Impossibly blue skies and bright sandy beaches may be typical of today’s holiday postcard, but in the early days, the Post Office insisted upon the use of plain cards with addresses on one side and messages on the reverse. In the 1890s the rules changed and the picture postcard was born. From around 1905 ‘divided back’ postcards, which allowed the address and message to be written on the same side, were introduced allowing space on the front of the card for more varied and appealing decoration. The artistry and subject matter of postcards dating from before WWII, as well as their relative availability, has made them one of the most widely collected objects today. As well as being fascinating and attractive, collections can be surprisingly valuable.
The price of many postcards from the pre-WWII era remains low and cards showing historical buildings and churches that have changed little over time can be picked up for as little as 50p. Examples depicting bustling townscapes, village scenes and one-off local events are often of great interest to residents and historians and can be worth around £3-30 depending on the popularity of the theme. Seaside postcards were produced in great numbers and a card showing a typical scene such as Brighton Pier can be picked up for around £3-5. Saucy and humorous holiday postcards are particularly popular, especially designs by Donald McGill. Equally desirable are postcards that appeal to a range of collectors, such as those featuring sporting subjects.
Advertising and artist cards are among the most sought after types of postcard, particularly those featuring striking designs of the period such as the sinewy curves of the Art Nouveau movement or the striking geometry of Art Deco. The names of notable designers adds to value – Cassandre cards can be worth around £30-50 and the cat designs of Louis Wain can be valued at £30-60 or more.
When buying, avoid cards with creased corners or that have had their postage stamp removed. An unused card is desirable, but writing and postmarks do not necessarily lower the value as they can help date the card and provide an intriguing insight into the period. With prices relatively low, it is easy and enjoyable to build up a collection that can be fascinating and valuable as a whole.