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Value of Postcards

How much are my postcards worth?

Many people, particularly beginners, ask "How much are my postcards worth?" Valuation of postcards can be a complex issue, but as with all collectibles there is always the Golden Rule “The value of a postcard (or collection) is what is someone is prepared to pay - at the time of selling”. Some cards can be worth hundreds of pounds (£) and extremely rarely into the thousand pounds plus. However, this is exceptional as by far, cards costing just a few pence to a few pounds, whatever the age, is the norm.

VOGUE & AVAILABILITY

The last part of the Golden Rule is important because, just like all collectibles, a card can go in and out of current vogue or a new discovery of an otherwise unknown collection may later come on to the market containing the same ‘special’ card (or similar collection) as yours. All of a sudden, the value of your card (or collection) is logically reduced, because another is available. Knowing the time when to sell is just as important as when to buy. Vogue and Rarity is discussed later.

BOTTOM LINE

Looking on the dark side for a moment and continuing with the Golden Rule, items in general auctions are generally estimated to fetch at least 20% of full worth (at the time of auction). That’s not to say your card (or collection) is worth as little as that, it’s just a guide of what the “rock bottom” value should be, should you need to sell urgently. Given this scenario, if you need to immediately sell, it would probably be more prudent to obtain offers from a few respectable dealers before committing to general auction.

WORTH

Now we have covered the ‘bottom line’ value, let’s move on to what generates worth in a card (or collection).

(Editors Note: Please send your own ideas and suggestions to admin@festivalofcards.com and we will update this list with the best general rules).


“We would highly recommend that any collector should always have a good knowledge of and make reference to catalogues and magazines dedicated to postcard collectors (such as those available from Reflections who produce the Picture Postcard Monthly magazine and annuals) and Picture Postcard Values

However, please bear in mind that Price guides are very useful in determining whether a card is worth £45 or closer to £450, but will not tell you that a card is worth exactly £5, or exactly £50.
There are many factors to the valuation of a card (or collection). The main factor is supply and demand. There are many postcards where only one or just a few cards exist, yet they are NOT expensive. For example, handmade or homemade postcards are usually one of a kind, yet few people collect these cards and no matter how attractive the design, the price is rarely expensive.

The UK Postcard Traders Association (PTA) currently (31/3/2014) provides some example subjects and puts some suggested (£) values as follows:

Edwardian actresses  £1.00

Royalty   £2.00

Ships    £3.50

Photographic Dogs & Cats £1.50

Churches   £2.50

Local Railway Stations (pre 1950) £35.00

Embroidered Silks (WW 1) £4.00

Continuing, for this article we are going to look at the main factors that can contribute to the determination of the Worth of a card. :

Age

Rarity / Scarcity

Quality / Condition

Location

Illustrator /Artist / Publisher

Subject / Topics

Real Photo Cards

Used / Unused

Popularity (Vogue)

Emotion (The human factor)

Haggling / Bartering

 

AGE

The majority of old postcards are from 1902 – 1918, generally known as the first golden age of postcards. 1902 was the first year of the divided back (see our Collecting Page). The first copyrighted private postcard was by John P. Charlton of Philadelphia (US) in 1861. He was unable to obtain a patent and subsequently sold the copyright to H.L. Lipman who produced and sold the “Lipman’s Postal Card”. This card was a non-pictorial message card. It was used until about 1873, when US government issued the government postal. Good quality postally used cards published by Lipman, particularly with good “subject matter” are collectible. For similar reasons (and subject to factors), the earliest UK cards (from about 1894) can also be quite collectible.

Apart from the early years (1894 upwards), cards preceeding 1902 (subject to all factors) are much more scarce and generally worth considerably more than the years following and can be worth a few pounds upwards. However, collectors of today are not eagerly seeking them (possibly Vogue is affecting worth)

Once the 1902 the Divided Back was permitted and the golden age began, the postcard industry went into swing, big time. With exceptions – and there are exceptions (about 10%), most of the postcards produced from the start of this era can be bought within the range of a few pence to about £5.00.

After 50 years chrome postcards are just starting to gain some value.


