Postcards currently enjoy considerable attention in the collectibles community. An individual that doesn’t realize the significance of postcards in communication before the digital age may not appreciate their value as collectibles. Still, postcard collectors acquire postcards for various reasons. Postcards serve as memorabilia to some people, while others collect them for aesthetic purposes.

Regardless of the motive, postcards are integral blocks in the foundation of the collectibles world. Vendors invest substantial time and effort into preserving the most precious postcards, while collectors spend a fortune acquiring the most valuable pieces. Their rarity in the 21st century remains a major driver of their significant contemporary value.

Accordingly, we’ll cite the ten most valuable vintage postcards in this piece. The article commences with a trip down memory lane to the era when people widely used postcards. This development will grant you an adequate understanding of the main review. Additionally, postcards collectors and vendors will gain critical insight from the extensive guide we’ve attached to this piece.

After the peruse, you’ll appreciate the most wanted valuable postcards, why people desire them, and where you may find or display them. Collectors and auctioneers will also realize how to reach mutually beneficial deals.

A Recap of the Postcard History and Deltiology

A Recap of the Postcard History and Deltiology
@theintrepidchatelaine

The English writer Theodore Hook playfully conceived the earliest known picture card in 1840. Originally intended as a joke, he created a card, adorned it with a hand-painted caricature of post office workers, indented it with a Penny Black stamp, and mailed it to himself from Fulham, London. Hook’s joke eventually set a record when it sold for £31,750 in 2002.

John P. Charlton developed the first commercially produced postal card—a plain private postal card—and sold the rights to the inventor of pencils with an attached eraser Hymen Lipman in Philadelphia, USA, in 1861. The Austro-Hungarian Empire recorded 3 million plain cards mailed within three months in 1869. By the 1870s, numerous countries, including the US, began issuing postcards. Various designs and implications of postcards surfaced around this period.

The Golden Age of postcards prevailed from 1890 to 1915. This epoch emerged due to the trend and increased production of picture postcards in the 1880s. Meanwhile, the Eiffel Tower was built around this period, and its depiction in postcards in 1889 and 1890 significantly triggered the so-called Golden Age.

The period was marked by increased demand for postcards, lessened government restrictions on production, technological advances in printing, photography, and mass production, and more convenient delivery. Globally, billions of postcards came to light during the Golden Age.

After World War I, the demand for postcards declined as more people began using telephones for communication. Still, some individuals needed postcards, particularly the less affluent populace. This tendency led postcards to be dubbed “the poor man’s telephone.”

Photochrom postcards came into light in 1939 and enjoyed a period of momentum from 1950. However, postcard usage dropped to the minimum around 2007 due to the popularity of social media.

Deltiology—the study and collection of postcards—began in the late 19th century when postcard production was at its rudimentary stage. The earliest organizations of deltiologists surfaced around the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Founded in 1946, the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City is the oldest surviving postcard collecting club in the United States.

Stamp collecting attained its prime during the Golden Age of postcards. After philately (stamp collecting) and coins/banknotes collecting, deltiology is the third-largest collecting hobby globally as of 2022.

The Top 5 Most Valuable Postcards

Before heading to the study proper, let’s quickly warm up with an outline of the postcards we’ll encounter halfway through the review.

Here are the 5 leading valuable postcards in the collectibles market:

1. The Most Valuable Postcard — Penny Penates

Valued at £31,750; oldest picture postcard ever produced; created in the 19th century; features a Penny Black stamp; hand-painted

2. The Most Valuable American Postcard — African American Mother and Son Postcard

Priced at £16,000; produced in the 20th century; created in the US; picture postcard

3. The Most Valuable Baseball Postcard — Cleveland Indians Postcard

Sold for £11,000; issued in 1905; picture baseball postcard; depicts 20 historical Indian baseball players; quite rare

4. The Most Valuable Postcard of 1908 — Young Boys Pump House Postcard

Valued at £6,000; issued in 1908; historically significant; portrays four young boys in the Kern River Oil Fields

5. The Most Valuable Chinese Postcard — The Chinese Fruit Seller Postcard

Auctioned off at $4800; issued in China; prevalent from 1903 to 1915; features a fruit seller carrying luggage on its anterior aspect; historically relevant

The 10 Rare Valuable Postcards in 2022

The 10 Rare Valuable Postcards in 2022
@novi.precari

Deltiologists primarily seek and prize the postcards produced in the Golden Age of postcards (1889 to 1915). Most of these golden-age postcards were acquired by collectors who later passed them down to their descendants or conferred them to other collectors. Currently, antique and vintage postcards range from $20 to thousands of dollars per piece. A postcard’s worth depends on its rarity, historical relevance, appeal, design, depiction, and demand.

