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Antiques & Collectibles: Colorful cards offer a glimpse of the past

June 17, 2018

When browsing antique shops, how many times have you been drawn to old boxes stuffed full of old postcards?

As you thumb through, you find each card is unique, as history lingers in the fine print and faint inscriptions that indicates the card maker (photographer). Some may even have handwritten messages by people with names like Pearl or Oscar.

You wonder what dusty attics and closets were they stored in throughout the years, often changing hands from generation to generation, until the last generation dies and there’s no one to hand them down to anymore.

Sometimes we are just as intrigued by the messages written on the cards as by the photo or art work on the card. What a charming snapshot of the past.

Bit of history

The first postcard was printed in 1886 in Austria, where they were widely accepted. In this country the first were souvenir cards that were printed to advertise the World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.

During WWII, many postcards were collected in photo albums, and today postcards rank as collectibles right up there with coins and stamps.

Finding postcards

We look at these postcards from 25, 50, even 100 years ago and wonder if folks were just as fascinated by the buildings and scenery as we are. Apparently they were, as very few collectibles have gone from trash to treasures as quickly as old postcards. They are generally inexpensive, historically interesting, graphically pleasing, easy to store and easy to find.

We find them at estate and garage sales, auctions, flea markets, antique shops and online. Search, for example, “Rochester, Minnesota vintage postcards” and they are all over the page. The same with any city or area.

Sarah Kieffer, Sarah’s Uniques and Jim’s “Man” tiques, St. Charles: “I have a lot of great old souvenir postcards. Most of them are the booklet style from 1940 and ’50s, selling from about $5-$12. Postcards from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Union Pacific Railroad, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, St. Paul to San Diego and more. I have several postcards from Winona and a few from St. Charles, which seem to sell fast. A lot of collectors are searching for a set that they don’t already have, many people remember going somewhere when they see a postcard set and pick it up, people like to remember places they’ve gone, or places they want to go to visit.

Neil Hunt, A-Z Collectibles, Winona: “I have postcards of Winona and other places in Southeast Minnesota, including Rochester and Wisconsin. Prices from $3 to a few up to $20. I also have cards of railroad and depots, logging, river boats, but not so many outside of the Midwest.”

Brenda Jannsen, owner, Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, Winona: “We carry new Winona postcards produced by local photographer, Kari Yearous Photography priced at $1 each. Vendor, Bob Frank has some vintage Winona postcards ranging from $8-$15 each. The new postcards are almost always tourists who want to remember the visit. The vintage postcards are usually sold to collectors.”

Kari Yearous, owner of Kari Yearous Photography, LLC, Winona has been been capturing the beauty and character of Winona in photographs, and sharing these images on social media, in Winona retail locations, and through her online stores, www.winonagifts.com and www.winonaphotos.com, since 2011.

“When I was doing some research into selling postcards, I found that mostly what stores had around here for new were ‘Minnesota’ postcards, just a few Winona that were mainly outdated,” Yearous said. “It’s commonly said that postcards are ‘dead’ because people these days are into e-everything and i-everything; however, that has not been my experience with the new since it’s not uncommon for people to buy not just one or two postcards, but 6-10 postcards, at one time. There is no doubt that vintage is a hot trend in the world of photography today and the same with postcards.”

More information

Check out “Advertising Postcards,” by Robert M. Reed; and “The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards/Price Guide,” by Susan Brown Nicholson.