How is your Deltiology collection doing?

by Bob Walden

How is your Deltiology collection doing?

Just before the holidays I listened to a discussion on “Was the Market for Postcards Tanking”. Mostly the discussion was aimed at Ebay buyers and sellers. Not really my area of interest as I am a collector only as far as the postcards have a meaning to me. And I don’t sell. I treasure my family RPPC’s (Real photo post cards).
Also local RPPC’s. Mechanical or printed postcards do not hold much interest for me.

First a little history.

RPPC’s are made from negatives. RPPC’s are a continuous tone photograph and are actual photos on photo printing paper. Mechanical or printed postcards are made using a lithographic or offset printing process.

Mechanical or printed postcards are made up of dot patterns. Easily detected with a loupe or magnifying glass.

RPPC’s are made from a negative, printed and developed onto photographic paper preprinted with the postcard markings on the back side.

Another clue to identifying RPPC’s is if the image has a shiny silvery look. Because old photos were a silver based process, over the years and with improper storage the silver ions have migrated to the surface of the paper. Similar to a daguerreotype, when held at an angle to the light it looks light a negative image in the silvered parts.

Silvering is sign of a real RPPC.

Mechanical or lithographic processes do not require silver so silvering is not a problem and helps with identifying the two types of cards. Still, the best way of identification is a loupe or magnifying glass. Continuous tones versus dots. Some old RPPC’s have been hand tinted so don’t let color fool you. Although most RPPC’s will be strictly black and white.

A bit off subject but for people interested in saving images for genealogy purposes, working on the image in Photoshop can sometimes significantly reduce the silvering. As most of the silver color registers in the blue channel, working with channels in Photoshop can reduce the blue and also reveal details unseen before.

Still a work in progress but I’m retired so I have plenty of time!

Back to the discussion on whether the market for post cards is tanking. The premise was that a few years ago a person could make $30,000 or $40,000 a year selling post cards. I assume this would be selling on Ebay. Certainly not in an antique shop in an antique mall. Usually a box or two can be found in these places with prices from $1.00 to $3.00 or $4.00. You would have to sell a lot of cards to reach $30,000 a year.

Here is a nice mechanical or printed card, maybe from the 40’s or 50’s. Nice condition and nice color. Sold for $1.25 plus $1.95 s&h. With a random search this seemed about normal for cards of this type. This one sold recently for almost $6.00.

A photo of a school bus plant which held interest for someone. However it is listed as a RPPC. From the 1960’s? I don’t think so. If you are going to buy or sell be careful out there!

It seems photo mechanical card selling would take a significant amount of sales to achieve $30,000 a year. With a selling price range on average of less then a dollar to around $6.00, it would take 5000 card sales at $6.00 a card to equal $30,000. That’s a lot of postcards! RPPC’s offer a slightly higher selling average at a low of about $5.00 to a high of around $9.00. That requires about 3400 postcards sales a year to produce an income of a bit over $30,000. Still a lot of postcards.

Mixture of RPPC’s and mechanical printed postcards.

I have been to many auctions and almost all have bulk postcards or old greeting cards for sale. My guess is the only way dealers or individuals can make any money is to buy bulk postcards at a low price. 300 postcards purchased for $30.00 is $.10 a postcard. Great profit margin potential. IF you sell them all.

RPPC’s have more going for them then mechanical printed postcards. First they are older and were produced in much smaller numbers. Subjects tend to be more personal. An RPPC of a local street in the early 1900’s might be of interest to someone born or raised there. Or an RPPC of a fire or even a snowstorm could have appeal to a local historian or historical society. While this type of collector may be in smaller numbers then a person who collects postcards of New York city, their search would be more focused. And I would think specific postcards aimed at specific groups justify a premium price.

RPPC 1909 Ice house explosion. Not many of these around. Worth $7.00? Or $10? Or even $15? It is to me. So all a person would have to do is sell 5.47 cards a day for a whole year and they would
make $30,000! Seems possible! Many people work a lot harder for a lot less. According to Wikipedia “In 1908, more than 677 million postcards were mailed”. A large percentage of those were RPPC’s. There is a large potential of salable postcards out there.

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Tons of postcard knowledge on Google. So many categories of postcards that appeal to target markets. You could choose the scatter approach and buy large lots of cards online or at auctions. Or the selective approach and concentrate on specific categories. I wouldn’t buy damaged postcards to resell. I would and have bought damaged postcards for my collection because it’s the subject that interests me. Another tip if you are selling on Ebay. Spend the money and buy archival sleeves for your postcards, especially if you are going to sell RPPC’s. RPPC are basically photographic prints. Emulsion is easily damaged because the image is on the surface. Unlike mechanical printed postcards that are dye based and the image can go below the surface. I also feel, really good listing photos and information help sell at premium prices.

Showing a postcard that you have taken the time and consideration to protect and display clearly gives an advantage over a badly exposed, out of focus and poorly lit postcard. And with all the people trying to sell postcards, every advantage helps.

Looks like this might have been an interesting postcard but hard to tell.

This is much better and salable. Money can be made selling postcards. How much is debatable. Whatever the amount it requires effort, time and forethought. Most likely some dealers are doing quite well. Probably the majority of sellers, not so much. I personally don’t think the market is tanking so much as it is overly saturated with people not doing their homework before trying to sell. Just like any collectors or artistic markets there are people who collect and will pay for what they want. The winning sellers will supply what they know collectors want and the other sellers will try and sell 5.47 postcards a day of New York City.

Bob Walden

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