Give Their Regards To Postcards

Posted: August 20, 1989

They pull up chairs, dig their hands into the stacks and the dealing begins.

Hot-air balloons. Scenic views of the 50 states. Smiling teenagers made up in the style of Grace Kelly and Veronica Lake. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The 1984 Olympics.

They shuffle past and present as they sort through the images at a dizzying pace. They stop only when they find what they're looking for: a turn-of-the- century snow scene for some, a brand-new Garfield drawing for others.

Some people collect stamps. Others collect coins. These people collect postcards.

For the Washington Crossing Card Collectors Club, postcards are not just for mailing. They're for storing and showing, buying and trading. Transactions are made at flea markets, at postcard shows around the country and at the club's monthly meetings at the First Presbyterian Church in Titusville, N.J.

The meetings start at 8 p.m., but many of the club's approximately 50 members arrive an hour or more before to sort through the cards that are for sale before the meeting, according to Betty Davis, editor of the club's newsletter.

True to form, at 7:15 p.m. on a recent Monday, the utility room of the church where the club meets was bustling. Four dealers, including one who had traveled from Indiana to sell cards, had set up tables, and dozens of club members were milling about, inspecting glossy new postcards and studying the postmarks of antique cards.

The club's monthly meetings draw regular attendees from as far as northern New Jersey, Davis said, and its membership includes people of all ages.

In Davis' family, the hobby spans three generations. The Wrightstown woman began collecting postcards 50 years ago after attending auctions with her mother, who was an avid collector. Davis' daughter Heather, 25, is an active member of the club and began collecting cards when she was 10. She now uses a computer database to keep track of her 408-card contemporary Hallmark collection.

"I started because my mother was into it," Heather Davis said, "but it'll be a lifetime hobby."

Postcard-collecting has grown in popularity over the last few years, according to Deb Lengkeek, editor of Postcard Collector, a national monthly magazine based in Iola, Wis. Lengkeek estimated the number of collectors in this country in the "tens of thousands," based on her magazine's circulation of 7,500 and a mailing list of an additional 10,000 names.

According to Davis, the first postcard - a blank card with no photograph or illustration - was issued by the Austrian government in 1869. The first mass- produced picture postcard was distributed in the United States in 1893 to commemorate the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Lengkeek said.

Collectors refer to the period between the Spanish-American War and World War I as the "golden age" of postcards, Lengkeek said. In 1908, more than 677 million postcards were mailed in this country, at a time when the U.S. population was only 88.7 million.

The Postal Service no longer keeps figures on the number of postcards mailed in a given year, a Postal Service spokeswoman said. Lengkeek believes the number of postcards mailed out is "nowhere near as high today" as it was at the turn of the century.

"Back then, it was a primary means of correspondence," she said.

Although an art nouveau postcard sold for $4,400 in 1984, Lengkeek said that the purchase price for most postcards ranges from 20 cents to a few

dollars apiece, making postcard collecting "a hobby most people can afford."

The hobby attracts a wider variety of people than a hobby such as numismatics, said Lengkeek, who also edits a coin-collectors' magazine. That's

because there are so many different types of postcards - from antique and artistic to commemorative and scenic.

"A (postcard( collector might be a lover of history, or a lover of art," said Lengkeek, who is not a collector. "I think it takes a very special person to be a (postcard) collector."

Although the Washington Crossing Card Collectors Club did not form until 1972, many of the club's members have been collecting for decades. That often means storage space is at a premium.

Marvin Krupnick of Levittown started collecting postcards 45 years ago as a Cub Scout hobby. He estimates that he has more than a million cards.

When asked how much room a million cards take up, Krupnick laughed. "Don't even ask," he said, adding that he has filled one room of his home and is well on his way to filling a second with his collectibles.

While Krupnick is running out of space, other club members sing the praises of the postcard as a compact, relatively inexpensive collectible. Club president Mike Schwartz has 5,000 to 10,000 cards, which he said was about the

average for a collector.

Schwartz, who has been a club member for four years and a postcard collector for "at least" 20, said his interest in the hobby was a "natural offshoot" of a childhood stamp-collecting hobby.

"Postcards also fit in with postal history," he said. "Many people will collect postcards with interesting cancellations."

Schwartz, who lives in Whitehouse Station, N.J., collects postcards dealing with breweries, airlines and his home state of Wisconsin.

Hometowns and home states are popular themes for card collectors. Jim Lewis of Lambertville, N.J., has been collecting historical postcards of his hometown of Asbury Park, N.J., since the early 1970s. He started collecting postcards of Lambertville after moving there in 1979, and recently added Milltown, N.J., his new bride's hometown, to the collection.

An interest in genealogy brought club secretary Anita Smiley into the fold. After tracing her family tree to Delaware about 15 years ago, she began collecting postcards of the state. An unusual find by friends in a Doylestown antique store moved Smiley, who lives in Huntingdon Valley, to collect historical cards from her hometown, Willow Grove.

Smiley's friends found a postcard with a picture of her father's old drugstore in Willow Grove. Using landmarks in the photograph, she dated it to pre-1915.

"It's really fun when you find things like that," she said.

For Dave Long of Elkhart, Ind., a postcard-collecting hobby turned into a full-time job. Long, who has been dealing in postcards for six years, is a member of the Washington Crossing club. He attends meetings once a year to sell cards.

Long started collecting "everything I got my hands on" in 1949, at the age of 10. He formed a postcard collectors' club in Indiana 20 years ago, and started selling cards to subsidize club activities. He also published a club newsletter. His hobby became a full-time preoccupation.

"That's why I'm single again," he quipped.

Six years ago, Long moved into card-dealing full time. He handles only modern postcards, and displayed a variety Monday night that included scenic photographs from every state. His prices range from 20 cents to 35 cents a card.

Turning pleasure into business has had an effect on his own postcard collection, which he keeps separate from the cards he buys and sells for a living, Long said.

"I haven't had any time to collect anything for several years," he said.

Although buying and selling postcards is a big attraction at the club's meetings, the meetings also include best-postcard contests, in which members submit entries from their collections and vote for their favorite in a given category. Monday's theme was beach scenes with a twist: The word "lifeguard" had to be printed somewhere on the card.

There are speakers too. Heather Davis gave an overview of her collection at Monday's meeting.

The group also corresponds with several other postcard-collecting clubs, including one in Queensland, Australia.

Despite their love of postcards, Heather Davis said that she and many other club members are able to part with pieces of their collections.

"Sure, we use them in correspondence," she said. "Sometimes on vacation I'll send out a bunch of them."

But the prize postcards of her collection, she said, are strictly return to sender.

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