Collecting Vintage Postcards

by Joelle Steele

Collecting and studying postcards is called "deltiology" [dell-tee-awl-oh-gee]. The first half of this word comes from the Greek word "deltion," which is a small writing tablet or small letter ("deltos" is the full-size writing tablet or letter). The second half of the word, "ology," means study or science. So, those of us who collect and study postcards are called deltiologists.

I started collecting postcards (and stamps) when I was about 8 years old. Over the years, I assembled a collection of more than 2,000 postcards (and way too many stamps to begin to count). My postcard collecting was never very focused because the pictures of foreign and exotic places were all that ever really captured my interest. It didn't matter what the subject matter was or what country the postcard came from. Simple street scenes in England, a cathedral in France, or the pyramids in Egypt were all equally fascinating to me. Add to the images the handwritten messages on the back and I was right there, casually strolling through St. Ives in 1909, going through U.S. Army basic training in 1942, touring San Francisco's Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915.

What you collect in the way of postcards is entirely up to your own personal tastes. And there is no end to the variety of subject matter that has found its way onto the faces of postcards. You can have a general collection with a little bit of everything in it, or you can collect postcards with topics that interest you, such as cats, political propaganda, watercolor art, exotic places, cartoons, pretty women, historic events, flowers — you get the picture!

People started collecting postcards in the early part of the 20th century, so you can find vintage postcards almost everywhere these days. They turn up in antique malls, flea markets, garage sales, postcard shows and, of course, right here on the Internet. With a little practice backed up by research, you should be able to make some good deals on cards that are in good to excellent condition. Keep in mind that the condition is of the utmost importance whatever you collect. A severely damaged card is usually worthless, no matter how old it is. A used postcard may or may not be more valuable than one that is unused.

There are many excellent books that can help you decide what to collect and how to value your collection. Find a few that reflect your collecting plans, and study them. The more you know, the better your collection will be.

This article last updated: 03/05/2008.