RARITY / SCARCITY

Pricing postcards sometimes comes down to simple supply and demand. Collectible and rare postcards bring the highest values. Common cards in uncollected topics, not so much. Take for example, “View Cards” such as city scenes which are very common. They can be had for only a few pence. On the other hand some village scenes may have only been produced in very small quantities by a local photographer. Cards such as this are more scarce and hence attract a higher price. A person who is not a collector also comes into play here, as the emotion (see later) and memories of once living in that village may be highly interested.

Particularly “Subjective” photographic views that include a lot of interesting things “going on” in the picture may attract £20.00 or more.


QUALITY / CONDITION

Damage to a postcard in any form** decreases its market value.

Are the cards badly damaged? If a common postcard is severely damaged (torn, missing pieces, heavily stained, etc.) it's worth nothing.

The reasons collectors buy a postcard are as varied as the cards themselves. Many factors affect the price of a postcard besides rarity. The physical condition of the postcard is critical when discussing expensive postcards. Flaws such as soiling, tears, cancels or writing on the front all detract from the value. The more expensive the postcard, the more condition affects the price. Yet all cards can be priced. You may buy postcards with the entire corner missing just because you have never seen the image before, or the card is used as a record of the image missing from a set. However, do not pay a premium for these postcards.


**Beware of the old Hawaii cards! There was a time when the sender deliberately scorched the cards on the edge from the hot rocks of the Hawaiian volcanoes. Value of these cards are debatable as no one could really prove the sender was actually burning them at the source or whether it was a sales gimmick thought up by the locals! Clever idea though!


LOCATION

Interesting to note: Most foreign “View” (only) cards generally sell poorly in the US, and cards depicting local scenes usually sell well locally. This is typical of most countries. Overseas cards usually (but not always – there are some growing markets that would argue this point) fetch less than in their country of origin.

Linen cards are easier to value because most have names...so you can do a eBay "completed sales" search for "linen shelbourne hotel miami". This also gives an idea of how many are "floating around".

In “viewcards” or “real photographic postcards”, the location of the postcard is important. If it is from some unknown area, the price of the card is considerably less than those of postcards where the exact city and county are known. There are several books which are helpful in identifying an unknown photographic image. 
If you do not have these available, look with a magnifying glass at all signs in store windows, signs on vehicles, billboards on sides of buildings or any clue that will help you identify the city or county. Are there hills in the distance, a train depot or something special about the buildings? These all may help you to identify the area. Does the postcard carry a postmark, a return address or a message with a hint of the location? Try being a sleuth, because it will raise the price of the card considerably.
A large number of collectors collect their home town. If there are many collectors of a small town and few examples of cards available, the prices may be very high. Generally, the larger the town, the more material that is available and the lower the price. However, a good horse drawn merchant's wagon is going to be expensive regardless of where it is located.


ILLUSTRATOR / ARTIST / PUBLISHER

Artist-signed postcards generally have a higher value than cards that are not signed. Yet, not all artist signed postcards are valuable or even collected. Just because a card is signed doesn't make it worth more than one that is not signed. For example, an unsigned Clapsaddle would sell for considerably more than a signed unknown comic artist. There is a steep learning curve in becoming proficient in determining which ones are highly sought-after.
Also, the publisher can be important, particularly if has a serial number. It is not unknown where a staggeringly boring scenery view might be unrecorded in the book devoted to that publisher (it is unrecorded, most likely, because the card was a poor seller and hasn't survived in many copies).

The artist's reputation and viability in the art world helps raise the price of postcards. There are some very well known postcard artists such as Mucha, Clapsaddle, Brundage, Humphrey, Outcault, Dwig, Kirchner, Meunier, Chiostri, Busi and Nanni, among others. When a signature appears printed on the front of the card or is attributed to the artist on the back of the card, then this information confirms who created the postcard. This is valuable to collectors because it almost certainly guarantees who was responsible for the design.
There are several books written about postcard artist signatures with a small amount of information reported on each. To many collectors, design is more important than a signature. Postcards were being published out by the millions in the golden age, so even the best artists sometimes created less than desirable images.
Unless you are obsessed to own every known image of one particular artist, don't buy the ones that are not interesting. Every price guide will list Clapsaddle postcards in the £5- £25 range with the rare cards reaching into the hundreds, but every show has the less desirable Clapsaddle images in the "Under £1" boxes. There is no demand from collectors for these images, therefore the prices are low.

