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Where’s Will? Postcards from the Edge of the Collecting World

by Will Seippel (04/20/10).

COLUMBUS, Ohio – There has been a spirited conversation in the comment sections of some of our WorthPoint articles about whether collecting is in danger of dying out because younger people do not collect. It is my belief that yes, there are young collectors, and no, collecting is not dying.

First I have to laughingly try to define, “younger.” For the sake of argument, I will define that as people younger than me, which is younger than 50.

I totally disagree with the thought process that younger people don’t collect. I do believe that they:

• Buy differently than we have in the past. For example, they generally do not want to drive all over the countryside to find one item. Thus, as I noticed at the Miami Beach International Antiques Show in January, they will go to shows where a large group of quality items are in one place. They also shop online, as it is quick to find a group of items that they are interested in and they are comfortable making online purchases.

• They buy different items then we did. This should not come as a surprise as this happens with every generation. Styles and tastes change. Also, furniture trends have been bad for years, as first home sizes shrank and the amount paid in mortgages went up. Thus, smaller collectibles and antiques became increasingly popular, especially things that could be put in the mail and paid for out of next week’s paycheck.

• Typically, for those in what I call the “hormone years,” collecting stops. People in the 18-35 age group, are chasing each other and put their collections aside. Once they catch one in other, they start collecting again, filling their dwelling with things that will tie them to their past. I resumed my collecting with Lionel trains and coins.

Collecting is in people’s genes and is not removed in a generation. And it will always tie a person securely back to a point in the past.

As a dealer, I must also remember that I am also, by definition, a marketer. This means I need to look for groups of buyers and determine how much money they have to spend and how to reach them. I then need to translate that knowledge into what I buy for resale. If you see me in your booth or shop, you will also see that I ask a lot of questions as I am always trying to learn about something new.

Looking at potential customers aged 12 from 40; what are they buying or collecting? I have seen a host of items. Some might associate a younger audience with a collectible such as PEZ dispensers, and others would just scratch their heads when you tell them there is a market for Sandinista rebel art. Personally, I did not know the latter existed. My best PEZ buyer is 14 and I learned I could also sell a certain PEZ dispenser for more than $1,000. Other items younger people collect are Civil War accoutrements, Marilyn Monroe, Japanese Manga art, Transformers, inside door knockers and postcards. I am always asking young people what they collect. Glass seems to be fading, but it has also been dropping from everyday use for some time.

One of my friend Krista’s postcards from your collection, advertising a vintage bicycle company. The fact that Krista, who is in her 20s, is collecting postcards, shows that younger people are collecting; they’re just collections include items that we older folks seldom think about.

One of my friend Krista’s postcards from your collection, advertising a vintage bicycle company. The fact that Krista, who is in her 20s, is collecting postcards, shows that younger people are collecting; they’re just collections include items that we older folks seldom think about.

I spend a lot of time in Columbus, Ohio, where WorthPoint has it tech facility, and consequently, spend several nights a week living at a hotel. One of my favorite 20-something cocktail waitresses there, Krista, is a collector. She collects postcards, which was something that surprised me. But it should not have, as I have a 12-year-old who collects them, too. Post cards were once a way of life, first popularized at the Columbian Worlds Fair. They were hugely popular up into the 1960s, but are disappearing from the shelves of the newsstands at the airports and hotels. Pretty soon, we may not be able to find current postcards, as they are disappearing from our lives, along with all the other paper items that used to be part of the our daily lives. They are quickly being replaced with digital photos I take from my cell phone and e-mail. The later is quicker and I can send the photo I want to, for free.

Krista brought her collection of postcards in for me to see. I have included some of these with this article. They fell into various groups of subjects, and they spanned about 80-plus years. (I have included some that I took pictures of with my cell phone.) Subject matters included;

• Hot looking guys. (Why not, men collected their pin up photo postcards for years of hot girls.)
• Photo postcards of art she enjoyed. It was always priced more reasonably than original works of art. The artists ranged from the 1920s to modern.
• Humor
• Geographical. Krista is Hispanic and many of the cards tied her back to places she had been to the Caribbean.

A couple more postcards from Krista’s collection. First, the iconic photograph from the end of the Second World War.

