When did I seriously start to collect postcards? I don’t remember; what I do remember is starting a collection of the fifty states—in postcards – to create am album to send to my Australian penpal. Eileen and I became penpals in1965
I remember a few years later starting to collect cards from all fifty states, in exchange for California postcards or some other inexpensive item. It took about a year to complete the collection which also included cards of the homes of previous American presidents as well as postcards of the presidents. The album was a Christmas present for Eileen one year – and after that I was off and running, collecting and exchanging post cards with other collectors.
Recently, I began searching through closets for all of the postcards I have collected over the years; in addition to new, unused postcards, I have kept all of the postcards sent to me over the past forty-something years. The oldest card in my possession was sent to someone in Newport, Kentucky, in 1898 on a penny postcard. The penmanship of B.F. Beale is beautiful but I can’t for the life of me figure out what he or she was asking for.
And another thing I remember doing was buying penny postcards when I was a young girl—ten cards for ten cents—and I would send away for free recipe booklets, mostly—or anything else advertised in a magazine, free—sometimes samples of Cuticura soap or lotions.
I found some stacks of magazines in my grandmother’s basement (it appalls me to think of those old LIFE or LOOK magazines from years ago—and me clipping out ads) . I learned about the Dionne Quintuplets from those magazines. In retrospect, I think the magazines must have belonged to my aunt and uncle who lived on the third floor of my grandmother’s house. I think the only magazine my grandmother subscribed to was something written in German. And I began sending away for recipe booklets long before I really knew anything about them.
Years later, I wrote about collecting postcards for a newsletter I was subscribing to; I also wrote a poem about collecting postcards for a Deltiology newsletter that published it.
The history of postcards is fascinating and postcard collectors can be found all over the world!
The first officially released postcard was in Austria in 1869. The concept quickly caught on and the US Postal service began issuing pre-stamped postcards in 1873. The public wanted an easier way to send quick notes, but the US Post Office was the only agency allowed to print postcards, and it held onto its monopoly until 1898, when Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act which allowed private publishers to produce postcards. These also could be mailed for a penny each (the letter rate was two cents!). Initially, however, privately printed cards did not allow messages on the backs of the cards; there was just a small space left on the front for your messages. In 1907, a major change took place; the left side of the back of the card was allowed for messages while the right side provided space for an address. During this period, the blank space on the front of post cards, left previously for messages, disappeared.
By 1907, European card publishers began opening offices in the US and accounted for over 75% of all cards sold in this country. At the end of this period in time, the hobby of collecting picture postcards became the greatest collectible hobby that the world has ever known. The official figures from the US post office for their fiscal year ending June 30, 1908, cite 677,777,798 postcards mailed! (At that time the total population of the USA was only 88,700,000!)
Post cards continued to evolve over the years; you can find any number of fascinating websites through Google.com which explain how these changes took place.
Modern photochrome-style postcards first appeared in 1939 with the Union Oil Company carrying them in their western service stations. The photochrome cards were in color and are the closest to real photographs. They’re the ones most familiar to us today. Since 1952 post card rates have changes from 2 cents to the current rate of !! cents.
Deltiology is the official name for postcard collecting and is considered to be one of the three largest collectable hobbies in the world, along with coin and stamp collecting. Postcards are so popular because of the wide range of topics—everything under the sun can be found on a postcard. Years ago, I was enchanted with postcards of mountains, covered bridges, former presidents, and presidential homes.
A few years ago, however, when my granddaughter and I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to visit my son Steve and his wife, we couldn’t find postcards anywhere! We eventually found postcards at the gift shop at Sioux Falls—a few other times when I have been on a trip somewhere, I have been finding picture postcards almost impossible to find. Does this mean picture postcards are becoming obsolete? I don’t know! If postcards are becoming obsolete, private collections of the cards will surely become more valuable.
If you are looking for a hobby that is relatively inexpensive, think postcards! No hobby quite compares with collecting postcards, which caters to all interests. Even vintage cards can often be found in antique stores, starting at about $1.00 each.
The following is a poem I wrote about collecting postcards; it was published in the Deltiology newsletter some years ago:
I’ve seen canyons splashed with streaks
Of brilliant rainbow hue;
I’ve felt the mountain’s majesty, and
Visualized the dew
Of morning droplets sprinkled on
The Lordly Redwood trees;
I’ve been to Eastern cover and inlet,
Felt the ocean breeze;
I’ve felt the humid warmth of bayous
In swampy southern lands;
I’ve seen the shimmer of the sifting,
Glistening desert sands;
Covered bridges, old light houses,
Ships upon the seas…
I’ve toured a thousand famous places,
Everywhere I please.
I’ve never stepped beyond my door;
An album holds the key,
For it’s a traveler’s passport to
All lands…the sesame…
To open doors, to take me here
And there and everywhere…
I’m a Deltiologist, in my easy chair.
–Sandra Lee Smith