Vintage penny postcards offer a colorful record of Victorian-era life

Posted by Julie Reynolds

This postcard was mailed in 1909

They were frilly, silly, political and even risqué and today, vintage penny postal cards can bring a collector top dollar.

Postcards were hugely popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Without widespread access to telephones, mailing the cards was an inexpensive and entertaining form of communication.

Their artwork advertised goods, commemorated holidays, promoted politicians and reinforced stereotypes. In short, postcards covered the landscape of the culture at the time.

Men and women alike filled scrapbooks with picture postcards and they were a staple of parlor entertaining. For families lucky enough to have saved these treasures, the private collections provide a picture, literally, of late 19th and early 20th Century American life, clothes, transportation and society. More importantly, they are unique records of our ancestors’ journeys, lifestyles and activities.

Sent in 1908, the woman’s jacket is made of fabric

But for many hobbyists, vintage postcard value goes well beyond sentimentality. Today, postcards are the third most popular collectible in the U.S. and internationally, after coins and stamps.

Recently, a set of 44 postcards from 1914 sold for $1999, according to the dealer Card Cow, which blogs a monthly list of the most expensive postcard sales. ( An original postcard depicting the Titanic went for $513.

“It’s very addictive,” says postcard collector and dealer Jayne Gray of Brookfield, MA, co-owner of Gray Collectibles ( “History and geography are a big reason.” Often, she says, old postcards represent the only pictorial documentation that remains for a place. “It’s a unique record of our history. People see how different towns look today and how the terrain has changed.”

For every subject there is a likely collector. Holiday postcards were extremely common. But Halloween cards were rare, so today they are highly prized, and some have fetched hundreds of dollars. Cards signed by the artists are more collectible and certain artists are in high demand.

“Way back, I think the ladies liked the pretty pictures,” Gray says, “but they have no value today.” Most postcards trade at under $25 but there are many high-priced gems.

This American card dates to 1882

Real photograph cards are among the most prized. Penny postal cards initially featured lithographic illustrations and reproductions of artwork. Postcard popularity exploded around the turn of the century when real photographs were used. They often included captions hand-written on the negatives. A rare real photograph postcard from New Jersey sold for $1815, according to Card Cow’s blog.

The first illustrated postcards were published in Germany in 1870. Springfield, MA is home to the first American postcard, published by the Morgan Envelope Factory in 1873 and sold by the Springfield Post Office.

If you have vintage postcards, you can gauge their value online. The International Federation of Postcard Dealers offers a member listing. (

A postcard show is another good bet because you’ll encounter multiple dealers in a single setting, increasing your chances of finding someone interested in your particular cards. ( maintains an online list of shows.

One of the larger postcard shows in New England is held in the Ephemera Building at the Brimfield Antique Show and Flea Market ( Gray exhibits there, along with a dozen other postcard dealers. Upcoming shows are slated for May, July and September 2012.

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Posted by Julie Reynolds on Nov 17 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, Lifestyle. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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