To understand why so few old postcards are valuable, consider how the postcard industry works. In the first half of the 1900’s a press run of a common picture postcard could easily be 10,000 to 20,000 cards. If they were popular, they would go through a second or third printing. Even after all these years, postcard dealers, second-hand stores, collectors, and postcard clubs could collectively hold thousands of copies of a card in your set. Postcard values are based, in part, on rarity. Experienced dealers know how often they have seen a postcard and have a good sense of which ones are rare.
Postcard values are also based on desirability and demand. A card for a historic event, a notable building (perhaps no longer standing), a well-executed drawing or photograph, or a holiday theme that appeals to our nostalgia may create wider interest than hum-drum tourist scenes or generic flowery greetings. A notable message, famous sender or recipient, or unusual postal markings can make even a lackluster card desirable. In the end, your postcard’s value to others depends on the size and seriousness of the market for your card.
The best way to begin understanding the value of your postcards is to compare them to on-line examples. E-Bay, Playle, and other postcard auction or sales sites can provide a reality check for your items. Select a sample of the postcards in your set and use keywords for the topic, date and other identifying information to find out current sales prices. This will allow you to quickly calculate an estimated retail dollar value for the set.
However, dealers will not pay the retail price to purchase your cards—their offer is likely to be 5% to 50% of this price, and only if they have customers who would be interested in them. Unless you have especially desirable cards, many dealers (who may have tens or hundreds of thousands of cards in their inventory) may see little commercial value in your set. However, not all dealers have the same interests, depth of knowledge, or inventories.
Fads come and go in this hobby, significantly affecting the value of your cards over time. Therefore, if you intend to sell your cards, you should obtain a professional appraisal from an experienced postcard dealer. Appraisals should be free and should not take more than a few weeks. Contact your local postcard club (including this club) for the names of experienced and reputable dealers. Some collectible shops will also have vendors who deal in postcards, provide appraisals, or can refer you to an appraiser.
In seeking a buyer, keep your expectations realistic and understand your offers. A dealer who has tens of thousands of postcards is unlikely to pay top dollar, even for valuable cards, because of the need to make a profit on every item they sell. A collector may be willing to pay more for individual cards, but will “cherry-pick” these from your collection and leave you with cards that may be difficult to sell. A collectible shop owner at a busy location may pay more and will base the price on what can be successfully sold in the shop.
Selling your cards over the Internet may be a viable option, but don’t underestimate the time and cost required to market your product, manage sales or auctions, prepare and ship merchandise, deal with customer questions and satisfaction issues, and pay taxes. Unless you are already experienced in Internet sales or have an existing Internet store, consider finding a friend or commercial service that will handle the on-line marketing, sales, and shipment for you.
Auctions may be another venue to liquidate all or some cards from a collection, but because most card prices are so low, the fees and overhead can be overwhelming unless the cards are very valuable or they are sold in large lots. Getting the best possible return for the collection depends on the auctioneer’s charges and rules, whether the auction is specialized, the nature and extent of advertising, characteristics of the bidders, recent sales of similar items in the auction market, and even uncontrollable factors such as weather and auction site parking. In short, the prices achieved through auctions can be very disappointing unless you do considerable homework on your items, select a proven auction firm, understand the market, and obtain favorable terms and conditions for the sale.
As you decide whether and how to sell your postcards, ask yourself what is more important: obtaining the highest price for the cards or finding a new home for these ephemera? The answer to this question will guide your research, contacts, and avenues for disposing of your inheritance or collection.
Selling Your Postcards
Denver Postcard Club