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More on Novelty Postcards: Out of the Ordinary

by Bonnie Wilpon (07/17/13).

In my last two articles, we looked at several different categories of novelty postcards, including mechanicals, add-ons, postcards that serve other purposes and postcards made from unusual materials. In this final article about novelty cards, let’s explore even more out-of-the-ordinary postcards.

Novelty postcards of certain types are particularly hard to find and even harder to find in the excellent condition most collectors want. Many were made for children, and they were loved and played with until they fell apart. In the last 20 years, companies distributed advertising cards aimed at young adults. These were placed in bars and trendy eateries and often begged to be used—and thus destroyed.

That’s why condition is a major factor in the prices of these remarkable specimens, some of which were not rare or difficult to find in their day.

This lovely Christmas-themed booklet postcard literally glows with good wishes. The embossed gold and silver bells, flower border and “best wishes” inscription shine when they catch the light. The horseshoes—a traditional good luck symbol—and the circle of “To greet you” are mother-of-pearl.

Also known as nacre (NAY-ker), mother-of-pearl is produced by mollusks as an inner shell layer; it’s also what makes the outer coating of pearls. Strong and iridescent, it adds a special touch to this pre-1915 greeting.

A blue ribbon holds the inner booklet lining to the outer cover, and when the booklet is opened there’s a Christmas message inside.

While booklet postcards are not that unusual, the mother-of-pearl touch makes this one special. Printed in Germany for B.B. of London, Series No. X.521, this card sells in the $10 to $15 range. Without the little extras—including excellent condition—a Christmas booklet can be found in the $1 to $5 range.

This stylized fan is a variation on the typical booklet design. Instead of opening like a book, the larger flap opens to the left, while a smaller flap opens to the right to reveal the printed message inside. The fan is adorned with add-ons; its three flowers and their stems are made of a velvety fabric and appear to be hand-painted.

This birthday greeting was not cancelled by a postal service, so it was probably hand-delivered to its recipient in 1911. Printed in Germany, S.B. No. 900. In excellent condition, as this card is, I would expect to find it tucked in a dealer’s box in the $7 to $10 range.

Next, we have a pre-1920 foldout postcard from Belfast, Ireland. With clovers for luck near the greeting, the card shows a thatched-roof cottage. You can see a cutout area, and that, like the “latch” referred to in the greeting, lifts up. A small tab that fits into a slot secures the latch. When the latch is raised, you can gently pull down on a folded page to see postcard images of 10 of the landmarks in Belfast.

Made by Valentine & Sons Ltd, of Dundee and London, in excellent condition this postcard generally sells in the $10 to $15 range. Such foldouts showing views of small towns would sell for higher prices. These foldouts were the precursors of folder postcards, which were extremely popular during the 1940s linen era.

Now we turn to some punch-out postcards. The next three cards are all advertising postcards. On stronger-than-average stock, these were popular giveaways in the 1990s and early 2000s and were known as “free cards” or “rack cards.” You’ll find these as sleepers in dealers’ bargain boxes, because, first, they’re 4-inch-by-6-inch, continental-sized cards, which are not too popular with many dealers and collectors, who prefer 3 1/3-inch-by-5-inch standard-sized cards. Second, these cards are considered too modern to be worth much by many dealers. Finally, they were given away for free, and many dealers have huge stockpiles of them, so they sell them quite inexpensively.

The good news is that you can collect them for generally $1 or less apiece. Watch for the novelty rack cards—they’re much more rare, since many were actually used for the purpose described instead of being kept in a collection.

Here’s something every college student needs: fake glasses that make you look awake in class—as long as the professor’s not too alert either. An advertisement for Twinings Iced Tea, this postcard suggests a (paraphrased) morning schedule around its edges:

8:45: Drag self and possibly guest out of bed;
8:46: Grab chilled iced tea and neck it;
8:50: Grab clothes from the pile on the chair;
8:55: leg it to the lecture;
9:05 slip in unnoticed, insert Iced Tea glasses in your shades and it’s back to the land of nod.

From Boomerang, a very popular campus postcard distributor in Great Britain, the backside shows a can of Twinings Iced Tea and suggests drink recipes for the night before.

A public service from Boomerang, this postcard has no advertising at all on it. Punch out the two ovals as an easy way to exchange phone numbers with someone you’d like to see again. Distributed in the same bars, eateries and campus hangouts as many of the other rack cards, users could keep a few in their purses or back pockets to use as needed.

Boredom insurance from—who else?—Progressive Insurance. The backside of this 2003 punch-out from Max Racks has instructions for this “throw the football through the goal posts” game, beginning with, “Get bored.” In the fine print underneath: “And if you need some really simple car insurance, Progressive has that too.”

Sending postcards to children is always a big hit. Kids love to get mail, and if the postcard gives them something fun to do too, it’s a bonus! This is a wonderful way to stay connected to the little ones you love, whether they’re far away or just across town.

I’ve been sending a postcard a month to my four nieces and nephews since they were about 3 years old. One is in high school, two are in college and the eldest graduated from college. And when I suggest they’re too old for this, they look at me in horror and tell me they look forward to their postcards each month. I send one a week to each of my three small granddaughters, and they delight in letting me know, “Nana! I got your mail!”

KETC Channel 9 in St. Louis, Missouri, issued this great postcard featuring Oscar the Grouch. The furry green Grouch who lives in a garbage can on Sesame Street is one of the Jim Henson Muppets. Here, Oscar smiles at us from his shiny silver home, and the image is a peel-off sticker for either indoor or outdoor use.

We collectors are happy to see the Jim Henson Productions, Inc., copyright mark to the right of Oscar’s tinny house, since it authenticates the image. I’m sure there were lots of these made, but an Internet search yielded none for sale. I picked this up in a dealer’s 25-cent bargain box and haven’t seen another one since. I wouldn’t be surprised to come across one of these in the $5 range one of these days.

The United States Postal Service has issued many commemorative stamps, and in the early 1990s it issued a Commemorative Puzzle Series by Greenleaf in Schenevus, NY.

A non-exclusive licensee of the USPS, Greenleaf manufactured these postcards from recycled materials. They could be mailed at the normal first-class rate (a bit higher than the usual postage for postcards), and had a protective plastic covering. Once the plastic was taken off, the puzzle pieces could be removed and put back together over and over, to a little one’s heart’s content.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is one of four 1993 stamps honoring American novels, though the company made many puzzle cards in addition to this design. I don’t see postcards from this commemorative series often at postcard shows, but many different ones are easily found in Internet auctions in the $3 to $6 range.

Pre-1920 postcards that were sold as installment sets can be purchased for $100 and up, in excellent condition. Individual postcards were used as puzzle pieces, and when the entire set was assembled (generally 10 cards), the cards were arranged into the picture. Many collectors have spent the better part of their adult lives trying to complete installment sets.

Last, but certainly not least, comes this cheerful double-novelty postcard, made in Japan in the 1950s and valued at $8 to $10. Not only does this dressed frog have add-on googly eyes, but he’s also a squeaker. While Froggie would most often be found in a dealer’s novelty category, he also fits nicely into fantasy “dressed animal” collections and musical instrument collections.

Many collectors focus on their towns or topics but forget to check the novelty categories for related postcards. Owning some of these unusual items can make your collection more interesting to show off to non-collectors as well!


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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