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The Collecting Detective: Vintage Postcards

Wednesday 12th, December 2018 / 10:03
By Dave Daley  

 

Postcards like this 1909 lolcat helped make graphic design what it is today.

CALGARY – Postcards are the perfect collectible: they’re cheap, plentiful and don’t take up much space. They span the entire 20th century and have a multitude of features for collectors to concentrate on. Pretty much everything under the sun is represented in them so if you have any interests at all you can find it in postcard collecting. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I can assure you, even that can be found on old postcards. Many were sent through the mail so they also have the added dimension of a personal message as well as dated cancellation marks over the postage stamp. 

These ephemeral collectibles once excited and captured the imaginations of millions of people in the early 20th century and fired-up a new media explosion, the results of which we’re still seeing today. Postcards were the iPhones of 1909, complete with their own memes like the lolcat shown here. Although it may seem outdated and obsolete to us now, the postcard collecting craze was the product of an era undergoing more disruptive technological and social changes than we are today. With an estimated one billion cards made each year in North America alone during the boom, lots of cards remain for collectors and enthusiasts to cherish and interpret today.

Postcards fall into three basic eras which also relate to how they were made. The early days were dominated by the lithograph postcard which was an engraved steel or stone block print which allowed the cards to be mass-produced cheaply. At the same time, real-photo-postcards or RPPCs were being made which were actually photographic prints. These were produced in fewer numbers and have all the qualities that photo collectors value. RPPCs were produced by publishing companies and were also home-made with new photo technology available to the general public when the people were getting into making and sharing their own images. Sound familiar?

In the 1930s a type of card called linens were introduced which were basically lithograph cards with a textured surface made to imitate a linen textile weave. These tend to have loud colours and less image detail. Later cards are the ones we still see at tourist attractions today – the photochrome or “chrome” postcard. These came into use in the 1950s and give us all the tacky images collectors now love so much.

Postcards have never been easier to collect. They’re plentiful at thrift stores and flea markets and collectors with a specific interest can search online auction and retail sites like eBay or Delcampe to help find their topic. Just be careful to not get ripped off by hidden fees or overpay for shipping costs when buying online. Because so many were produced, postcards are endlessly collectible. Given the wide variety, finding a collecting niche can really turn up the heat on the thrill of the hunt and make it more satisfying to get what you’re after. So what are you interested in? It waits for you in postcard collecting.  

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Alberta

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