December 9, 2012

Postcard collection spans many years


---- — A couple months ago, a young girl we know asked for people to mail her postcards for a school project. While on vacation in Myrtle Beach, we sent Elliana Bowlen a picture postcard. It costs more than a penny these days.

Let’s get the nomenclature out of the way. Deltiology might be a new word for you. My dictionary defines it as “the collection and study of postcards.”

George Carlin would be proud of all my “stuff.” Postcards are just one category. When I started thinking about this column, I began a mental review of our nooks and crannies. In a box somewhere are several scrapbooks containing holiday postcards from the early 20th century. Most contain the Christmas theme.

On the table next to me are 21 Easter postcards from the same time period. Stuffed in drawers and cabinets around our “Little” house on the river are numerous postcards from the past. I have framed postcard bills and receipts from my maternal great-grandfather, Glode Requa, who ran a lumber yard in Monsey, N.Y., more than a century ago.

A friend recently gifted me with a series of postcards featuring photographs of Plattsburgh back in the day. Another friend dropped some at my door as I wrote this.

Experts might argue with my time line, but I’ll throw it out as a guide. The first private postcard in this country was created in 1861 by John P. Charlton in Philadelphia. The U.S. Postal Service started to issue postcards that were pre-stamped in 1873. From that point till 1898, nobody except the Postal Service was legally allowed to print them. Some early private cards cost 2 cents to mail, same as a letter. Then, a federal law was passed permitting anyone to publish, print and sell postcards. That opened the floodgates for many varieties that could be mailed for just a penny.

For a while, you weren’t allowed to write your message on the back. Some of mine have a tiny space on the front for that purpose. Those are rare. Most had undivided backs before 1898. Finally, somewhere around 1907, postcards came with a segmented back, so you could put your message on the left side and the mailing address on the right. It was against the law to write on the address side until that year.

Some cards had a narrow white border around the picture, presumably to save on printing ink. I noticed also that lots of my cards were printed outside the United States, and some were published by local companies.

For example, a postcard photo of the “New High School” on lower Broad Street in Plattsburgh was published by W. H. Jaques Drug Company. One was published by Levy Brothers in Plattsburg (without the “h”). An early card depicting the “State Normal School” has only a thin strip beneath the photo on the front for a message and was printed in Leipzig. One with a canceled penny stamp postmarked Chateaugay was printed in Holland and is called a “Tuck’s Post Card.” Others were published in New York but printed in Great Britain. A postcard featuring the “Officer’s Club, Plattsburgh Barracks, N.Y.,” was published by Merkel, Kempitter & Goldwater in Plattsburgh.

My Easter postcards are especially beautiful. I have seen thousands from museums and private collections and have yet to find even one that has an identical picture. Some have canceled penny stamps, and others are pristine and blank.

I have learned that deltiology is a huge hobby — one of the largest in the world, and postcards have been collected from the very beginning, so chances are you have a collection of your own.

Here’s a name for you: Ellen H. Clapsaddle. She was a postcard artist starting in the first decade of the 20th century and perhaps did more pictures than any person past or present.

Experts have a strict system of grading postcards. All of mine are “wonderful” to me.

I’ve left a lot of details out, but I hope this sparks a conversation over your coffee.

Have a great day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at