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Back to the Fifties: My First Postcard Collection

I was first bitten by the postcard bug in the fall of 1956 while I was on a family weekend trip to New Salem and Springfield, Illinois. I always loved souvenir shops, but I never had enough money for a "real" souvenir like a T-shirt or a cedar box. At the New Salem souvenir shop, I discovered that I could buy old-fashioned linen postcards at 2 for 5¢, while the more modern chrome postcards were 5¢ each. Because I loved a bargain, I bought as many linen postcards as I could. Most of these cards were related to Abraham Lincoln in some way.

Abrham Lincoln's Home

After that, I started asking family members to save cards for me, and I saved any postcard I could get my hands on. I now keep the cards sent by family members in a separate category of my collection.

I still have a stack of cards sent by my uncle. Most of the cards are of the typical tourist type with uninspiring pictures, but this one has become more interesting over the years. I love the old car and big sign. (One of my current collecting interests is classic roadside chromes).

Dunes Hotel

Also from my uncle is this very postcardy view of the Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon

Most of messages are as uninspiring as the pictures, but some of them are interesting and/or amusing. I found this amusing message on a card my mother sent from Canada (the view is a Toronto hotel; the card was mailed from Montreal):

"This you WON'T believe there is a woman here with FUSCHIA Hair she was wearing an aqua dress & shoes & was walking a cat on a leash!"

My father sent me this card of the KASBAH Cocktail Lounge at the Terrace Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. The cocktail lounge is said to be patterned after the original Moroccan Kasbah. That's Abdullah at the entrance, entending (sic) a warm welcome.


Every trip became a treasure hunt. I was attracted to postcard racks like a moth to light. Not only could I buy cards, but I often could pick up free cards from restaurants and motels. My postcard collection became a record of where I had been.

One weekend my family stayed at The Wagon Wheel in Rockton, Illinois. The Wagon Wheel must have given away tons of these cards. These cards show up frequently in dealers' stocks, and the cards were originally published in 1946, more than ten years before I was there. The text on the back of the card claims that "Only women are employed in the kitchen of the Wagon Wheel because women, through their innate sense of taste and daintiness excell in the fine arts of cookery."

Wagon Wheel

Smallbone's Maplewood Resort in Sister Lakes, Michigan was where my family went for summer vacations for many years. The resort is no longer in existence. The gateway entrance advertises "A Country Home For City Folks."

Smallbone's Maplewood Resort

Most of our family vacations involved some travel on the Indiana Toll Road. This was built in 1956 and seemed very fast and modern. You couldn't see much by the side of the road, but the rest stops were quite nice and sold postcards.

Indians were popular and colorful subjects, especially in "vacationland." The caption on the back of the card below is "Chippewa Indians at History-land, Hayward, Wisconsin." Often the Indians and/or their costumes had nothing to do with the location where the cards were sold. One of my old Indian cards is simply labeled "How!"

This Greyhound Scenicruiser is like the one I rode in 1959. According to the text on the back, "One thousand of these luxurious dual level air-conditioned buses are operated by the Greyhound Lines between hundreds of cities throughout the United States and Canada."

Greyhound Scenicruiser

When we visited Washington, D.C., John F. Kennedy was president and Lyndon Johnson was vice-president.

Kennedy and Johnson 

That same trip included a stop at Jamestown, Virginia where I found this cool novelty postcard—it is a real 78 RPM phonograph record. The ships in the painting are the ones which carried the first settlers to Jamestown in 1607.


Along the way somewhere, I found one of my favorite cards—the famous Coppertone girl used to advertise Coppertone suntan lotion.


I was always a sucker for a cute animal card. This is one of my early ones. Later, I collected imported animal cards like the Mainzer cats and some from England.

This comic card is from a Chicago series published by Curt Teich. It represents Mrs. O'Leary's cow that was believed to have started the Great Chicago Fire by kicking over a lantern in a barn.

Chicago cow

Apparently large letter cards were no longer popular by the time I started collecting postcards. This is the only one I had. It is from the town next to the one where I lived.

Hinsdale Illinois

As I grew older, I started buying postcards at art museums. I still have those, but they no longer interest me.

I also bought some antique postcards for about 5¢ or less. I don't remember whether I ever saw any of the better antique postcards. At the time, I was glad to find some old cards. I was especially impressed by Thanksgiving postcards because I was born on Thanksgiving. It wasn't until twenty years later, when I started collecting postcards again, that I realized that my earlier antique purchases were essentially worthless.

I still have my first postcard collection. Even though that collection was mostly junk, I am glad it wasn't discarded like most of my childhood possessions. But it makes me feel really old when I think about how the cards that were new in the 1950s are now about as old as the antique cards of the 1950s were back then!



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