Postcards are rectangular cards, usually featuring a design on one side, intended to be sent through the post without the use of an envelope.
They are commonly purchased as souvenirs or mementos from holiday destinations, tourist attractions and other places of interest, and can feature images of the local area, humorous cartoons, product advertisements and any number of other designs.
The first postcards appeared in 1870s, and featured numerous subjects including a remembrance of the Franco-German War, various adverts and the Industrial Exposition in Chicago in 1873. View cards soon appeared, including the first depicting the Eiffel Tower in 1889, and by 1907 cards with divided backs were being used across the world.
Today there are millions of postcards produced and sent each year, and they are a popular subject for historians and collectors. Antique and vintage postcards can offer insights into the changing landscape of a town or city, social attitudes and trends from a particular period and the influence of various artistic movements on popular culture throughout the 20th century.
As they can feature almost any subject, many collectors choose a specific area of postcards on which to concentrate. This could be cards from a particular place such as their hometown, or a famous attraction like the Grand Canyon or Buckingham Palace. The long-standing history of many famous attractions means there is a wealth of historic postcards to collect on these subjects.
Other collectors may choose to look for cards on a certain topic such as animals, sports, trains or celebrities. There are postcards available on nearly every subject imaginable, and often they are gathered as part of a wider collection (such as sports memorabilia).
Postcards celebrating particular events such as World Fairs and Expositions are common subjects, as are those remembering historic events such as World War II; patriotic and satirical cards created during both World Wars are a popular topic for collectors.
Many collectors look for cards by celebrated postcard artists such as Philip Boileau, Ellen H. Clapsaddle, Harrison Fisher and Maud Humphrey, or focus on a certain time period such as the ‘Golden Age’ of postcards from 1893 to 1915.
Types of card
There are several types of postcard, categorised by their design and subject. They include:
- View cards have photographic depictions of locations such as town or scenic beauty spots, and are the most common and popular cards for collectors. They are also useful to historians in illustrating the changing landscapes of towns and cities, and many older cards show buildings and streets which no longer exist.
- Greeting cards were predominantly sent during holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, and feature related images and themes. Early greeting cards were some of the most attractive produced, as manufacturers used expensive printing processes and high-quality materials when competing for sales with rival publishers.
- Historical cards were printed to commemorate events such as war, disasters, social problems, expositions, parades, coronations and political events. They were often printed in small numbers and can be some of the most valuable cards for collectors.
- Art cards are perhaps the most popular subject for vintage postcard collectors. They were printed in small numbers and expensive for their time, and this rarity combined with work by some of the industry’s best artists and the influence of movements such as Art Nouveau means today they are highly sought-after.
Where to find postcards
There are a large number of clubs and societies around the world dedicated to the hobby of postcard collecting, and the majority of them hold regular events for collectors to buy, sell and trade their cards.
There are a number of specialist auction houses which deal in postcards and other items of ephemera, and cars can often be found in second-hand and charity shops as well as car-boot sales.
There are also a number of companies who specialize in antique and vintage postcards, and most can be found online. In addition, there are numerous sellers on internet auction sites such as eBay.
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