Antique hunting, new style: Collecting postcards (1967)

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Antique hunting – new style

by Paul Kagan

Was it the trivia program she had just seen on television? Or was it merely the pinch of autumn in the South Carolina air that triggered recollections of long-gone days? Whatever it was, Mrs Josephine Cleary found herself pleasantly caught up with her good old days, and memories of old Charleston, her mother’s city. She found her slim figure, deceptively youthful for a grandmother’s, being mysteriously propelled toward the attic.

She hadn’t visited the attic in months, for there was nothing up there but the past, cobwebbed by the accumulating dust of the present. She didn’t like to visit the attic too often, because she found that the older she became the easier it was to think back to the past. “Strange,” she mused at the threshold, “the further you go forward, the closer you get to the beginning.”

Inside the attic her involuntary movement continued to a massive black trunk in the corner. It had been her mother’s, and bore the marks of a dozen ocean crossings. Josephine lifted the lid and let yesterday out.

There were mostly old clothes. A small box of costume jewelry nestled among some souvenirs of cherished visits to points of interest. There were a host of things that every family collects.

But there was one item, way down at the bottom of the trunk, that Josephine had never noticed in past explorations. “Why, it’s a picture postcard album,” she exclaimed, extracting it and blowing off the dust of decades. Talking to herself, she read off the dates on the postmarks — 1903, 1898, 1873. She hurriedly closed the trunk, took the album with her, and retreated down the stairs, back into the 20th century.

As an antique collector, Josephine suspected the album was far too valuable to keep buried in a trunk. And she was right. She bought a copy of the American Card Catalog at the bookstore and learned that five of her mother’s cards were now worth $100 each. And according to the latest reports, her neighbors have been turning their attics upside down ever since she told the story.

They aren’t the only ones. There are well over 50,000 people in this country searching high and low for old copies of the little darlings with the one-cent stamps on the back. The searchers range in age from 8 to 80, and they call themselves “deltiologists” (from the Greek Deltion, or small card). They hoard postcards like they’re going out of style, for, even though 4 billion new cards are printed every year, old cards are definitely disappearing. Bookshop and antique store supplies are rapidly dwindling, with attics getting most of the action these days.

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Antique hunting, new style 1967

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