Picture postcards constitute a significantly larger portion of this list, as they’re typically more adored than their plain equivalents.

The study will reveal the following details:

  • The postcard’s most recent auction cost or listed price
  • The postcard’s issue date
  • Its place of issue or use
  • Its historical and cultural relevance
  • Its depictions and design
  • Its unique features
  • Its availability status
  • Information about its past auctions, collectors, and holders, if available
  • Where you may discover or display the valuable postcards

These are the 10 most adored postcards as of 2021:

  1. Penny Penates
  2. African American Mother and Son Postcard
  3. Cleveland Indians Postcard
  4. Young Boys Pump House Postcard
  5. The Chinese Fruit Seller Postcard
  6. The Launch of the R. M. S Titanic Postcard
  7. Olympic Three Men Of Carlisle Postcard
  8. Ellen Clapsaddle Signed Christmas Postcard
  9. Governmental Postcard
  10. Grand Rapids Michigan Postcard

We’ll thoroughly analyze the above list in the subsequent paragraphs while highlighting pictures of these valuable postcards.

1. Penny Penates: The Most Valuable Postcard

The Most Valuable Postcard
@hist_orybuff
  • Most Recent Auction Cost: £31,750
  • Issue Date: 1840
  • Issue Location: Fulham, London, UK
  • Depiction(s): Postal clerks workers; large pens; huge inkwell
  • Print Material: Paper
  • Distinct Feature(s): Penny Black stamp; hand-painted design; watercolor

The English man of letters, Theodore Hook, playfully created what would later become the first and most valuable postcard in 1840. Hook posted this 19th-century picture postcard, featuring a hand-painted caricature of 12 post office clerks holding huge pens and a Penny Black stamp, to himself from Fulham, London. More than a century later, the British postal historian and philatelic writer Ted Proud discovered the item in 2001.

Besides being the oldest postcard, Penny Penates serves as the only surviving Penny Black stamp’s representation — the earliest adhesive postage stamp. It also portrays inscriptions of the words “Penny” and “Penates” on each side of an enlarged green ink well tagged “Official.” Hook achieved all designs on the paper postcard with only watercolor.

Penny Penates sold for £31,750, an equivalent of $44,300, in 2002, becoming the most expensive postcard ever sold. Eugene Gomberg, a Latvian postcard collector, bought the card at the 2002 London Stock Exchange auction.

2. African American Mother and Son Postcard: The Most Valuable American Postcard

African American Mother and Son Postcard
Image: oakenroad
  • Most Recent Auction Cost: £16,000
  • Issue Date: 1900s
  • Issue Location: USA
  • Depiction(s): An African-American woman and child; US flag
  • Print Material: Paper
  • Distinct Feature(s): Monochromatic design

The African American Mother and Son postcard is a rare vintage postcard printed in the 19th century. It portrays a crouching young African-American woman holding a toddler boy in front of the US flag. Hence, the postcard is historically and culturally relevant.

Its design is monochromatic with shades of black, white, and brown.

An African American Mother and Son postcard fetched £16,000 in an auction.

3. Cleveland Indians Postcard: The Most Valuable Baseball Postcard

Cleveland Indians Postcard
@Theverybesttop10
  • Most Recent Auction Cost: £11,000
  • Issue Date: 1905
  • Issue Location: USA
  • Depiction(s): 20 Cleveland Indians baseball players
  • Print Material: Paper
  • Distinct Feature (s): Monochromatic Baseball postcard

The renowned baseball photographer Carl Horner took a photograph portraying Nap Lajoie, Addie Joss, Elmer Flick—some of the first players to join the Hall of Fame—and seventeen other Cleveland Indians (now known as Cleveland Guardians) baseball players. Therefore, the faces of these Hall of Famers facilitated the postcard’s value and appeal among baseball fans. The card was issued in the US in 1905.

Collectors are drawn to the Cleveland Indians postcard because it’s among the rarest baseball postcards. The card is monochromatic, with black and white designs and pictures. Similarly, the postcard bears the name of the team “Cleveland” and the issue year “1905.”

