History Of Old Postcards

Two Philadelphians, J. P. Charlton and H. L. Limpan, came up with a simple but great idea in 1861. Their “Lipman’s Postal Card” had a blank front for writing messages. The back was inscribed with three lines-one with their patent mark, the other two for addressing and stamping. They advertised their product was great for sending rapid correspondence at half the price of paper and envelopes. They claimed their invention would be valuable for travelers, and boasted merchants could use their stiff cards to send notices and circulars. The Post Card, they deduced, would lighten mail, cheapen postage, and surely make them rich. It did not. Good ideas alone do not make one wealthy. It is reasonable to assume that the Lipman Postal Card was a flop, for only a few have been found, and its inventors are all but forgotten.

History records that postcards originated in Austria in 1869. A year later they were officially issued in Great Britain with a halfpenny stamp printed in the corner. Public demand was so great police were dispatched at post offices to control crowds. By 1871, almost two million 3.5″ by 4.5″ post cards were mailed in Europe each week. In 1894, mailing a card with an adhesive stamp was allowed. In 1897 the card’s width was increased by an inch so that half the address side could be used for correspondence. This left the face side free to be decorated by photographs and early artistic prints called “chromolithographs.” Within three years, sending and collecting “picture postcards” was the craze in England and other parts of Europe. By 1905 card collecting had reached comparable proportions in the United States. The glory years of the picture post card continued until W.W.I. In recent years, the hobby has returned stronger than ever.

Although US postal regulations first allowed postcards in 1872, most found today date after 1910. The amount of postage can help date an American mailed card. Cards mailed from 1872-1958 cost 1 or 2 cents. In 1959, the rate went up to 3 cents, and continuing climbing thereafter. As with most antique categories, age is only one factor in evaluating old post cards. Other considerations are condition, artistic quality, manufacturer, and probably most important of all-subject matter.

Suppose you’re one of the first ones in at a tag sale. You have twenty-five dollars in your pocket. The place is all junk except for a banana box with a sign on it reading, “Old Post Cards-$5 Each!” You want to try your luck. Which ones should you choose? My first suggestion is, forget value. Buy cards that are interesting to you. Almost every town was pictured in old postcards. A historic picture of your home town, or something to do with your profession, or favorite hobby-certainly, those wall hangers would be worth five bucks. Besides something dear to you, select older cards, pre 1918 if you can find them. Then, look for cards that fit within a hot category. Christmas, Easter, Halloween and Valentines Day cards are much sought after. Greeting cards are not as valuable. An old card picturing the First Methodist Church of Cochran, Georgia is worth about fifty cents, while a post card advertising St. Andrews Golf Course might fetch a hundred dollars. More than any other antique, postcards are collected by category. Advertising, Movie Star, Aviation, Nudes, Signed artist, Dogs, Fire, African American, Political-all these subjects hold peoples’ interest. Choose old graphic cards like these, and you might just find a bargain in a banana box.

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