to-shore wireless messages that allowed the capture of Dr. Crippen and his lady friend Miss Le Neve after they murdered Mrs. Crippen and tried to elude British police by hopping aboard a transatlantic liner. Their crude disguises were noticed aboard ship, the captain contacted Scotland Yard, and the U.S. police apprehended the criminal pair when they reached New York. The wireless was a transcontinental sensation! Here we see Santa working on his list with the aid of his wireless radio set.

Numerous postcards can be found of Santa on the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell’s invention was so different from already-known methods of communication that AT&T (American Telephone & Telegraph Co.) published an entire set of advertising postcards to convince people that having a telephone in the house would actually prove useful. More on that in a later entry.
Price estimates on these cards range from about $6.00 to $75.00. Santa on the wireless and in the first airplane image are not hard to find and are not expensive...they will average about $6.00 - $10.00. Santa in the automobile at the top will cost about $10.00 - $15.00. The "olde world" Santa in his automobile above at right will cost about $15.00 - $20.00. The Winsch design of children gathering toys Santa has dropped from the airplane has good artwork. Winsch copyright designs are desirable and the children raise the value - it will average about $20.00 - 25.00. The most valuable cards shown in this blog are the embossed Santa Claus cards with silk clothing applied - they can cost as much as $75.00 but you can acquire them for less if you watch the auctions carefully. As always, estimates are for cards in EXCELLENT condition, and they are only estimates of current prices.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Deltiology for Fun and Profit

Do you have to be born a collector? It's certain that people who don't collect do not understand those of us who do. Developmental psychology says that collecting begins to interest children around ages 7 - 9, which would indicate that there's some genetic basis for amassing articles that have no practical purpose.

When I was that age, I collected rocks (we were poor and rocks are free). In gravel parking lots of the 1950s, I searched for interesting bits of stone. At the beach, I foraged for lumps of sea-glass or unbroken shells. My parents, not collectors, thought I was crazy. By the 1970s I was on my own in California and it was there that I began collecting postcards. It was great fun hunting through antique stores and junk shops, but I still had almost no money. I was being paid so little, I couldn't afford a home phone ("Call me at work - I'm there all day anyway!") so I naturally gravitated toward postcards. There were so many of them, they were so different from one another, and they were only a dime or a quarter. Irresistible!

Now, 35 years later, I have a good-sized postcard collection and years of gathering information about them as well. In this blog, I look forward to sharing some of my collection with you, along with some information that has intrigued me about the postcards and the era in which they were produced. Each post will have a theme and pictures of postcards that illustrate the theme. The next post will feature The Thoroughly Modern Santa at the turn-of-the-century using the exciting new technology that made the period one of the most innovative in our history.

Did you know that postcards are the world's second or third (depending on your reference source) most popular collecting hobby, right after stamps/coins? Postcard aficionados are called deltiologists. Since you may already be a deltiologist, or you may want to become one, I will include price ranges for the cards shown and offer some tips on building a quality collection.

I welcome questions, ideas for themes, and comments of all sorts - you can contact me thru this blog or at circa1910@tampabay.rr.com, and I invite you to check out my eBay auctions and store. You can access my eBay ID 504a and store, Postcardiva, thru eBay, or simply by clicking on postcardiva.com below, which will take you directly to the store Home Page.