A couple more postcards from Krista’s collection. First, the iconic photograph from the end of the Second World War.

The second, a postcard featuring Marilyn Monroe. Who says youngsters have no appreciation of history.

The second, a postcard featuring Marilyn Monroe. Who says youngsters have no appreciation of history.

I had a blast going through her collection and it took me more than an hour to go through it with her, as her attention was interrupted by paying customers wanting service. I also learned a lot more about Krista as a person. It is always fun to do this and to make new friends this way. It helps make new customers, which expands my sales and helps to grow an industry I love. I now have a new postcard customer in Krista. She will join my younger 14-year-old PEZ collector in my group of “younger customers.” When you start to realize that the 14-year-old kid in your booth may lay out $1,000-plus for a PEZ dispenser, your view of these kids takes on a whole new vantage point. Just take the time to ask the kids what they collect. You may help yourself to a new market and also help build new collectors for the industry.

Will Seippel is the president and CEO of WorthPoint. Will has been an avid collector since 1974 and dealer of just about all things—with a emphasis on ephemera—antique since 1984.

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4 Responses to “Where’s Will? Postcards from the Edge of the Collecting World”

  1. Collecting postcards has always been the treat at the end of any buying trip I have taken. Over the many years I was a dealer, it was a gift to spend my last day collecting paper and chromolithographic images of Asti’s pretty ladies or lovely Klein florals.

    Since they were one of the earliest forms of communications between families and friends, their messages were ones of longing and love. They were the scrap of news from home or the whisper of homesickness that people shared around the turn of the century before phones were readily available.
    After my major shopping was complete and the containers were filled I would begin to buy postcards. I saved them for the flight home. On the plane I would read them all noting the basic message of I miss you.

    During some months at my store I would use the pretty fronts as display on the jewelry cases of my store. Some Holiday specific themes like Valentine’s Day or Easter would make my months income. Almost everyone likes a pretty postcard and can give them as hostess gifts and birthday greetings. A little piece of affordable vintage.

    I suppose it is alot like reading obituaries or graveyard headstones. It is folk art in the written form.

    I hope we never lose that desire to communicate. In todays world we have instant communication and may lose the importance of the written word. And I do mean all of the letters in each word. I hope not.

    Best regards,

    Karyn Shaudis
    Nightingale Antiques
    Sonoma County, California

  2. Sarah says:

    I am in my early 30′s (and I know that isn’t a spring chicken) yet I stick out like a sore thumb whenever I attend antique and estate auctions. The good news is that when I go to auctions the types of things that I am interested in buying are not usually the types of things the folks are buying. I once had an auctioneer ask me what the heck I was going to do with that stuff upon buying a lot of vintage Japan planters (I bought them because I thought they looked cool). It’s true I sell vintage online, and have found that many people my age just don’t have the time to spend all day waiting around at auctions or driving around looking for estate sales (I know I didn’t have time to do that before I chose to make selling vintage my full time job). I think that many young collectors also buy vintage and antique items because they have a great aesthetic in their home and aren’t as hung up on only buying specific make or designer. It simply looks great in their home and not everyone else has it (a conversation piece if you will)
    All I can say is I have been buying vintage and antiques forever and only buy things that I love that will look great in my home or have some sort of sentimental value, I have never bought anything because of it’s potential value.
    Great article! I really enjoyed reading it.

    Sarah
    Columbus, OH

  3. Nick Ryan says:

    Hi Will, a good follow up to Harry’s article. My son in England collects top end Star Wars memorabilia, with a view to future investments, but as he is so interested, he enjoys the items, so any returns he may eventually get is a bonus. A true collector.

    Long live the collectors.

    Kind regards, Nick

  4. kristin says:

    Hi will, I loved the article and how you mention the importance of communication that post cards have been giving us. I found it sad to be able to agree with your statement of how the paper world is wilting away. As you know I am a printmaker and very aware of the growing tech fad. Collecting is something I do to hold on to the beauty of communication that takes you away from the every day hustle and bustle and slow things down a bit to breath. That is a passion i will never let go.

    P.s.I won’t be working at the Hyatt too much longer, because I will be advancing my photography career will Croma Cars

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