An authentic Cleveland Indians postcard in good condition sold for £11,000 at an auction. The sale set the record as the highest price the Cleveland Indians postcard has attained.

4. Young Boys Pump House Postcard: The Most Valuable Postcard of 1908

Young Boys Pump House Postcard
@theverybesttop10
  • Most Recent Auction Cost: £6,000
  • Issue Date: 1908
  • Issue Location: USA
  • Depiction(s): Young boys; oil rigs; pump house; Kern River Oil Fields
  • Print Material: Cardboard
  • Distinct Feature (s): Monochromatic, historically relevant piece

The Young Boys Pump House postcard is a relic of a memorable period in US history. It reminds the viewer of the oil age in the US and the infamy of child labor in some areas of the country. Eventually, the latter was outlawed in the US.

The postcard features four young boys around a pump house and oil rigs in Bakersfield, California’s Kern River Oil Field. Three boys are on a warehouse roof, while the other stands in front of a pump house. Hence, the motive for the postcard’s name. A certain Carl took the picture and made it into a postcard with his friend.

This historically significant postcard emerged in 1908 and was unused and well-preserved. It’s a rare piece sought after by collectors.

The Young Boys Pump House postcard was auctioned off at £6,000.

5. The Chinese Fruit Seller Postcard: The Most Valuable Chinese Postcard

  • Most Recent Auction Cost: $4,800
  • Issue Date: 20th century
  • Issue Location: China
  • Depiction(s): Chinese fruit seller holding some luggage
  • Print Material: Cardboard
  • Distinct Feature (s): Monochromatic historically significant postcard

In the 20th century, people used the Chinese Fruit Seller postcard to convey messages of best wishes to their family members and loved ones. The first individuals to use the card posted it in China through the Soviet Union (Russia). It was popular from 1903 to 1915.

The card comprises a simple monochromatic design showing a Chinese man carrying some luggage, possibly holding fruits on its front side. It was designed with cardboard and reflected China’s rich culture through the clothes and hairstyle of the fruit seller.

The highest price recorded for the Chinese Fruit Seller postcard is $4,800.

6. The Launch of the R. M. S Titanic Postcard

The Launch of the R. M. S Titanic Postcard
@gazette-eu-west
  • Most Recent Auction Cost: £2,000
  • Issue Date: 1911
  • Issue Location: Liverpool, London, UK
  • Depiction(s): The Titanic ship among several smaller ships
  • Print Material: Cardboard
  • Distinct Feature(s): Artistic frame; monochromatic design

Perhaps, the Titanic ship needs no introduction, as it was a famous vessel of immensity and tragedy. This knowledge makes the postcard indicating when the ship began its first voyage considerably historically relevant. The Ismay and Imrie Firm designed and issued the postcard from Liverpool, London, the UK, in 1911.

The postcard showcases a snapshot of the Titanic ship leaving Southampton Dock, among several smaller ships, before its tragic journey, with the inscription “The Launch of the S. S Titanic May 3, 1911.” Its designers adorned it with an artistic frame surrounding the image. Although its designs and depictions are monochromatic, the card is eye-appealing.

The Launch of the R. M. S Titanic postcard was valued at £2,000.

7. Olympic Three Men Of Carlisle Postcard

  • Probable Listed Price: $1,475
  • Issue Date: 1912
  • Issue Location: Pennsylvania, US
  • Depiction(s): Three Carlisle sportsmen— Jim Thorpe; Pop Warner; Louis Tewanima
  • Print Material: Paper
  • Distinct Feature(s): Athletics postcard

Fans of athletics particularly cherish the Olympic Three Men Of Carlisle postcard. The card portrays three sportsmen associated with Carlisle, Pennsylvania — the football legend Jim Thorpe, football coach Pop Warner, and Olympic athlete Louis Tewanima. In 1912, the citizens of Carlisle issued and used this card to appreciate these men of athletics. It bore the words “The Three Men Carlisle will Honor” with the sportsmen’s last names underneath the caption.

The postcard saw major use in Pennsylvania in the 19th century. Its age, historical significance, rarity, and general context make it one of the most desired postcards.

You may acquire the Olympic Three Men Of Carlisle postcard for around $1,475.

