Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
Postcard of Middleburgh High School
around 1909. Note the recess area at the left corner and
under the tree to the right. These are good spots to detect.
is the word that means the collection and study of postcards.
I am by no means a deltiologist. I'm just a simple treasure hunter
looking for clues to our great past. As any good metal detectorist
will tell you, "You've got to know your history."
it's quite easy to drive by a place that you know has a lot of
foot traffic and know it'll be a good spot to check out with your
metal detector. Other times a friend may say, "Ya know I
heard there used to be a store right over there where that field
is behind old man Parsons place." So you run over there after
work to the field, metal detector in hand, not knowing where to
start and you begin searching the two acre field, using all the
techniques you've learned over the years and the next thing you
know, it's dark and you're pooped. Then after checking your meager
finds you surmise that maybe you started in the wrong place after
all. Sometimes information isn't even available on new sites so
you head down to the beach and hope you get lucky.
get the odds more in my favor I use postcards. My mom had turned
her collection of postcards over to me a few years ago and being
an army brat her collection ranged from Fort Riley, Kansas to
Fort Totten, New York in addition to cards from overseas. As I
sat there marveling at the different views that were represented
and had chuckles over the notes on the back, I suddenly realized
I was seeing history as it was in this case, up to ninety years
clue was a postcard of a place I knew, or thought I did. It was
Middleburgh Central School. Hey, I went to school at good ol'
MCS but it sure didn't look like this. The postcard was dated
1909 and the building was a totally different structure. By matching
up trees and houses I was able to locate the original site of
the school and playgrounds. It was on the same acreage that the
present school is now but in a different position. I also then
did a time travel back to 1968 when somewhere on the grounds I
lost my high school ring and made a mental note that I would have
to get back home soon to metal detect the school yard.
I found postcards
very interesting and I think you will too. The first widely distributed
postcards were of the Columbia Exposition in 1893. They were used
as souvenir items that were catching on very quickly in the United
States. Postcards had been the fad in Europe years before. In
1898 the Private Mailing Card Act opened the U.S. market to great
competition for publishers who created the cards. They offered
pictures of places that were called views, along with holiday
greetings, artists' renditions, and topicals, which could be a
picture of just about anything from alligators to zeppelins.
late 1890's to the early 1920's collecting postcards was the rage
in America. Although the population of the United States in 1908
was only 88 million people, over 677 million cards were mailed!
These small, 3 1/2 X 5 1/2, picture cards offer up to us our history
and heritage with every viewing.
TO FIND POSTCARDS
Postcard shows and conventions
2. Modern postcard specialty stores
3. Antique stores
4. Barr's News & Postcard Collector Magazine
5. Collectable stores
6. Flea markets, swap meets, and estate sales
you look for? I recommend looking first for view cards that depict
an area you are familiar with. More then likely you'll find postcards
dating from the present back to 100 years ago. You can than match
up these views against each other or against what you know to
exist now in these same locations. Lots of times the postcards
depict happier times and places like parks, picnics, and places
of interest. Today's postcards may depict the same places but
the spots people congregate in may be different. Are you getting
I search specifically
for real photo postcards, which was a process where an actual
photo was taken and printed with a postcard back. One real photo
card I found while browsing through a section marked "SAN
GABRIEL MOUNTAINS," shows two vacationers writing on the
porch of their holiday cabin at a place called Roberts Camp. Through
further research I found out that the camp had accommodations
for up to 180 guests with a two-story lodge, 24 cabins, and even
more tent sites to boot. The guest register of the camp I recently
found out, contained the signatures of 5000 guests in the year
1919 . To me it was indeed a lost treasure hunt just to find the
site of Roberts Camp and when I did my work was rewarded well
with coins, buttons, and an old fork that had a carved ivory handle.
you get with postcards is you don't necessarily have to buy them.
They are put on display with the hope you will buy but you are
allowed to browse, in fact most dealers will offer you a chair
to sit in while you look. If you do decide to purchase a postcard
you could spend anywhere from $1.00 to $100.00 per card. Most
cards are reasonably priced from $2-3.00. Many dealers have bargain
boxes that contain unsorted cards from 25 to 50 cents apiece.
Many dealers also offer approval services that will send you cards
in your specific category and if you want them you simply mail
them the payment asked for. If you don't want them you can send
them back. You must however pay the postage.
When you first
come across a postcard show or a dealer selling cards you'll probably
be overwhelmed, I was. Here were millions of little treasure clues
just waiting to be plucked out of the haystack. A show is usually
made up of a number of dealers each having one or two tables and
on the tables they've displayed their postcards for you to see.
Each dealer can have thousands of postcards on display. The view
cards are usually filed by country, state, county, and in their
specialized areas, by city. A dealer that wants to sell cards
will have a nice display of organized cards and the cards will
be properly priced on the back in pencil. Be sure to ask if the
dealer has anything special set aside behind the table. They may
have large photos, brochures, and other ephemera worth looking
If you happen
to come across a batch of postcards at a garage sale or estate
sale, chances are the seller knows less then you now know about
the cards themselves, the dates, or the values. Pay only what
the card is worth to you. To date a postcard first check the back
for a copyright date or a postmark. Sometimes the cards were never
mailed so look to see how much postage was required. That can
narrow down a date. You can also judge the date by the clothes'
people are wearing or the cars they are driving. If a flag is
waving in the background you could try to count the stars on the
flag to date the picture.
So just pull
up a chair and start in. Check out the state you're interested
in and the city. Take notes if you like. Some other categories
to check under are disasters, train wrecks, train depots, ships
and shipwrecks, buildings, expositions, fairs, and amusement parks.
Actually the list could go on for ever, just use your imagination
and have fun. Now that one of my secrets is out of the bag I hope
to see more treasure hunters at the postcard shows along side
sure to check your local laws before diving into an area for metal
detecting. Many areas are unfortunately off limits and other areas
will require permission first.
1. Diane Allmen, Postcards the Official Price Guide, House of
2. John W. Robinson, The San Gabriels, Big Santa Anita Historical
3. Authors personal experiences.