According to the dictionary, “novelty” is the quality of being new, original, or unusual. And so it is with novelty postcards.
We’re used to seeing pictures on postcards. They can be photographs, artist renderings of familiar scenes or products of their imaginations, holiday or birthday greetings, cartoons or scenes from places around the world. But how about the unfamiliar?
One of the many categories of novelty postcards is mechanicals. These are postcards with moving parts that create special effects. Mechanicals were quite popular with children in the early 1900s, and many examples I’ve seen were sent by doting parents, grandparents or aunties.
This Easter card from International Art Publishing Company, with offices in New York and Berlin, is a beautiful example of a mechanical from the early 1900s. This one—No. 51788—was printed in Germany and has the precision and high quality one would expect from a German postcard.
The kaleidoscopic egg has been artfully cut so that you’re seeing stripes running in the opposing direction on a layer underneath the postcard. When the wheel is turned, the design in the egg appears to expand and contract. You can see the edges of the card’s round paper wheel sticking out midway down the postcard’s sides. The turning wheel is encased inside two layers, making the postcard especially thick.
A special treat for a child at Eastertime, this postcard would give a lucky little girl or boy a wonderful time. That’s why mechanicals in good condition from this era are so rare. A recent look at sold items in postcard auctions showed similar Easter eggs ranging from $45 to $90, depending on condition and general cuteness. I also saw kaleidoscopic Christmas bells—and even kaleidoscopic turkey tails for Thanksgiving—in the same price range.
The mechanical-wheel postcard was so popular that it made a comeback in the 1980s. This Christmas card, showing the toy-filled dreams of little ones, is a reproduction of an antique version made by Merrimack Publishing.
Less elegant than the older versions, this one shows the metal mechanism on the front of the card. As you turn the wheel at right, a different toy appears in the child’s dream. A lovely design filled with playthings (which is always collectible), this modern card sells in the $5 price range—when you can find one.
This exquisite pre-1915 postcard, while made in the U.S. (per its stamp box), has no identifying publisher’s marks or numbers. It is put together flawlessly, with no signs of the inner construction on either the front or the back of the card.
Its six fan blades are made of bone, and it’s hand-painted. Carefully cut slots hold an inserted pink ribbon that, in turn, holds the fan blades together while letting them unfold.
The fan sits on black velvet surrounded by a gold flowered border.
Until I acquired this card, I’d never seen another exactly like it. And, I haven’t seen one since. On the rare occasions that I’ve seen similar versions at postcard shows or auctions, the price is in the $200 range, and the condition is not normally this good.
Next, let’s take a look at postcards that are made out of unusual materials. Paper? Cardboard? Pish posh! Inventive postcard manufacturers can do better than that!
Within this genre, the leather postcard is the most common, and many examples can be found online and at postcard shows retailing for $2 to $5. I’m not sure why they haven’t increased in value. Perhaps it’s because the painted, printed or stamped designs on them are not very sharp, or perhaps the thinness and wear make it difficult to find leathers in excellent condition.
Wood postcards are also somewhat common and were quite popular during the 1950s and 1960s. They’re becoming less available now due to the higher postage rates required to mail them. This 1990s postcard from Jasper, Arkansas, is pronounced to be of “durable quality” on the back, and it’s made by Vandercraft in Prineville, Oregon.
I was surprised to find that these postcards have increased nicely in value. Modern versions from the 1950s to 1070s sell in the $5 to $7 range, while wood cards from the 1920s and earlier go for $10 to $15.
Most collectors have come across copper postcards at shows in our searches through the novelty category. Here’s one showing Historic Old Jerome, Arizona. This very card is currently listed online for $15, though most coppers sell in the $4 to $8 range. Coppers showing identified cities and towns sell for a bit more than unidentified views and animals.
The image is designed on thin copper sheeting. Because this material is soft and easy to work with, cutting, punching, bending and hammering designs on the surface is relatively easy. Once the image is created, the sheeting is folded around a postcard back and the edges adhered to each other. This card was made by Kopper Kard Co. in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Now here’s a fun postcard. Who doesn’t love popping bubble wrap? This advertising card for Kellogg’s Corn Pops cereal was distributed free by Maxracks in 2002. I couldn’t find one anywhere on the Internet and haven’t seen any at shows, so perhaps that means it’s priceless! This is another excellent example of postcards as ephemera: items that people use and then throw away, making them difficult for us collectors to find.
This postcard, slightly smaller than standard size, is actually a beer coaster (or beer mat, if you’re British). Made from an absorbent paper-fiber mix, it’s the perfect souvenir to send from your favorite microbrewery—if you’re sober enough to hold a pen. Produced by the brewery with a postcard back, this one was used and posted.
From New Belgium Brewing in Ft. Collins, Colorado, this coaster advertises Mighty Arrow Pale Ale. The description on the back notes that this is “our brewed tribute to Arrow,” an Aussie-border collie mix pet dog who was a presence at the brewery for 12 years, and “never met a tummy rub she didn’t like”.
I found just a few coaster postcards in my online search, selling in the $5 to $10 range.
From the South Pacific comes this lovely Hawaiian postcard made of tapa cloth. This sturdy cloth, made from the bark of the siapo tree, also known as the paper mulberry, is used for clothing, decorative items, coasters, carry-bags and lots more. While it’s made on many islands, it’s a specialty of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, and its common name comes from Tahiti.
This particular postcard, with its friendly “aloha” greeting, was made in 1979 by Polynesian Prints in Tonga. Its texturing is pretty, and it holds a pressed or drawn image well. Few and far between, these cards sometimes surface at shows or online in the $4 to $6 range.
There’s no better tail end to this article than a postcard made of sheep-poo paper! Recycling is very popular these days, and the… um, … droppings from some animals can be used to make paper products.
Made by Creative Paper Wales (the only craft-paper mill in Wales), the postcards are available online in packs of 10 for about $13, plus shipping, from its website. Craftsmen collect local “super-fresh sheep poo,” then sterilize it. Repeated washings yield usable cellulose fiber, as well as fertilizer, which is then beaten, blended with other pulps and made into strong paper.
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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