Postcard Backs-Clues for Dating

I’m planning a series of articles on postcard collecting and last week’s article on real photo postcards was the first of the series.  Today, I want to show you how to take the clues from the back of the postcard to help you determine approximate dates.

Postcard Back

Postcard Back

  • Card has  printed stamped government postals with space on one side for the address only — This is likely from 1861 (when postcards were first authorized) to 1898.  Privately printed post cards were not allowed, though in 1893 full color postcards were printed on the reverse side of the US government printed side.
  • Card has  printed logo on one side “Private Mailing Card”  —  This is likely from the period 1898 to 1901.  Only the address was allowed on the address side, but the card was printed privately.  Often the image side was printed to allow space for senders to write a message.  Messages were not allowed on the address side.
  • Card has the words “Post Card” or “Postcard” on the address side with no divider —  This is likely from 1901 – 1907.   Only the address was allowed on the address side and space was still frequently left on the image side for messages.
  • Back has a divider —  1907 or later.  The address, and the message were now on the same side, allowing for the image to take up the entire front.  Most cards were printed in Germany, and the lithography processes there were so advanced that most cards from this period are spectacular.  Postcard sending and collecting became a mania, and this collecting frenzy was only slowed by WWI which cut off the supply of the quality produced cards from Germany.  Every home had its postcard albums, and communication by postcard was “the norm.

Collecting Paint by Number

Paint By Number Kit

Paint By Number Kit

Paint By Number Kits were first produced in the early 1950s by premier manufacturer Craftmaster. The first artist was Dan Robbins. Paint By Number became a craze and thousands of painting kits were manufactured and sold. By 1960, the craze had burned out. In the following decades, paint-by-number paintings fell out of favor and were thrown away or were stored in attics, barns and basements.

In the mid-1980s, a few collectors began to emerge. Galleries exhibited collections of PBN paintings, usually tongue-in-cheek. In 2001, the Smithsonian Museum held an exhibition of PBN paintings, and a catalog was published. William L. Bird, Jr. was the show’s curator, himself a paint-by- number collector. Since the close of the Smithsonian exhibition, prices are beginning to escalate for certain works.

Knowing which images to collect is important. Clearly, the first generation of CraftMaster pictures have surfaced as the most collectible. The 36 original designs of Dan Robbins are the most sought after. Additionally, there are the works of Adam Grant, another CraftMaster artist and a specialist in figure painting. “Love Ballet”(18″ x 24”) and “Ballet Intermission” (12″ x 16) are two of his most popular first generation CraftMasters. Grant’s works today can bring anywhere from a few hundred dollars to maybe as much as $800 or more for his super CraftMaster masterpiece, “The Red Shoes”(27″ x 36”).

Picture Craft, a competing company, made some very appealing pictures, also printed on canvas. The very popular image, “Oriental Cat”, is one of those odd ’50s juxtapositions of content, miniature dancing Siamese figures, incense burning and a big white cat. Another very popular title was “Mediterranean Scene”, a beautiful picture in very controlled colors. Both date to the early ’50s.

Collecting today is often subject specific. There are collectors of birds, tropicals, dogs, cats, children, horses, flowers, etc. Some ’60s vintage pictures can be bought for two or three dollars. Some can run into the hundreds for nudes and French scenes. The “Blue Heron” is from the ’60s and is superbly colored. It will usually sell for $40-$60.

Paint by Number-Deer by Stream

Paint by Number-Deer by Stream

As is the case with so many collectibles, the most valuable are the very first generation of works produced. But some really great later pictures are very worthy of collecting. For reference I recommend the Paint By Number Museum online and the book Paint by Number: The How-To Craze that Swept the Nationby William L. Bird Jr.

More on collecting calendars…

How does one determine the collectibility of a particular calendar?

4 Important Factors:

  • How old is it?  Age is only one factor in estimating collectibility. You can still pick up some good quality calendars from the 19th century for reasonable prices.
  • Does it related to a highly collectible area?  Those relating to highly sought after collectible products such as Coca-Cola, are commanding very high prices.
  • Is it by a well known artist?  The calendar art by noted artists, is escalating in value.
  • Does it advertise something?  Calendars with local advertising, naturally, bring the most money in that particular local area.

Condition  “Complete” calendars, meaning those which have their entire Jan-Dec pads attached (if a pad-type calendar) bring a premium over the same calendar that has the pad missing. Those that have some of the months remaining are valued somewhere inbetween. Like any other paper collectible, calendars which are stained or soiled, torn, faded or damaged in any way should be reduced proportionately in value, however even calendars “with problems” seem to be bringing escalated prices compared to their auction prices only couple of years ago.

information from The Calendar Collectors Society

Collecting Calendars

Calendars have been made in many forms over time and people collect in many categories. Here are some of the collectible categories according to The Calendar Collectors Society.

  • wall calendars
  • perpetual calendars
  • desk calendars
  • pocket calendars
  • postcard calendars
  • novelty calendars (calendars made from non-traditional materials, usually die-cuts or 3-dimensional)
  • calendar plates
  • calendar towels
  • almanacs
  • diaries
  • schedules

Lots of collectors are attracted to the art, for their beauty and because they were produced by famous artists or designers like Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, Varga, Hy Hintermeister, Rolf Armstrong, R. Atkinson Fox and others. These folks are likely to frame the calendar and hang it on the wall.

Advertising calendars are often collected by collectors of advertising as a “companion collectible”. If the collector is building a collection around a brand name (Coca-Cola, Santa Fe Railroad, etc.) they often include calendars distributed free by that corporation as a part of their collection. Sports collectors, celebrity collectors, political collectors, royalty collectors, Worlds fair collectors or others often include calendars in their collection.

In many countries, pocket calendars (sometimes referred to as wallet calendars) are a large calendar collecting area.



Relax, it’s just post card collecting. You know, the cards that people mailed from vacation spots, greetings for a special day or just to show off a special interest.

It turns out that this is the 3rd largest collecting hobby after stamps and money. …..Who knew?

Here is a small part of the history according to wikipedia.
“…there are some general rules to dating when a postcard was printed. Postcards are generally sent within a few years of their printing so the postmark helps date a postcard. If the card is original and not a reprint, a postcard’s original printing date can be deduced from such things as the fashions worn by people in the card, the era in which the cars on the street were made, and other time sensitive clues.

Picture postcards (PPCs) can be assigned to “the Golden Age of Postcards” (1898-1918), the time of the linens (circa 1930-1950), or to the modern chromes (after 1940), Modern chromes are color photographs and thus differ from photochromes generated from black and white photographs prior to WWI. PPCs can also be differentiated on the basis of other features: undivided backs are typical for c1901-1906, and divided backs for c1907-1915, while white border cards are common from c1915-1930.”

Why Do People Collect Ephemera?

I’ve been reading up on ephemera on the net and the reasons that people collect ephemera are as varied as the categories that the Ephemera Society of America lists on their website. You have the specific collectors that everyone knows about, like postage stamps, baseball cards and postcards. And then you have the folks who collect anything that catches their eye. I think the bottom line is that those who collect it, do so because it gives a window on our past. A daily menu from 1938 gives us a picture of what an ordinary person did in their everyday life. This is the part of history that doesn’t get written into history books. But those little glimpses are more fascinating than the accounts written in books because it allows us to imagine how it might have been.