Postcard collectors keep history alive

Published Feb 19, 2014 at 6:37 am (Updated Feb 16, 2014 at 5:59 pm)

Info Box: Postcards

Cards with messages have been posted since the creation of postal services. The earliest known postcard was sent in London in 1840.

The first American postcard is said to have been available in 1873, depicting the Interstate Industrial Exposition in Chicago. Later that year, the first “Postal Cards” were issued by the U.S. Post Office Department, featuring the bust of Liberty.

Postcards in both forms became popular as a result of the World Columbian Exposition in 1893, also held in Chicago. May of 1898 marked the start of the Golden Age of postcards in the U.S. when, through an Act of Congress, the same message privileges and rates were given to both types.

In 1908, more than 677 million postcards were mailed. Photographs on postcards show the changes of an area over time. They are a good source of local history and tell a story of specific areas. A telephone call today is said to be the equivalent to the postcard of the early 20th century.

Hobbies and collectibles are not only fun, but educational as well. Specialty items often surface at flea markets or antique shops and can lead to casual conversations with the hobbyist often learning more than he or she ever dreamed of knowing. Visiting a hobby shop or just checking online can be rewarding, providing contacts and encouragement from others having similar interests.

Although there is no limit to the type of items one can choose to collect, stamps and coins are said to be the most popular. Close behind are postcards and deltiology, the hobby of collecting postcards.

Most everyone has received and even saved postcards from special people and places, often featuring historic artwork or photographs.

I loved receiving postcards when I was a kid. Traveling family members and friends were always quick to mail a note of safe arrival and details of stops along the way. Although I don’t receive them as often today, retrieving a postcard from my mailbox with a picture of a warm vacation spot and a short note still brings a smile and a longing. Somewhere stored in my attic or stashed in a closet is a box of my treasures. I’m sure there are a few postcards from years ago, including a few I bought to send but never mailed.

Clubs and organizations are important to those who find enjoyment in collectibles and preservation of their history. Organized in 1984, the Three Rivers Postcard Club boasts members from all around the South Hills. Men and women in diverse occupations provide opportunities to communicate, learn and to share their findings.

Tom Castrodale of Mt. Lebanon has been a member for more than 10 years. In 1998, Carol Anthony became the first women to join the club and now has hundreds of vintage postcards which she enjoys and carefully preserves in special protective postcard albums.

“Years ago I met postcard collectors in the coin club I belong to and they raised my interest,” said Dick Gaetano, president of the Three Rivers group. “Now I have about 25,000 cards. Over the years I’ve met many people fascinated with their collectibles. Not only do I have postcards, but displays of antique bottles and matchbook covers and even license plates.”

Prior to starting a collection:

• Pick a theme, i.e. animals, food, bridges, architecture and seasons are a few ideas. Or collect a postcard from all the counties in Pennsylvania or all the states in the U.S.

• Store old and valuable post cards in acid-free covers available in hobby stores, postcard retailers and online.

• Check out truck stops, souvenir stores, flea markets, auction and antique sites and estate sales.

Three Rivers Postcard Club meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at Fairhaven U.M. Church on Saw Mill Run Blvd. Members bring a recent “find” to share during the Show and Tell segment. For details, call 412-653-7723.

Casual collectors who feel a growing interest are welcome. By visiting clubs and shows and learning from experienced collectors in nearby communities, a fun hobby might just provide years of enjoyment along with new friendships.

The Three Rivers group plans postcard and paper shows in spring and fall. Folks come to buy, sell and trade cards and information so helpful to enhancing their collections.

Established in 1993 in Myerstown, Lebanon County, Pa., is a library, gallery and research center established for the study of postcards and North American history and culture. This Institute of American Deltiology holds a collection of more than one million postcards.

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