Collecting postcards is a fascinating hobby, explains Rebecca Mayhew, auctioneer and auctions marketing consultant at Durrants Auction Rooms in Beccles
Postcards (sometimes spelled out in two words as “post cards”) became popular at the turn of the 20th century, especially for sending short messages to friends and relatives. They were collected right from the start, and are still sought after today.
There are many types of collectible vintage postcards. Hold-to-light postcards were made with tissue paper surrounded by two pieces of regular paper, so light would shine through. Fold-out postcards, popular in the 1950s had multiple postcards attached in a long strip. Real photograph postcards are photographs with a postcard backing.
Novelty postcards were made using wood, aluminium, copper, and cork. Silk postcards – often embroidered or with a printed image – were wrapped around cardboard and sent in see-through glassine paper envelopes, and were especially popular during the First World War. In the 1930s and 1940s, postcards were printed on brightly coloured paper designed to look like linen.
One of the main attractions of postcard collecting is that the subject is so vast you can gain expertise in your favourite category in a relatively short space of time. Even relative beginners are capable of discovering extremely rare cards in their own chosen specialised field. The variety of subjects to collect is so immense that nobody could possibly become familiar with all of them, therefore it is fairly easy to become an expert in your own chosen speciality with a modest investment of time in research.
The bulk of surviving old postcards are from the “Golden Age” period (1902–1918) and may only be worth a few pence each. Cards from before 1902, often distinguishable by the lack of a “divided back”, are certainly rarer and are worth from a few pounds upwards. The majority of today’s collectors ABOVE: A postcard album including RP Woolwich Free Ferry, IOM SS Meneva and various other cards RIGHT: Collecting old postcards can provide lots of interest
are in general more interested in the picture content. Postally used cards from the early postcard years (1894 onwards) are however very collectable.
“Top of the range” postcard types include Art Nouveau, cards featuring the Titanic and the best examples of photographic social history. Transport is a popular theme – railways, shopping, trams, motoring and motor racing - and, of course, military and World War-related cards.
As with most collectibles, the subject matter, condition and rarity plus general desirability and demand determine value.
Purchases at auctions and car boot sales are, of course, a great way to start your postcard collection – as well as having the choice of a vast selection, there’s always the chance of finding something rare that someone else has missed.