Antique Postcards from the Early 20th Century

Old Russian Postcard

Antique postcards, from the Edwardian era to the end of World War 1, give us fascinating glimpses into everyday lives and are affordable collectibles.

Postcards were sent in the millions between 1900 and 1920 as the primary method of written communication between friends and families. In antiques and collectibles shops around the world, there are many of these postcards, stacked in boxes or filed in folders, waiting to be re-discovered by modern day collectors.

Reading these postcards gives us insights into the everyday lives of the people who sent them. The postcards might be hand-written declarations of feelings between lovers, appointments to meet, condolences over a family member’s death, best wishes for a birthday, even just a chat about the weather and plans for the weekend. Antique postcards were the early 20th century version of email!

For a few dollars or a couple of pounds each, depending on condition, these postcards make surprisingly affordable collectibles. So many are still available that it may help the collector to narrow down their chosen range of postcards and concentrate on collecting a particular type of card.

Collecting Antique Postcards by Type

There are so many categories of antique postcards for the collector to choose from. As well as greetings postcards, real photo cards, humorous, girls’ names, hands across the sea and World War 1 postcards, here are a few more ideas for categories that make interesting collections:

year: New Year cards often featured the name of the year. Other postcards were made into calendars.

artist: these cards are usually sought after and can be more expensive than most. Famous artists who designed postcards are Alphonse Mucha with Art Nouveau designs, Louis Wain with comic cats, Donald McGill for humorous satire, and Charles Dana Gibson, famous for his portraits of Edwardian women with tiny waists and upswept hair.

topograhical postcards: these real photo cards show town and city streets. By concentrating on collecting cards of a particular place, a collector can build up a valuable record of times past in that location. For those interested in finding out their family history, these real photo cards can shed light on where their ancestors lived, worked and shopped.

same picture: often a series of cards were made using the same picture or photo but having different verses on each postcard or different colours on some of the cards.

place: many towns and cities produced postcards with “Greetings From …”, often written in glitter. It can be fun to collect these postcards from your home town.

advertising postcards: some businesses had photos taken of their premises and made them into postcards to send to valued customers. Other companies used gimmicky postcards for advertising.

transport postcards: the Edwardian era was the time of motor cars and the invention of aeroplanes and airships and ocean liners. All featured on postcards, many of them humorous ones.

Pricing of Old Postcards

The prices of antique postcards vary from a couple of pounds or dollars to upwards of thirty dollars each. The value of a postcard is influenced by several factors:

condition: the condition of the postcard can vary from bent corners, scraped pictures, smudged writing, generally poor condition, written on and postally used to pristine and not used. The price paid for each postcard will depend to a large extent on its condition.

rareity: the postcards that were produced for the masses in their millions are not as valuable as limited edition ones, or postcards that were ‘mechanical’ or ‘trick’ i.e. had moving parts, or were signed by the artist. The rareity value of a particular postcard is reflected in the pricing.

Displaying an Antique Postcard Collection

In the heyday of postcard production, special albums were sold to keep postcards in. Many an Edwardian lady spent hours creating her postcard collection display, much as Victorian women made scrapbooks. The postcard albums would be kept on a table in the drawing room or morning room for visitors to look at.

Nowadays this display option is still valid. A postcard album keeps the collection together and protects the cards from dust and damage from light.

Another display idea is to create a board or frame (or a series of them) with postcards mounted in it to make a themed collection. Several could be hung on a wall in a row to make an eye-catching talking point.

Collecting antique postcards is a fascinating hobby. For those who do not mind if the postcards have been written on, the little letters on the backs of the cards give us a peep into someone else’s world – a snapshot of a moment in history.