Lisle collector preserves history in postcards
Did you receive any postcards in the mail this summer?
It seems the emergence of new technologies jeopardizes the amiable picture postcard sent to friends and family from vacation destinations. As with a challenge from any new medium, the future potential of postcards is still to be determined, including its use in marketing.
"It is sad that what was once recorded for us to read and enjoy even 100 years later is being lost in the airwaves in current times," said Susan Brown Nicholson, a recognized authority on antique postcards.
The longtime Lisle resident questions whether the younger generation will miss out on learning about ancestors without the bits of casual information garnered from the backside of postcards.
Long before texting and social media updates limited the space available to send a message, postcards restricted communication to half the backside of a 3.5-by-5.5-inch or 4-by-6-inch postcard. The small space allowed for a short, snappy greeting and in the process recorded a bit of family history.
The less people use postcards, the more interest rises in collecting, a hobby called deltiology. Nicholson said the study and collecting of postcards is extremely popular today.
"The major purchase venues are websites and auction sites online such as bidStart and eBay with more than one million cards each online every day," Nicholson said.
Postcards are part of the collectible category of ephemera, which means anything made of paper that is expected to be short-lived. They captured the interests of recipients and collectors from the start.
Nicholson wrote "The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards" with illustrations and price guide as a resource to collectors. She also writes about antique postcards for many publications including the Barr's Postcard News and The Postcard Collector.
The Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda has the country's only postcard museum. Its 365,000 Curt-Teich Postcard Archives has a significant collection of Route 66 images. Access online is at lcfpd.org.
"The most popular postcards to collect now are real photographic postcards from small-town America and popular holidays like Halloween," Nicholson said.
Nicholson's collection of old postcards has some of her hometown, Lisle. Her images include Reidy's General Store, Lisle Creamery and the Lisle Depot train station with its large protective eves to help shelter riders from inclement weather.
The postcards showing Benedictine Hall and the St. Joan of Arc Church interior preserve memories since those buildings met with a wrecking ball. The St. Joseph's Bohemian Orphanage ended in 1956, but the building lives on as the oldest structure on the Benet Academy high school campus in Lisle.
The old postcards from the Morton Arboretum in Lisle are not as significantly different from the newest stylish collection currently for sale in its gift shop because plants and trees have a universality about them that transcends time. It is when people or buildings are included that a postcard offers a glimpse of history.
Postcards became popular at the beginning of the 20th century and were collected right from the start. They offered a wide diversity at a reasonable cost.
In the early 1900s, Eastman Kodak introduced a Folding Pocket Kodak designed so the general public could use its postcard-size film to take photographs and have them printed on postcard backs. Real Photo postcards, such as the Lisle street scenes, enabled people to make a postcard of any picture they took.
At first, postcards could have only writing in the front and the address and stamp on the back. After 1907, postcards had an image on the front with a divided back, as we have today. Fold-out postcards, popular in the 1950s, were a series of postcards attached into a strip.
In the heyday of postcards, people could purchase them in dime stores, drugstores and newsstands. Small specialty shops that sold only postcards were popular at tourist attractions. Today it is hard to even find postcards outside vacation destinations.
"Postcards have always been an advertising tool and still are today," Nicholson said. "The 1907 versions are not considered 'junk mail' but collectibles."
Even artist-illustrator Norman Rockwell did a postcard for the Upjohn Co. in Michigan.
Local Realtors used the postcard medium to showcase a house for sale on the photo front and the details of the house as the postcard's message. Today, real estate agents still use postcards to keep their name in front of potential customers.
Nicholson said free rack cards, available in restaurants and motels in the last century, record the kinds of products we used and places we frequented. Postcards featuring political and social causes could reach the general public many times bearing just a penny stamp.
Subject matter, condition, desirability and demand all determine a postcard's value.
Nicholson started collecting postcards when she bought some while collecting antiques. She suggests that new collectors ask questions and buy just what they like.
"If the value goes up, good for you," Nicholson said. "If not, you still like it."