SUBJECT / TOPICS

Are they collectible topics? What would a person who wanted this postcard be collecting? A certain town? train station?, aeroplane?, ships?, illustrator?, brass bands? Topics that are more collected are generally worth more than topics only a few care about.

Always study the card carefully. There may be other subjects that are at first obscure. The more subjects / topics on the card usually increases’ the value as it attracts more attention from a wider audience of collectors.

You will come across far more common, low-value, holiday-themed postcards than ones that are desirable or valuable.

Pre-WWI Holiday cards with kids, Santa, snowmen, witches, and other people are worth more...generic stuff like holly, pumpkins, Irish pipes tend to cost a lot less. Some cards are "hot" because they show a cross-collectable, such as pigs on New Years cards. Artist-signed or known artist (like Schmucker) are very popular.
When collecting topical postcards, buy the postcards that jump off the page at you, because those are the best designs and will nearly always be the ones easiest to sell if you change your mind later.


REAL PHOTO CARDS

Real photo postcards (RPPC) generally have some value, unless they depict either:

1) unidentified, commonly–attired individuals in common surroundings doing boring things, or 2) generic scenery.

Old real photo postcards of small town street views will almost always be of interest to an attracted buyer.

Real photo cards that include advertising for certain companies sell well, such as Beers /Breweries, Coca-Cola, Rowntree, any motorcyle companies and extinct train companies. The larger and more distinct the signage, the better the value, but even visible smaller signs will sell if you can point these out to the potential buyer.

Any real photo postcard showing a phonograph in the image will sell well.

Real photo cards showing children with dolls or toys will usually always have some value.

In the USA, Vintage Halloween postcards are the most valuable, generally speaking, of all holiday postcards.

African and African-American imagery on postcards is rising in value, and not just stereotypical views, but historical imagery that portrays Black culture.


USED / UN-USED

Although as previously mentioned "The stamps and cancellations on the rear sides of postcards generally do not increase the card’s value," the back may occasionally give it a little value. Here are some things to look for:

Overprinted postage stamps on postcards

Tied Christmas seals on postcards

Exposition cancels on postcards


So there is value to check for unusual postal markings and very rarely a valuable stamp. However, a great image on the front almost always trumps the value of what's on the back of a postcard.


POPULARITY (VOGUE)

Like all artwork, postcards go in and out of favour. Sometimes collectors take advantage of postcards being out of favour to buy them. Lately, in the USA, novelty postcards have been out of favour. Perhaps the decline in interest in novelty cards has come from their ability to be easily damaged. The mechanical cards have to be operated to be truly enjoyed, however, this constant manipulating can cause them to fail to work thus leading to loss in value. Dealers were the first to recognise this and many stopped carrying them. Everyone wanted to see the postcard of the girl jump out from under the cheese holder, but they weren't that interested in buying the card at the £100-£200 asking price.
Other postcards have always been collected and when new collectors join the collecting frenzy, the prices jump. Two examples of this is Halloween and Santa Claus postcards. Their prices have continued to increase since they were introduced. A great deal of collectors have a sentimental attachment to those two holidays and even collectors that do not specialise in this area may have an example or two that they just couldn't resist.
Some collectors wait for the latest book or price guide and jump on the bandwagon to find these cards to add to their collections because they have been told they are "hot." These collectors are usually buying at the top of the market and have sufficient funds not to care. They may be speculating that these are the postcards that will increase in value even more over time, and more often than not they are right.


THE INTERNET

Well, it’s not exactly the internet itself, but its development has definitely had cause and effect on postcard values.

