Postcards Perfect Collectible For Home Summer Vacation

One of my favorite collectibles is the postcard. These compact snapshots offer a look at travel, landmarks and correspondence from the past and offer a history lesson that is real.

Since I had last week off and spent the time in Warwood babysitting my three grandkids, it reminded me of an interesting group of vintage cards that I own. These Warwood vacation cards are cute reminders of Wheeling’s past when neighborhoods were defined and growing.

These cards date to the 1920s as far as I can estimate judging by printing and design. In good shape, they aren’t written on and include a sepia snapshot with a silly saying. These cards would make a great conversation piece if framed. They are perfect additions for a serious collector of Wheeling artifacts.

Because postcards are so easy to store, they offer antiques enthusiasts an interesting, yet manageable, treasure. Many postcard enthusiasts keep their collections in photo albums or photo boxes, which are both easy to store and pull out for sharing. Serious collectors will purchase acid-free pages that protect the cards with archival polyethylene (available at postcard supply centers).

Postcards have been made in many materials, including metal, wood and leather. The metal models were especially hard on the hands of postal workers, and were discontinued in the early years of the 20th century.

The antique metal cards were amazingly thin, like an aluminum pie pan weight, and they included scratched-on images and names. They seem impossible to write on or address, and it turns out that these metal cards were placed in envelopes for addressing and handling by the post office.

Leather postcards were a trend at the end of the 19th century and continued into the 20th. They sure seem appropriate as souvenirs of places out West, but these leather cards included cute sayings and images of Gibson Girls or other popular icons of the Victorian age.

Other postcards have been made in copper, wood and other materials. Many cards have been created with a souvenir attached, such as a small piece of the Berlin Wall, encased in plastic and dating to 1989.

Travel postcards remain my favorite because of the great scenes of exotic places from all over the world. Many collectors choose to focus a postcard collection on one theme, such as United States historical cards or holiday cards.

Because postcards are relatively inexpensive, collectors easily amass thousands. Typical costs for old postcards are in the range of $10 or less, although there are rare postcards worth hundreds of dollars.

Besides condition, age and subject matter, postcard value is determined by the number of prints made. A card printed in the thousands is worth far less than a card printed in limited numbers. That’s why postcard experts are needed to evaluate a collection; these pros keep track of postcard history and production runs.

Postcard enthusiasts know that you can generally date a card by several facts, including postage rate, which was only one cent in 1872, two cents in 1917, one cent in 1919, two cents in 1925 and back to one cent in 1928 and up through 1952.

According to copyright records, postal cards were first on the books in 1861. These early cards are labeled “Lipman’s postal card, patent applied for.” The first government postcards appeared in 1873. European versions predated these American cards; by 1870, picture postcards were being made in limited quantities throughout Europe.

Writing wasn’t permitted by law on the address side of postcards until 1907. That’s why very old cards, often have scribbling on the front. This is also why old cards have no line dividing the back for address and message until after 1907.

Another interesting fact about early postcards is that the government was the only entity allowed to use the term postcard until 1901. So early cards are also called “Private Mailing Cards” or PMCs, to collectors.

Postcards became wildly popular as a quick means of communication. European publishers accounted for more than 75 percent of all postcards sold in the United States in the early 20th century. According to official records, the U.S. Postal Service accounted for 677,777,798 cards mailed in 1908 at a time when the U.S. population was less than 90 million. Postcard collecting was the rage already!

It wasn’t until the telephone became common in homes that postcard usage fell and postcards became slowly confined to the current concept of travel communication. Even today, in the era of email versus snail mail and cell phones that snap photos, postcards are a smart buy while traveling. Travelers get a guaranteed great photo of important sites at an inexpensive cost. And, after all, how many of us actually print those digital images on our cell phones?

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at: or by writing in care of this newspaper.