May/June 2019 edition
Issue #5 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
As a photography collector, you may have overlooked the collectibility of postcards, just as I did for several years. But many postcards are actually 3½”x 5”photos, and are worth a second look as you seek to acquire automotive images.
You probably have gone to antique shows and seen large tables full of postcards displayed by sellers that would be considered “generalists;” in other words, they have everything that could be considered a postcard. Look for the seller’s Automobile section to see if there are any treasures there. What you are looking for, are Real Photo Post Cards or RPPC as they are known. To tell that an old postcard is actually a real photograph, look at the dark areas of the card in reflected light. They should have a silver cast to them proving that they are an actual silver image.
Normally these RPPC will be more expensive than the printed or litho cards. Other factors that effect the price are age, subject matter, condition, and rarity. You can find several guides on the internet showing you how to tell the age of postcards by looking at the back of the card. The rarity however, is up to you to solve. You need to consider the fact that manufacturers of photographic paper sold postcard stock to everyone, so anyone with the ability to print a photograph could produce a real photo postcard. The consideration is…. did they print one, or a dozen, or thousands? Photographers rarely print more images than they have a market for, and if you are looking at a very old image, just plain survival is an important factor.
The first image in this article of the French De Dion contesting the New York to Paris race in 1908, was taken by Warren Z. Newton who printed the card, and sold it in early March… the date stamp on the back shows it was mailed from Marshalltown, Iowa, March 13, 1908. The race records show that the De Dion went through Cedar Rapids, Iowa sometime in early March of 1908, with Marshalltown just west of there. So an educated guess, is that the photo was taken in Marshalltown, which could have been the extent of Mr. Newton’s market and limited his print run. Whatever his output, I am sure there are very few surviving 110 years later. I would value this card at $125 to $200.
The next postcard illustrated is of Count Zborowski in his Bugatti at the Indianapolis 500 in 1923. The Indy 500 has been very popular for over a century, so there are literally thousands of event postcards, and photographs out in the world, which depreciates the value considerably. This is not a bad thing, it just means the Indy 500 collector can put together a comprehensive collection for very reasonable cost. I have seen this RPPC for as little as $30.
The last vintage real photo postcard illustrated is of Léon Théry in his Richard-Brasier, the winner of the 1905 Gordon-Bennett Race. This card has rounded corners from wear, a slight bend at lower right and a postage stamp on the face of the card; all of these are conditions that lower the value to a serious postcard collector, but none of it phases me. In fact, all of the above turn this RPPC into an important historic artifact, as it is all just patina. This card would sell in this country for around $75, but could draw a much higher price in Europe where this event was held.
All of the cards illustrated are from my personal collection.
To read more great columns like this one from automotive photography expert Dale LaFollette...
Vintage Auto Photography
Dale LaFollette, the owner of Vintage Motorphoto, specializes in rare and collectable original racing photographs. Explore his knowledge in this column.