The internet has created many new collectors that are void of postcard knowledge. We can see this in postcards selling for £50-£60 that can regularly be purchased at postcard shows for £10. Some internet auctions have seen cards trading at over 10 times their book guide price.  Why? Because the ones bidding lacked the knowledge to know any better. And, unwittingly, because the bidders see the supply as limited and there is a great demand from individuals who are unaware of any other source for these postcards. One good example of this was an on line dealer selling an aerial view of the old Odsall stadium in Bradford, Yorkshire. He had at least 3 other bidders going at a frenzy right up until the auction close time. The price it went for was nearly 10 times the normal show price. Where the story gets even more interesting is that the dealer had 2 more cards of the same view and he had the auction contact details of the other bidders! It doesn’t take much to guess what happened next! What does this tell us?

1) Unlike never before, the internet reaches a much wider audience than ‘just’ card collectors. In this instance, the bidders were more likely to be football or rugby enthusiasts that would not normally go to postcard shows or read the hobby’s monthly magazines.

2) Looking at the situation positively, the “new” bidders have, are at least temporarily, increasing collection values. However, that’s only good if you have the cards they are looking for. Otherwise your next buy may be a little more expensive.

So, is this a good thing or bad thing for traditional collectors and dealers? Probably, not that bad, if you already hold stock of the same being sold, your collection value will have increased, not decreased. In years to come, it is considered the internet selling will stabilise and except for exceptional cards, emotional feeling (see below) and demand, be like all other products being sold online and give a better insight to the true value of a card.

In the future, the Magazines and Annuals providing card values, need to indicate that they are including internet fluctuations in their valuations. (Admin Note: If you are a visitor to this site from such a company and need help on how to do this, let me know…….I can help!)


EMOTION (The Human Factor)

Worth is subjective, and often clouded by emotion. A postcard collection that belonged to a beloved, family member that has departed will be likely more valuable to the new owner(s) than a box of similar cards purchased from a stranger at a car boot sale.

As mentioned earlier, even if emotion is removed, value is still subjective. At almost every collector show there will be instances of the same “City” view card being for sale, in the same condition, at numerous tables, but priced differently by each dealer.

Even postcard dealers don’t agree on the "worth" of any given card, whether it be a common one or one rarely encountered. What they and experienced collectors would probably agree on, is the point of approximation when the "practically no one will want it"-to-"everyone will want it" scenario. “Values” are then subjectively placed to reflect the dealers will to sell or hang on.

It is the perception of the buyer that influences whether a card is worth the price or not. In the USA the “Waverley Cycle” postcard designed by Mucha soared to a price of £13,500 in 1990, but another design by Mucha that has even fewer known examples has not reached these high limits because the card is unattractive to the collector's eye. The Waverley card was hyped in the US national press and was given a status that the other scarcer Mucha card was not given. Therefore the general public acknowledged this as the world's rarest and most desirable postcard. It made the Guinness Book of Records for its lofty price and gained even more worldwide acceptance as to its desirability. Whether this postcard will reach even higher prices in the future is yet to be determined, but we do know the supply is very limited and the price has been established.

Most collectors have said, "I don't care what it's worth, I collect it because I like it." This is a proper way to enjoy any art form because whether a postcard will increase or decrease in value is very speculative. If you get a certain amount of pleasure from owning the card, maybe the price truly doesn't matter.
With more and more collectors joining the hobby, most postcards have increased in value over time. It must be pointed out that there are still millions of postcards from all decades that are still selling for 20 pence each. People who collect these cards are attracted to the card's artwork, or the fond memories the card might evoke. The postcard may even be a damaged version of something that would normally sell for much more money, but this may be the only way the collector can enjoy the image without sacrificing his wallet.

Whether you are a buyer or a seller, try to appraise the market value unemotionally, with sentimentality neither attached to the collection as a whole nor to individual cards.


HAGGLING / BARTERING
Last but not least, let’s not forget the haggle or bartering point – “ask nothing – get nothing”. Some dealers may ask a higher price to begin with but the same maybe much more approachable to give a more generous discount and the final price may be less than others at the show.

Picture Postcard Annual 2014

Diary of 2014 events, postcard bibliography, directories of dealers, fairs, auctions + features on Railways, Shipping, Rugby, Cats, publisher LL, social history 1910-14 £5.95

Beginners Guide - 1

Collecting Values Values2
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