Vintage Postcards

If you are a collector of postcards, and of vintage postcards in particular, you probably already know something about the history of postcards.

It's a fascinating subject —knowing just a little about it will enable you, as a collector, to judge the age, rarity, and value of postcards that you come across. The postcard story began in the late 1800s, when someone had the bright idea of using a plain card to send a message through the mail. Strange as it may seem to us, the very first postcards had no picture: the address was written on one side of the card, and the message was written on the other.

Thus, the most antique postcards have no picture. The idea of a picture came later, but because writing anything other than the address on the address side was still not allowed, many of the early picture postcards have a message written over the picture. This does not detract from their value but, rather, helps to establish their age. Postcards with both message and address on one side, and a picture on the other first appeared in the last years of the 19th century (things happened at different times in different countries), and postcards printed with a divided back began appearing in about 1902.

In the first fifteen years of the 20th century, postcards and postcard collecting were at their peak. Postcards were a very popular way of sending a brief message and many people appreciated that they were a unique pictorial record of social life at that time. Vintage postcards from this era frequently depicted street scenes, famous people, special events, major disasters, animals, and even family members — people could get pictures taken and printed onto postcards for their personal use.

With the beginning of World War I, postcard sending and collecting all but faded away, making the period from about 1870 to 1914 the time from which most antique postcards come. After 1950, postcard collecting became popular gain, and many an old collection was discovered and treasured once more. Today, most postcard collectors choose a particular theme - a necessity when there are so many variations and it's impossible to be knowledgeable about all of them. Collectors of vintage postcards often look for street scenes and pictures of communities in bygone days. They may favor art reproductions, pictures of birds, depictions of important events, or even the very old antique postcards with no picture at all.

The encouraging thing about collecting vintage postcards is that, even more than a hundred years later, most of them are not so valuable as to be out of reach for the average enthusiast. A really valuable postcard might be one that is signed by a famous person, one of the very first postcards, a rare postcard depicting something from everyday life that is gone forever, or one of the mint condition antique postcards with a clear and unusual postmark that establishes its age.

Most postcards, however, are still only worth a few dollars at most. Postcard collecting is an inexpensive hobby where the thrill lies simply in finding postcards to add to your collection and perhaps dreaming of stumbling upon that special find one day. To learn about antique postcards, the history of postcards, and ways to date postcards that you find, surf the internet. You'll find a wealth of information, as well as a number of dealers in vintage postcards that will buy, sell, and trade with collectors.

Though it’s fun to explore antique shops and rustle around in flea markets, searching for postcards on the internet lets you go so much further from home. And it seems fitting somehow that a postcard obtained from an internet site comes to you in a very time honored way – through the mail.


more than vintage postcards on our Miniatures & Collectibles home page