It’s not uncommon for folks that come to a postcard show or club meeting to ask what to do with cards they’ve inherited and how much they’re worth. Behind these questions is the reasoning that if a relative spent time collecting the cards and putting them in an album, they must be worth a lot–especially if they’re very old. However, many factors affect the value of postcards and, in general, they are often worth much less than their owners believe. Heirs are often disappointed when postcard dealers express no interest or focus on a very few cards, and sometimes get angry when they are told to donate or just enjoy their collection. Before considering whether to sell or donate your cards, consider the following.
Do your cards hold family memories? Postcards can capture family history and genealogy. The postmarks and hand-written messages on cards may identify places your ancestors lived, visited, or wanted to visit. Real photos can augment formal family photos and show how relatives spent their time and treasure. Finding a series of correspondence between family members can help you recreate daily life, special events, and relationships. Cards written by a child who is now an adult or elder provide an opportunity for the entire family to reflect on how society has changed. Integrating postcards—especially real photo cards and messages of daily life—with written remembrances of growing up, exploring the world, starting a family, and enduring life’s trials can make a family’s historical record more captivating, real, and enduring for future generations.
Do you find the cards interesting in their own right? Even if the cards hold limited family history, the collection or individual cards may appeal to your own interests or relate to your other hobbies. Do you play the ukulele? Look for vintage cards showing ukuleles from the 1950’s. Does a particular historical era fascinate you? Find public celebrations and parades that show the activities, dress, signs, architecture, or autos of that era. Are you a fan of pigs? Seek out the cards of prize-winning, famous, or humorous pigs. You can start your own collection by selecting the cards that meet your interests and dispose of the rest through sales or donations.
Does the collection have historical importance? Postcards that capture the mood of a community, region, or nation at an important time or turning point in its history can be dear to those who lived through the era or events, but only time and public sentiment can determine whether the event or era is worth the continuing interest of succeeding generations.
Postcard dealers can provide a sense of the popularity of your era or event among collectors. But even for a popular topic, the historical value of a postcard depends on the rarity and identification of the cover image; the time frame and location that can be derived from the postmark, stamp, and other postal markings; and the historical relevance of the message or sender. Finding the right postcard dealer or historical source to examine and evaluate your holdings can be critical to determining its historical significance.
Once historical value has been established, you can make the decision to keep the cards for your own collection or locate an organization or institution that will archive, preserve, and share these artifacts with others.
Do you have postcard clubs, dealers, or historical experts who can help? Sorting through your postcard set to fully understanding its features, drawbacks, and value will require communicating—and perhaps even meeting with—postcard experts. Finding individuals to advise you may be easy with Internet searches or if you live near a center of postcard clubs, dealers, or activities, and more difficult if there are no experts near you or you have a very large collection. Even if you find an expert, you will still need to assess their expertise, prepare for and participate in evaluations of your cards, and determine how much advice is prudent before you make a decision on them. These efforts can be time-consuming, inconclusive, or disappointing. Publications and online web sites for postcard collectors can provide leads to experts, many of them with years of experience.
Do you have the time and space to catalog, maintain, and develop the collection? Even if you find that the postcards you’ve received are significant to your family, your own collections, or historians, keeping them may not be your best option. To get the most out of the cards, they must be inventoried; accessible and/or displayed; and protected from light, water, and temperature damage. The number, nature, and value of the cards you inherit can make their care and storage a pleasure or a burden. Once the burden overwhelms your pleasure, it’s time to consider selling or donating your cards.
Do you have the time to maximize your return from sales? If you want to get top dollar for all the cards in your collection, you will have to explore different markets and sales approaches. The time you spend targeting buyers, preparing your product, and supporting the sales process are likely to make a big difference in how your buyers respond and the prices that they offer. It is easy to underestimate how much time this takes if you are inexperienced in the sales approaches, audiences, and tools you choose. Before deciding to sell your cards, talk to others who have used a particular type of sale (Internet, consignment, bulk, wholesale, etc.), so that you understand the tasks, timeframes, upfront costs, and profit margins involved. This should help you determine whether the time you invest will be worth the payout you expect.
Denver Postcard Club
Inherited Postcards-What Next?