Sending postcards may be out of fashion, but they can be worth thousands of pounds to investors. Postcards depicting everything from seaside holidays to football matches to great moments in history are becoming increasingly popular as they gain in value.
A growing interest in family history is driving this trend, as budding historians look for flashcards of places or events associated with their ancestors.
Nostalgia is also driving up prices as collectors reminisce about the days when people sent handwritten postcards instead of text messages and emails.
Mark Wingham, postcard specialist at Nesbits, Portsmouth, says there are still many undiscovered treasures out there, adding: “Sometimes you can find postcards for pennies at car boot sales and charity shops that are worth thousands of pounds.”
But if you want to make a profit, you need to know what to look for.
Here are a few types that may cost more than you think.
The earliest postcards
The first British postcard was published in Scarborough in 1894 and featured an ink drawing of the bay. They can now be sold for up to £500.
Postcards sent from seaside resorts in the late Victorian and Edwardian era can sell for up to £50. Among the most popular are postcards from Scarborough, Whitby, Blackpool, Margate, Brighton and Eastbourne.
But in more unusual places, where the supply of cards was limited, the prices are usually the highest – now especially sought after railway stations.
For example, a penny postcard for Barcombe railway station in East Sussex, made at the turn of the 20th century, recently sold for £373.
Cards with the image of sports are particularly popular, especially with the image of sports celebrities.
Gary Arkell, auctioneer at Loddon, a postcard specialist in Reading, says: “Find a postcard featuring cricketers like W Grace or Don Bradman, or 19th-century golfer Tom Morris, and the card can sell for 100 pounds. ‘
However, there is also a demand for postcards with early football matches. Look out for old black and white postcards of teams playing in long shorts.
Photographers often found it difficult to capture action shots due to the difficulty of lugging around heavy cameras of the era, adding to the maps’ scarcity and appeal.
A 1908 card showing both teams playing Portsmouth v Manchester United sold for £1,150 earlier this year.
A hundred years ago, newspapers rarely used illustrations, and a postcard was often the best way to view the news.
Some of the most valuable are postcards celebrating unexpected disasters, such as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. A postcard with a Titanic maid saying ‘I wish you were here’ sold for £8,600 four years ago. It was posted during a stopover in the Irish port of Cork four days before the liner collided with an iceberg.
Wingham says: “Disaster recording postcards have also been made with images of railway and tramway accidents, which collectors also like to pick up and can be valuable.”
Postcards of famous artists
Some postcards designed by popular artists are in demand today.
Art Nouveau postcards were printed in the antebellum era for hobbyists who appreciated the style but didn’t have the deep pockets to purchase something original. Examples by artists such as Raphael Kirchner, Alphonse Mucha, and Eva Daniell can sell for triple figures or more. A rare example of an unused 1898 Waverley cycle sale postcard by Mucha fetched £10,570 a decade ago.
Postcards illustrated by Victorian artist Kate Greenaway are also in high demand and change hands for over £100.
Interest in the suffragette movement raises prices for similar postcards. Those depicting marches or rallies in the early 20th century demanding the vote and equality can sell for £300, as can anti-suffragist propaganda postcards – such as images of a crying baby with the words ‘Mummy is a suffragette’.
The peak of sending postcards is the First World War. Postcards sent from the front lines are especially popular.
For example, cards depicting the First Battle of the Marne in 1914 can sell for £200. They show the true horror of war with images of corpses. The postcards were later censored by the Armed Forces.
Brian Lund, owner of postcard specialist Reflections Of A Bygone Age, says: “When collecting postcards, it can often be more valuable to have a message and a postmark on the card as this can add not only interest but also authenticity . Cards sent between lovers can be particularly touching.’
Postcard sales fell in 1918 when the price of the stamp doubled from half to one penny. After a terrible and violent conflict, it seemed frivolous to me to send happy cards to so many.
The postcards of Donald McGill, the king of humorous seaside postcards, were popular with British holidaymakers in the 20th century.
But his daring double entendres became increasingly risque over the years – culminating in his conviction by a Lincoln jury in 1954 of obscenity under the Obscene Publications Act 1857.
After pleading guilty, McGill was fined £50, while police destroyed postcards such as ‘I’d like to see my little Willie’ and ‘You’ve got a couple of nice handfuls!’
Wingham says, “Because so many McGill postcards were produced, even the earliest ones often sell for as little as a dozen, but they are highly sought-after collectibles.”
Original artwork for postcards can cost upwards of £1,000. In 2014, a film called I Surprise the Natives featuring a large woman jumping in front of sailors was available for £2,750.
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