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Practical Tips for Tackling a Postcard Show

by Bonnie Wilpon (01/09/12).

Walking into a postcard show can be a bit overwhelming. So many postcards… so little time! All cards should be clearly priced.

Many of us started our collections when we accidentally came across a really interesting postcard or two in an antique shop or on the Internet. If you’re like most folks, it was an old card of your home town. One card led to two, then 20, then 100 … and then you began asking your friends to save all their old shoeboxes for you, for postcard storage!

The next step for many collectors is to branch out and look for postcards related to their hobbies and interests. Often, they bought a box of postcards to get the few they wanted. Over time, collections are upgraded (resulting in lots of duplicates in lesser condition) and collecting topics change … thus, many collectors have become part-time dealers to make their hobby self-supporting.

Bargain boxes ($1 each) are at right. This dealer sells some supplies, and accepts credit cards.

Purchasing postcards via the Internet is fun and easy. Someone else has found the cards, may have cleaned them up a bit, categorized them, scanned them so you can see every detail, and has even described them for you, supplying a bit of history. But diehard postcard collectors will tell you that there’s nothing like a postcard show to make our hearts go “pit-a-pat.” Picture it:

• Close to a million postcards in one place (maybe more!). No, you’re not going to see every postcard … a difficult but necessary attitude adjustment.

• Dozens of dealers, all knowledgeable about various aspects of collecting, buying, storing, pricing and selling, as well as specific categories. Most dealers are collectors too—you can often tell what they collect, since their cards in those categories may be a bit sparse or overpriced.

• Hundreds of collectors, all knowledgeable about their particular topics. Many will have checklists or photocopies of their collections with them.

• Postcard displays, auctions or competitions. Although not as popular now as in the past, several postcard club shows sponsor board competitions, with winners being awarded ribbons and recognition.

• Front table with samples of postcard publications and advertising cards for upcoming postcard shows. Don’t forget to pick up some freebies … and don’t wait too long, or they’ll be all gone.

So how do you tackle a postcard show?

The yellow Marker Cards are placeholders. When you remove cards from a category to look at them, put the Marker in to hold the spot. This ensures that you’ll put the cards back in the right place, so others can find them.

Prepare for the Show

1. Wear layers. Some show venues can be very cold; others too warm.

2. Bring some road food. Packing a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and an apple can stave off those hunger pangs. If there are only three hours left of the show, and you’ve seen fewer than half the dealers, you won’t want to leave the building for lunch!

3. Bringing any checklists or photocopies you have of your collection can prevent you from buying duplicates, and can help explain your collection to a dealer who may be able to find cards for you for future purchases.

4. Be sure to have a carry-bag to hold your purchases. I’ve seen far too many envelopes full of cards that have been paid for and then left behind on a table in the room.

5. Bring cash and checks. Many dealers don’t accept credit cards.

6. Bring cards you’d like to trade or sell. “Shopping” your cards from dealer to dealer will fetch you the best price, and help add new postcards to your collection.

This card could be filed under MS, Buildings, Banks, Insurance or Linens. So if you’re looking for a topic and you don’t see a divider for it, be sure to ask the dealer where your category might be.

When You Arrive

1. Take a look around the room to get a feel of how many dealers there are. Think about how much time you have to spend, and get a rough idea of how many dealers you need to visit each hour. Then watch your time.

2. Follow Disneyland’s advice … most people turn right when they go into a
large area. So, turn left instead—if you arrive first thing in the morning, you’ll be going against the crowd; if you arrive late in the day, you still have a chance to see items that haven’t been too picked over yet.

3. Know what you’re looking for, and “skim” the dealers for those topics first. Asking for your priciest and/or most difficult-to-find topics first makes it less likely that what you really want will be bought out from under you because someone else got there first.

4. While you’re “skimming,” pick a fairly common topic you like, and take a quick look at the dealer’s pricing and card quality. You’ll find the same postcard ranging in price from $3 at one booth to $10 at another! This technique will help you decide which dealers to go back and spend more time with later.

5. Watch for special sales, or “bargain boxes.” Bargain boxes are cards grouped by price, usually $1 or less. However, the cards won’t be sorted, so finding those great cards on the cheap will be time-consuming.

Take some time to look at boards of postcards on display. You’ll be amazed at the categories people collect, and the array of cards you never knew existed. This collector has a carry-bag with pockets that hold samples of categories she collects. I loved it, and asked her where she got hers… now I have one too!

While You’re Shopping

1. Smile, chat and have fun! Don’t hesitate to ask a dealer or collector questions about what they collect, how they store their cards, area shows and shops, good postcard websites, or anything else you can think of. Most postcard people are very friendly and love to share information.

2. Be helpful to others. Many’s the time a fellow collector has given me a heads-up on a dealer whose bargain boxes are especially good; or I’ve hunted down a collector to point out a great stash of a topic I know s/he collects.

3. Look at all the subject dividers, and ask for what you want if you don’t see it. One dealer may file all hospitals together; another may scatter them among their states. If you collect people knitting, you may find them under Occupations, People Working, Knitting, Textiles or any number of categories. Don’t hesitate to ask.

4. Follow postcard etiquette. Never put your hands into a box someone else is looking through. It’s an unwritten rule that, once you’re into a box, it’s yours until you’re finished. If you absolutely must (though it’s still a bit crass), it’s OK to ask someone if you can look behind them (that is, look at the cards in the box they’ve already seen); or if you can see a topic or state in the box that they’re not currently looking at.

5. Ask about discounts. Most dealers will give a discount when your purchases reach a certain dollar amount. This may affect how many cards you buy, so it’s helpful to know about discounts up front. Helpful, friendly people sometimes find that their discount is a bit more than advertised.

6. Respect the dealers. If you believe that someone’s cards are too expensive or their condition isn’t good enough for you, just smile and move along. Don’t grouse about the dealer or his/her stock, especially where others can overhear you.

This dealer is has a sign noting his 50-percent-off sale. Cards stored behind the table in albums will be more unusual, higher quality and higher priced. Price coding is sometimes seen—instead of writing a price on back of the postcard, there is a colored dot on its plastic sleeve, corresponding to the prices listed on the signs on the table.

Before You Leave

1. Exchange contact information with dealers and collectors you’ll want to talk to again. Some dealers send approvals or sell on the internet; many will check their stock at home to find cards for you. You may find a local postcard buddy to visit shows and shops with, someone who may have duplicates to trade, or a new friend with whom to share referrals and tips.

2. Check the freebie table one last time to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

3. Ask if there’s a local Postcard Club. The group may meet in between large shows to buy and sell postcards and may have a newsletter to keep you informed of local events. Most dealers and active club members know each other, and are happy to share information with you and introduce you to people you should know.

4. Don’t forget supplies. Most shows have a dealer or two who carry postcard sleeves, storage pages and boxes, dividers and other things you’ll need before the next show comes around.

There’s just nothing like a postcard show! You’ll see types of postcards you never dreamed existed; you’ll add wonderful items to your collections, and you’ll have a chance to make lots of postcard friends 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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One Response to “Practical Tips for Tackling a Postcard Show”

  1. My hobby buying and selling postcards

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