About Face: There’s a Collectible Postcard for Every Expression

From Cartes d’Art of Paris, Serie: Les Enfants du Monde Entier (Children of the World), #4. A modern, continental-size postcard; you might just find this little one smiling up at you from a dealer’s bargain box, priced at $1 or less.

Postcard collectors often say that we collect whatever strikes our fancy. “Ummm,… I’ll know it when I see it,” is a phrase often heard at postcard shows.

Every once in a while, I see a face that brings a particular character trait to life for me. A clear word springs to mind, and the postcard image personifies that trait. When I hear the word, I see the face. And when I meet a real person with that particular characteristic, a small ghost of the face on the postcard shimmers on the fringes of my consciousness.

When I find a postcard with such a face, I just have to have it. It doesn’t matter whether the card is domestic or foreign, new or old, in excellent or poor condition—it just grabs me and won’t let go.

So here, for your enjoyment, are some samples from my “faces” collection:

Joyful: This little girl (right) always makes me smile. I can take this postcard out of the box on a really rotten day, and it never fails to make me grin. I’m guessing she’s a girl from her flower earrings, but I can’t be sure—and it really doesn’t matter. She makes me want to jump for joy and giggle with delight, and my heart swells with happiness when I look at this face.

Stern: Did your mom or dad ever give you “the face”? You know the one—the look that would suddenly take over his or her visage when you did something really, really wrong. It was enough to strike fear in your heart, make you run to your room and swear never to do that bad thing ever again. Hard. Severe. Firm and unyielding. Uncompromising. Grim. This man (below) portrays all of those characteristics to a “T”. His mouth is set, his brow is furrowed, his face is taut and his arms are straight down at his sides.

This real photo postcard image from Hoa Qui, Vietnam is titled “Vieil Homme” (Old Man) and is the work of photographer Raymond Cauchetier. Cauchetier, born in 1920, took up photography when he was an air-force press officer in Saigon, Vietnam. He went on to have a prestigious career in cinema photography. Look for images like this under Foreign—Real Photo—Asia, and you might find them in the $7 to $10 range.

Resignation: This woman’s wrinkled face (below) is the evidence of her hard life. In her twilight years, her teeth are gone, and she’s leaning up against the cold stone wall, pensively smoking her pipe, one arm tucked inside her cloth over-blouse for warmth. She personifies the unresisting acceptance of her life as inescapable, and she’s submitted to it. 

From the series Coutumes, Moeurs et Costumes Bretons (Customs, Manners and Costumes of Brittany), postcards like this pre-1920 item can generally be found in the $6 to $8 range.

Determination: This woman (below) has gotten her television. She’s taking it home, and nobody better get in her way. The dictionary defines determination as “firmness of purpose; resoluteness” and this image brings vigor and life to that concept. 

From Art Unlimited, Amsterdam. Manoocher Deghati, 1993, World Press Photo Holland Foundation, titled “Egyptian woman with a T.V.” It’s continental-size modern postcard, found in a dealer’s bargain box for 50 cents.

Stoic: Here is the quintessential person (below) who can endure pain and hardship without showing her feelings or complaining. Her mouth set in a straight line, hands folded in her lap, hair pulled tightly behind her head. This strong American woman most likely bore children, survived many struggles and emerged with strength.

Real photo postcard with AZO stamp box; triangles pointed up indicates circa 1904 to 1918. This unidentified “instant ancestor” could be found in an auction or at a postcard show for about $2 to $3.

Bliss: There is something monkish about this fellow (below), smiling up from his hood. There is an innocence about him as he smiles upward. Perhaps the sun is shining down on his face. Maybe he is having a deep spiritual epiphany. His crinkle-eyed, unselfconscious, complete and utter happiness is calming to the soul.

From Series No. 228C, published by C.W. Faulkner & Co, London. A longtime publisher of games, books, postcards and other items involving lithography, this company produced the signed artist postcards of Louis Wain (famous for cats) and World War I propaganda cards. This postcard, circa 1910 to 1915, was kept in a slotted album, judging by the marks on its corners, and would probably retail for under $3. Perhaps someone else found this face as much of a bright spot in the day as I do!

Wisdom: This is the face of a person (below) who has seen and experienced myriad things in his lifetime. Well-dressed and well-groomed, he appears to be thoughtful, careful and well-centered. He looks like someone I would turn to for his knowledge and sound advice when trying to decide which course of action to take. A member of the Pawnee Native American tribe, this man served as the Indian Councils Philosopher, most likely through the 1960s.

Standard size chrome postcard, published by Mike Roberts, #C30998, circa 1960s. I would expect to find postcards like this in the Indians category for $1 to $3.

Wistful: There is something a bit melancholy about this small child’s expression (below). It’s as though he’s longing for something—perhaps something he sees. Can’t you almost see into his little mind and heart, wishful and pensive? His striking eyes and full cheeks make me want to pick him up and give him a hug.

A modern, continental-size postcard from Roark Johnson Photography, you might find this card in the Children category for $1 to $2. Roark Johnson is a contemporary portrait and commercial photographer in Chicago.

Funny: Our appearance and our expressions often turn our faces into masks. We try to hide our annoyance at the small irritations of life; we attempt to laugh at everyone’s jokes and look pleasant even when we face aggravations at work or at home. This last postcard (below) beautifully illustrates just how true that is. This fellow, among the masks, is just another face in the crowd.

From Art Unlimited, Amsterdam, Flo Fox, 1984, “A face in the crowd.” Modern, continental-size postcard, generally selling for $1 to $2.


Bonnie Wilpon, the author of “Postcard History of Sarasota and Bradenton, FL,” and “Postcard History of Hollywood, FL.” (published by Arcadia Books), is a Worthologist who specializes in postcards.

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