A Black-and-White Aleph: The Curious Addiction of the Postcard Collector

I love postcards. I don’t really buy trinkets or souvenirs when we travel – but postcards are a love of mine. Especially old, vintage ones – with perhaps a softened edge or corner. We have a local used book store that sells old, unused postcards for about a quarter a piece, and I must have bought 50. The odd thing is – I don’t really send them anymore! So, it was great to hear that I’m not the only one going ga-ga over postcards.  A few weeks ago was the 17th annual conference of the Metropolitan Postcard Club in the New Yorker Hotel.

I would have loved to have gone and sifted through the thousands of antique and vintage postcards. It’s like the ability to touch history in it’s most basic form!

These collectors, however, make me feel like a real armature! Some of the personal collections had over 70,000 cards at home! Well, I guess I have a whole year to start beefing up my postcard collection – what do you think?

Here’s a snippet from the original article, including some beautiful black and white vintage portraits.

The rooms on the second floor of the New Yorker Hotel, which hosted the 17th annual meeting of the Metropolitan Postcard Club last month, had the air of an exceptionally quiet casino. The ceilings were high, the decorations bland, the carpets wall-to-wall, and at every table, postcard fanciers sat sifting through stacks of cards as tirelessly as slots addicts. None of the tourists in the lobby ventured upstairs to browse the postcard tables. The convention offered little to pique a visitor’s curiosity. The postcard sellers — retirees, proprietors of upstate antique stores, freelance dealers in ephemera — were almost all slow-moving, bespectacled, and gray-haired, and their wares were too small to be worth looking at from farther than a foot or two away.

But for those of us who had come to the hotel for the convention, the sight of all those tables laid out with postcards provoked an almost painful greed. Postcard collections can be vast, monumental. The cards lined up in boxes and displayed on shelves at the various stands — often numbering easily into the thousands — represented in most cases only a small fraction of each seller’s total inventory. Joan Kay, the head of the club, recently donated 2,000 cards from her collection to a museum. The rows of cards from a store called The Cartophilians featured tabs for most of the countries on earth, which were then sometimes broken down further into subcategories: Norway –- landscapes; Norway –- people types, etc. One dealer from Boston told me that he had at least 70,000 cards at home — “hand-selected, premium stuff.”…

But for most postcard collectors, the appeal is at least partly aesthetic. Everyone has their favorite kind of card, and there were offerings at the convention to suit every possible taste: celebrity and pin-up girl cards; brightly colored postcards from the ’30s and ’40s printed on linen-textured stock; calling cards from the 1890s; racist cartoon cards; delicate cyanotype postcards printed in all blue ink; vintage anti-semitic cards from Bavaria; official portraits of seemingly every tourist attraction on earth.

My own favorites are called Real Photo postcards. As their name implies, they are not, like most other postcards, mass-produced lithographs, but real photos, printed in a darkroom directly onto the card. They were made by the Kodak No 3A Folding Pocket Camera or one of its copycats, which were designed to produce a post-card sized image. The real-photo postcard craze started after 1903, when the 3A was put on the market, and lasted into the ’30s. Millions of different cards were printed. Most of the pictures are portraits — wedding, family, baby — or record important events — fires, floods, parades — but there’s a huge range of subject matter, from saloons to still lifes and lynchings. People used them as souvenirs, keepsakes, and a form of communication in a country where transportation was still slow and the telephone not yet in wide usage.

Read more about Black and White Postcard Collector Article.

 What about you? What do you like to collect on your travels through life?