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Inherited Postcards?

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Have You Inherited a Postcard Collection?

 

By Hy Mariampolski

 

 

You're very lucky to have inherited a shoebox of postcards and it's only natural to wonder what they might be worth. However, this question is best answered with another question: What are your intentions? Are you seeking to keep them or sell them? Congratulations if you're intending to keep them. There's nothing more valuable than a family archive based on an accumulation of antique postcards. Within this hoard, you may find the first love-letter sent by your great-grandfather to your great-grandmother or mementoes kept after a honeymoon voyage or images of your street before it was paved. Regardless of the image on the other side, the value of these items is "priceless."
 

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If you're keeping these with the intention of starting a collection of your own...Welcome to our glorious fraternity. Postcard collecting is an extraordinarily satisfying hobby, especially if you have an interest in art, history, architecture or a myriad of other topics.
 

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Okay, you're really interested in selling the postcards, not keeping any or most of them. Here you have to become aware, first, of the distinction between the buying, or wholesale, price and the selling, or retail, price. Unlike gold, pork bellies, oil and other commodities for which there are well established markets whose gyrations are thoroughly charted and available as public information, the value of postcards is much less stable and is created primarily by individual transactions between buyers and sellers. It's an unregulated market. Some items are scarcer and more in-demand than others and this will have an impact on value. Often, the value of a card is determined by where it is being traded. For example, the price you pay for a real photo of a historic California Mission will be greater in California than it would be on the East Coast because that's where you would expect more collectors, hence more demand for this topic. This is generally true for all cards depicting local scenes.
 

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Let's not go any further into discussions of Adam Smith or economics. Let's just say that what you will be offered by a dealer will be anywhere from 10% - 50% of what they believe the card will sell for at retail. The percentage you will be offered will be higher when the card is more valuable because their risk is lower when they feel they can turn the card around quickly. Before discussing postcards with dealers, get to know several of them and find out about their specialties. See what their selling prices are for cards similar to your own and calculate your expectations as a fraction of those prices.
 

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At retail, collectible postcards normally sell for anywhere from 25˘ to $1000 or more. That's a pretty wide range. It also means that, depending on their value, your hoard of 300-400 cards could possibly earn you a nice lunch or a new house. Let me warn you that the overwhelming likelihood is in the direction of lunch. Most groups of 300-400 cards on ebay close at about $50 - $100, unless there's something special within the group. But, then again, every once in a while lightning strikes.
 

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That brings us to another distinction – between an accumulation and a collection. Most of those shoeboxes in the backs of closets represent an accumulation - cards that randomly arrived in the owners possession and were just not discarded. There might be a few valuable cards among these but most of the time, unless they were all accumulated in the years before World War I, they are likely to be cards with low market value. On the other hand, cards that were avidly collected were gathered according to one or several themes or topics. In this case, the original collector went out and sought or traded for specific kinds of postcards. Usually, the collector took steps to preserve his or her collection by placing them in albums or protective coverings. Let's say that if your original collector sought out cards about the sinking of the Titanic, or pre-Holocaust European synagogues or the work of a favored artist associated with the Art Nouveaux movement like Mela Koehler and A. Mucha, you're possibly looking at a house, or at least a nice new car. There are quite a few additional highly collectible, in-demand topics that could represent considerable potential value in your shoebox: real photo advertisements, baseball players and stadiums, Halloween, women's suffrage, early fairs and expositions and many more.
 

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Please remember that age counts – usually, the earlier the better – and so does condition. Many accumulations sat in people's parlors and were used for entertainment in those days before TV and computers. The value of many nice cards is compromised by having folds or torn corners. (Don't get me started about those Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle baseball cards that disintegrated in my back pocket when I was a kid.)

 

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Here are some resources for finding out what the "going" price is for many postcards: Many dealers and collectors look at ebay selling prices – not opening bids or asking prices – as a guide. Others find the catalogues with selling prices – again, not the asking prices – published by Lyn Knight Auctions to be very useful. Another good resource is the series of catalogues by J.L. Mashburn. Please remember that this is not a "hard" market but a very soft one with very dramatic shifts in values and prices. Consequently, any price guide gets dated very quickly.


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Whatever your choice, have a great time and Happy Postcarding.

 

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Last updated:  11/06/2013 03:45:34 PM -0500
 

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