8. Ellen Clapsaddle Signed Christmas Postcard

Ellen Clapsaddle Signed Christmas Postcard
Image: vintagehalloweencollector
  • Highest Listed Price: $1,400
  • Issue Date: 1900s
  • Issue Location: USA
  • Depiction(s): Santa Claus with a bag of presents; toddler girl in a Christmas gown and hat
  • Print Material: Paper
  • Distinct Feature (s): Ellen Clapsaddle’s signature; multicolored Christmas design

Most families sent Christmas postcards to their loved ones during the Christmas season before the advent of email and social media. The Christmas postcard signed by the American illustrator Ellen H. Clapsaddle is the most valuable and sought-after of its kind.

The Ellen Clapsaddle-signed postcard spotlights a toddler girl in a blue Christmas gown and hat giving a card to Santa Claus, who bears a bag of presents. Its remarkable feature is its incorporation of various brilliant colors in its design. Along with Ellen’s signature, the postcard features the caption “Best Wishes for a happy Christmas.”

The postcard was in vogue in the 1900s and could cost up to $1,400.

9. Governmental Postcard

Governmental Postcard
Image: Wystan
  • Highest Listed Price: $1,236.17
  • Issue Date: 1872
  • Issue Location: USA
  • Depiction(s): Plain government-issued postcard with a stamp
  • Print Material: Paper
  • Distinct Feature(s): Postage stamp

Although private firms made postcards early before the 20th century, the US Government didn’t allow their cards to bear the term “postal card” until the 1900s. The US Government issued the “official” postal cards in 1872 to reduce the costs of using postcards since their private counterparts were relatively expensive.

The governmental postal cards had a simple design with the tag “United States Postal Card” and a stamp on the top corner. It allowed messages or writings on one side. Still, US law didn’t permit the individual to write on the official postcard’s address side in the 19th century.

The Governmental Postcard is among the most precious cards regardless of its plain and simple appearance. Its highest price is about $1,236.17.

10. Grand Rapids Michigan Postcard

Grand Rapids Michigan Postcard
@grcityarchives
  • Highest Listed Price: $500
  • Issue Date: 1930s
  • Issue Location: Michigan, USA
  • Depiction(s): Fulton Street Park and Memorial Towers, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Print Material: Paper
  • Distinct Feature (s): Colorful design; rare Benjamin Franklin one-cent stamp

The Grand Rapids Michigan postcard is a colorful postcard illustrating the Memorial Towers and Fulton Street Park in Grand Rapids, MI. This beautiful, culturally and historically significant card also features the rare Benjamin Franklin one-cent stamp.

There’s sufficient space for messages on the posterior aspect of the card. This paper-based postcard was issued in the 1930s in Michigan, USA and is currently valued at $500.

Crucial Tips on Appraising, Purchasing, and Auctioning Old Valuable Postcards

Although old postcards can fetch hundreds to thousands of dollars in an auction, you can only attain such deals with proper guidance and knowledge. The right direction will also forestall scams and steer you towards purchasing high-quality, authentic, valuable postcards.

This section enlightens you on assessing the value of old postcards before purchase and auction. You’ll also realize the best mediums to collect or sell old valuable postcards.

Appraising Old Valuable Postcards

Various factors affect an old postcard’s value, but its rarity, condition, and demand are its major drivers.

Here are some hints on evaluating an old postcard’s worth:

Establishing a Postcard’s Age

Most postcards put out after the 1960s possess relatively little value. Observing the postmarks on your card’s reverse side may help you determine its production year. Similarly, the card’s size can also be useful for discerning its age since cards larger than 5’” x 3’” weren’t popular until the 1960s.

Determining the Card’s Type

The card’s type also influences its value.

According to deltiologists, there are two broad categories of postcards. They include:

  • Topographical cards
  • Topicals or subject cards

Let’s quickly go through these postcard types and how they influence a card’s worth.

Topographic Cards

Topographical cards depict social history. They may portray how a popular street appeared several decades back, steam trains at historical train stations, or a local inn. Typically, the more detailed and illustrative the card appears, the higher its demand and value.

