What Are the Value of My Postcards? 


Tips for Appraising Your Postcard Collection

Postcard collecting is a popular hobby worldwide, preserving cardboard rectangles meant for sending through the mail for their sentimental or historical value. Still, other postcard collectors, also known as deltiologists, are drawn to the potential monetary value that some rare or interesting cards may hold. Here we’ll explore the factors affecting postcard value and provide the questions you should ask when appraising your collection.

What is the Age of Your Postcard?

The age of a postcard is often a significant in determining its value. Generally, older cards are rarer and, therefore, more valuable. Vintage postcards can be broadly categorized into five eras:

  • Lipman Postal Cards (1861-1872)
  • Pioneer Cards (1873-1897)
  • Private Mailing Card Era (1898-1901)
  • Undivided Back “Post Card” Era (1901-1907)
  • Divided Back Era (1907-present)

The Divided Back Era can be further segmented into three other postcard eras: the White Bored Era (1915-1930), the Linen Era (1930-1945), and the overlapping Photochrome Era (1939-1970). Any postcard printed since 1970 can be considered simply “modern.”

Just How Rare is Your Postcard?

Rarity is another key factor in determining a postcard’s value. Cards with limited print runs, discontinued series, or those depicting unique subjects are generally more valuable than common cards.

To determine the rarity and value of a postcard, you can turn to specialized catalogs, such as the “Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog,” are an excellent resource for identifying and valuing stamps and postcards. Another is the “Picture Postcard Values” series by Dave Smith, which provides pricing information and historical context for various postcards. Unfortunately, the latest edition of this book – far as we can tell – was published in 2016, so collectors may need to look to other sources for more up-to-date information.

Online databases such as Old Postcards (www.oldpostcards.com) can also be valuable resources for collectors, offering information about postcard history, collecting tips, and price guides. Additionally, online marketplaces like eBay and Etsy provide a platform for collectors to buy and sell postcards, and can be a helpful tool for gauging the current market value of a particular card. Auction records from well-known auction houses, such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, can provide additional valuable insights into the current market value of postcards.

What is the Subject Matter of Your Postcard?

The subject matter depicted on a postcard can greatly impact its value. Popular subjects include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Transportation (trains, ships, automobiles, and aviation): These postcards can feature images of classic cars, vintage airplanes, or historic ships, making them valuable to transportation enthusiasts and collectors.
  • Holidays (Christmas, Halloween, and Easter): These postcards often showcase festive imagery, such as Santa Claus, pumpkins, and Easter bunnies, and can evoke a sense of nostalgia for collectors who enjoy the holidays.
  • Famous people (actors, politicians, and royalty): These postcards may feature images of popular movie stars or historical figures, making them appealing to fans of specific celebrities or historical periods.
  • Historical events (World’s Fairs, wars, and natural disasters): These postcards can capture important moments in history and offer a glimpse into the past, making them valuable to collectors who enjoy history and nostalgia.

Additionally, postcards depicting historical scenes of small towns and landmarks that may or may not still exist can have value for certain niche memorabilia collectors. These postcards can offer a glimpse into the history and culture of a particular region, making them appealing to collectors interested in local history, nostalgia, and cultural heritage.

What is the Condition of Your Postcard?

The condition of a postcard plays a crucial role in determining its value. Postcards in mint or near-mint condition, with sharp corners, bright colors, and no creases, stains, or tears, are more valuable than those in poor condition. 

The auctioneers Warwick and Warwick have developed the ultimate guide to postcard grading. This guide explains factors such as the quality of the printing, the paper type, and the presence of any damage or flaws to determine the overall condition of a postcard.

Preserving the condition of postcards is also essential for collectors. Exposure to direct sunlight or moisture can cause postcards to fade, warp, or develop stains. To prevent damage, experts from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum recommend storing postcards in acid-free sleeves or folders and keeping them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. This can help to maintain the condition of postcards and preserve their value for years to come.

How Desirable is Your Postcard?

Postcards are a unique form of collectible, and their desirability is subjective and dependent on a variety of factors. One such factor is the card’s aesthetic appeal. Some collectors are drawn to postcards with vibrant colors, intricate designs, or striking images, while others may prefer more subdued, minimalist designs. In general, postcards with attractive visuals are more desirable to collectors.

Another factor that contributes to a postcard’s desirability is its historical significance. For example, postcards depicting important events, landmarks, or people can be highly sought after by collectors. The age of the postcard can also play a role in its desirability, with older cards generally being more valuable than newer ones.

The artist or publisher behind a postcard can also be a factor in its desirability. Some publishers are well-known for producing high-quality postcards, and cards from these publishers may be more desirable to collectors. 

Raphael Tuck & Sons, for example, was a prominent publisher of postcards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and their cards are often sought after by collectors. Similarly, the Detroit Publishing Company was known for producing postcards featuring American landmarks and scenery, while Ellen Clapsaddle was a popular artist known for her charming illustrations.

Should I Seek a Professional Deltiologist for Postcard Appraisal?

To appraise your postcard collection accurately, you may want to consult professionals in deltiology to give you more accurate values in the current collectibles market. There are two ways to do this efficiently: attend postcard shows and fairs and seeking professional appraisals.

Postcard Shows and Fairs

Postcard shows and fairs are events where postcard collectors, dealers, and enthusiasts come together to showcase and exchange their collections, buy and sell postcards, and discuss trends and insights in the postcard collecting world. Attending these events can be a great way to connect with like-minded people and gain valuable knowledge about the market.

By engaging with fellow collectors and dealers, you can learn about the latest trends in postcard collecting, such as popular themes, rare and unique finds, and new collecting niches. You can also gain insights into the market, such as the value and demand for certain postcards, and tips on how to evaluate the condition and authenticity of postcards.

Moreover, attending postcard shows and fairs can provide an opportunity to expand your collection by purchasing postcards from other collectors and dealers. You may also discover new and interesting postcards that you never knew existed or find missing pieces to complete your existing collections.

In addition to the educational and collecting aspects, attending postcard shows and fairs can also be a fun and social experience. You can meet new people who share your passion for postcards and connect with a community of collectors and dealers from around the world.

Professional Appraisals for Postcards

If you have a collection of valuable postcards, it’s important to know their true worth. Obtaining a professional appraisal from an antiques appraiser can help you determine the true value of your collection or individual items.

An appraisal can be especially helpful if you’re looking to sell your postcard collection or individual cards of significant value. It can also be useful for insurance purposes, as it provides a professional assessment of the value of your collection. This appraisal can help you determine their true value and ensure that you have an accurate understanding of their worth.

It’s important to note that while an appraisal can provide a good estimate of the value of your collection or items, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be able to sell them for that amount. Market demand and other factors can affect the final selling price.

Final Thoughts on Postcard Values

Understanding the factors that contribute to a postcard’s value can help collectors make informed decisions when building and appraising their collections. By considering age, rarity, subject matter, condition, desirability, and seeking professional advice, you can ensure that you accurately assess the value of your postcard treasures.

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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