As the summer vacation months are drawing to a close, I am going to date myself a bit with this piece. There was time when people traveled and brought back or sent images that did not come via the camera phone on in digital means in an e-mail. There was a time when we were all too busy traveling across county to see the Worlds Largest Ball of String, that we bought items either to mail or save for ourselves, documenting our travels and marvels seen. These things came in the form of Postcards. Many collectors are familiar with the gold plaque offerings featuring the enshrinees at Cooperstown, but I am happy to report this only scratches the surface of what is out there.
As I so often do, I was scouring E-Bay for reference material when I came across a book that just looked to neat to pass up. It was tilted “A Picture Postcard History of Baseball” by Ron Menchine; Introduction by Ernie Harwell. Right away my attention was captivated by the cover that showed two vintage color shots of Casey Stengal and Gil Hodges (don’t get me started again on why Hodges is not in the Hall of Fame). The listing referenced that the 8 ½ x 11 soft cover book contained more than 230 rare and historic baseball postcards. Well I threw in a bid with three days left and ended up winning it for a very reasonable price of $13.95 that included shipping.
The magic of, or interest in postcards is aptly captured by the preface of this book. As such it states:
Two of America’s favorite pastimes are enjoying Baseball and collecting Picture Postcards. The combination of the two activities provides us with a fascinating historical study. Professional Baseball began in 1869 when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional team, and they completed an entire year without losing a game. Postcards were initially produced in the United States for the 1893 Columbian Exposition Worlds Fair, in Chicago. Soon after the Worlds Fair, the sending of Postcards became a favorite method of communicating with family and friends.
Printed Color Picture Postcards began to appear in the major cities of the U.S., showing scenes of the more prominent sites in the area. In the smaller towns, where elaborately prepared Postcards were not economically feasible, local drugstores frequently sold Photographic Postcards depicting areas of interest including Main Street, stores, the town’s baseball team, and ball park. People were able to take photographs of family, friends, and other subjects and have them made into Postcards by the local druggist.
Over a period of many years the Postcards were collected for the message, history, and the scene. As a result of these collecting interests we have a valuable source of information relating to many subjects, including Baseball, from a historical, technical, and artistic perspective. The Postcards shown in this book provide a chronological history of Baseball.
The Picture Postcard History of Baseball as described in this book begins in 1901 when an eight-team American League was established in competition with the National League. The National League was formed in 1876. This first decade of the twentieth century was also important to Baseball with the construction of the first modern steel and concrete ball parks in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. This book is a chronological display of the players, teams, and stadiums at the Major League level. The study ends in 1959 with the 16 Major League teams that existed before the expansion of the clubs.
The reader will notice a greater emphasis on the earlier decades rather than the period from 1920 through 1949. This emphasis is not accidental. America was deeply involved in the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II during the 1940s. The output of Postcards was sharply curtailed during those years. Also, from 1923, when Yankee Stadium was built, and 1932, when the Cleveland Municipal Stadium was completed, no new Major League stadiums were completed until the Milwaukee County Stadium was finished in 1953.
This book has turned out to be one of the most enjoyable purchases I have made in a long time and got me to thinking about the idea of actually beginning to collect baseball related postcards. For you fans of the Late Night Show, here are:
Dave’s Top Ten Reasons to collect baseball related post cards:
1. They are very attractive items for display.
2. Because they are in fact images, they can be used as references as well.
3. They probably exist in lesser numbers than baseball cards from the same period and as such might be considered rarer.
4. When used, offer other valued collectables such as vintage postage stamps.
5. They appear to be better for autographs than baseball cards because of larger size.
6. They present a possible new collecting theme.
7. For the above mentioned reasons, they are in my opinion, probably currently undervalued based on current interest and general knowledge base among collectors.
8. They are not limited to players, but many facets of the game to include ball parks.
9. I have always been enamored with the concept of nostalgia…people just don’t send these anymore.
10. As a collectable, the present minimal space requirements.
With my curiosity and interest peaked, I continued to look through E-Bay and came across a second book that, given my new found interest in baseball related postcards, turned out to be the Sports Postcard Price Guide: A Comprehensive Reference. This book, of some 479 pages, covers many rare postcards from the early years of baseball, boxing, cycling, and golf and contains an impressive over 950 photos. The price guide features postcards from 1900 to 1960, ranging in cost from $3 to $13,500 each told me there was already some market for these. Often times literature is available on topics, but when you begin to see price guides, there may be more to it than first thought.
The seller of this book only accepted Pay Pal, something I do not use, so I sent off an e-mail asking if I could arrange a credit card purchase over the phone. The seller just could not accommodate the purchase, but I was able to find one who could and I scored this for around $25.00 This book is wonderful in that it details information about postcards as to when they were issued and if part of a set. The other thing it does is offer nice illustrations and pricing data as well in two grades, VG and EX. There is also a listing of grading criteria in six (6) categories:
An interesting thing to note is that according to the criteria in this guide, a Mint or Near Mint card can not be used or show any writing or postmark.
In doing some cursory research on postcards in general, I was able to find some interesting macro-level information that helps to identify some possible additions to a collection with respect to dating.
DETERMINING THE AGE OF A POSTCARD
PIONEER ERA (1893-1898) Began when picture postcards were placed on sale at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in May 1893. Undivided back, usually a multiple view card, 2 cents postage and commonly called a “Souvenir Card” or “Mail Card”.
PRIVATE MAILING CARD (1901-1907) Government gives private printers OK to print and sell postcards but required the term “Private Mailing Card” to be included on the card. Now referred to as PMCs, they also had an undivided back.
UNDIVIDED BACK ERA (1901-1907) The government gave permission on 24 Dec 1901 to use the wording “Post Card” on the back of privately printed cards. Cards still had an undivided back which was to be used for the address only so most used cards of this era had writing on the front.
DIVIDED BACK ERA (1907-1915) This was considered the Golden Age of Postcards. On 1 March 1907 the divided back era began and both the message and address were allowed on the back for the first time in the United States. Most cards had images that filled the entire front with the image.
WHITE BORDER ERA (1915-1930) As World War I began, German publishers were unavailable and US publishers printed most cards and the quality significantly decreased. Most of these have a white border.
LINEN ERA (1930-1945) Publishers began using linen paper with a high rag content that you can see and feel but usually very cheap inks.
PHOTOCHROME ERA (1939-PRESENT) Modern chromes have great chrome colors and a very slick finish that look much like a color photo.
Not only does the idea of collecting baseball related postcards open up a new possibility of a collection, but the collector’s natural progression to looking for themes entered my mind as well. They could include:
-Baseball Stadiums and Ball Parks
-Specific Players or Teams
-Business Related Offering such as those for things like the Mickey Mantle Holiday Inn in Joplin, MO.
-Vintage Signed Postcards used by players to accommodate a young fans autograph request.
Other subdivisions might include either a preference for those that have been used or not used. Although counter to the published grading criteria, I think I would prefer to have one that was written on and posted as provides me with insight and a link to the time it was issued.
Sources for these items may be established memorabilia dealers, trade shows, flea markets, antique malls or E-Bay. If you are serious about this, you may also want to consider looking for them hidden in vintage scrapbooks as well.
The point of all this is, if you are a collector…you like to collect. If you are finding it hard or not as enjoyable as it once was to add new things to your current collection, maybe it’s time to look for something new to collect. Baseball or sports related postcards might just be one of those things. Think about it…I know I am.
MEARS Auth, LLC