Topographical cards may also be divided into two classes, viz:

  • Real Photographic Postcards: These cards were directly printed from the negative, particularly in the Golden Age of postcards. Local photographers often produced them in limited numbers. Hence, they’re usually scarce and valuable. An example is the Young Boys Pump House postcard.
  • Printed and Colored Postcards: These cards were made on a printing press and lacked the typical definition of the real photographic equivalents. When the appraiser views the card through a magnifying lens, the printing screen seems to be a system of dots. Printed and colored postcards are more common and therefore considerably less valuable.
Topicals or Subject Cards

Topicals or subject cards relate to various subjects, such as animals, comics, children, glamor, novelty, and railways. Collectors are usually less interested in them than top-notch topographical cards. Still, postcard grading is more critical to subject cards since they have a smaller market, and the collectors are typically more sensitive to the card’s condition.

Discerning the Worth of the Stamps on Old Postcards

The attached postage stamps often don’t influence the postcard’s general value. This penchant occurred because the stamps attached to the postcards were usually produced in large quantities and were relatively common. However, postcards with rare and desirable stamps, for instance, the Penny Penates and the Penny Black stamp, are substantially valuable.

Grading a Card’s Condition

A postcard’s condition is a great determinant of its price and market appeal. While assessing a card’s condition may be a subjective field, worn out, damaged, and dirty cards are generally less valuable and desirable. Damaged cards are only ideal as space fillers in a postcard collection.

Here are the general postcard grading terms collectors and dealers use to describe the condition of antique and vintage cards, in decreasing order:

  • Mint Condition: A flawless postcard similar to how it was when issued. The card appears new, pristine, sharp-cornered, and unused without creases, bends, postmarks, and writings. While such a condition doesn’t typically apply to vintage cards, mint cards have the greatest value.
  • Near Mint Condition: A near mint card is almost like a mint counterpart. Yet, it shows slight discoloration or aging, possibly due to being stored in an album or unprotected preservation means. It’s significantly valuable and appealing.
  • Excellent Condition: This postcard lacks obvious flaws, creases, bends, and pinholes. It’s a clean card with fresh pictures and square corners. Still, it may exhibit aging signs, slight color fading, or few album marks. An excellent card is typically valued as the baseline condition.
  • Very Good Condition: This card is somewhat comparable to an excellent equivalent. However, it may have slightly rounded corners and a few almost unnoticeable creases. It’s an attractive collectible card that may possess a few writings and a postmark. A very good postcard is often valued at approximately 20–25% less than an excellent card’s worth.
  • Good Condition: Although a good postcard is collectible, it has visibly blunt or rounded corners and few bends or wrinkles. It may also have slight postal damages that don’t affect the card’s overall appearance. This card is usually worth 40–50% less than an excellent card’s price.
  • Fair Condition: A fair postcard isn’t torn but has writings or heavy postmark cancellations tarnishing its appearance. It may have visibly rounded corners, some creases, and damaged edges. Although it’s collectible, most collectors don’t find it appealing.
  • Poor Condition: This card is incomplete with a seriously damaged image. It’s only suitable as a space-filler and has incredibly little worth at its best.

Where to Buy and Sell Old Valuable Postcards

The quality of the postcard you purchase and your profit from selling a valuable postcard depends on the medium. You’ll strike an optimal deal when purchasing postcards from or auctioning with the right platform.

These are your best bet when buying or selling old valuable postcards:

Collectors Clubs and Organizations

You’re likely to find premium postcards where collectors gather. In such organizations, collectors exhibit their postcard collections, and interested purchasers update their collections. There are various collector clubs, including the San Francisco Bay Area Post Card Club and the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City.

Auction Platforms

You may also acquire or purchase valuable postcards at reputable auction houses. It’s unlikely to purchase a fake postcard or experience losses in an auction house.

Cherryland Postcard Auctions is a popular auction platform for postcards.

E-commerce Platforms

Online sites like eBay and Etsy are good options if you intend to purchase or sell valuable postcards.

FAQ

What’s the most valuable American postcard among the valuable US postcards?

The African American Mother and Son postcard is the most valuable American postcard, fetching £16,000 in an auction.

What are the most valuable postcards in the UK?

The Penny Penates (£31,750) and The Launch of the R. M. S Titanic postcards (£2,000) are the most valuable postcards in the UK.

What are the most valuable postcards from 1900 to 1910?

The Cleveland Indians postcard (1905) and Young Boys Pump House postcard (1908) are the most valuable postcards of the early 1900s. They cost £11,000 and £6,000 respectively.

Bottom Line

Postcards are precious collectibles reminding the collector of memorable periods and events that transpired long before emails and social media emerged. Even though they may be considered outdated in the contemporary world, they enjoy substantial attention in the collectibles community.

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