History in Post Cards
as told by Richard Bedard

By Terry Hussey

Deltiology was the topic for discussion at the December 9 meeting of the Milbridge Historical Society at the museum. Deltiology, explained guest speaker Richard Bedard, is the collecting of post cards. There are hundreds of kinds of post cards. "You name it, and there’s somebody out there collecting it," said Bedard. He illustrated his talk by showing examples from his extensive collection of post cards.

The first post cards in this country originated around 1893 at the time of the Columbian Exposition. They were called private mailing cards and later pioneer cards. They had a picture on one side and an address on the other, but there was no room for a message of any kind, and so they qualified for mailing for one cent. In 1907, the postal regulations were amended to permit a space for a message as well as an address, so any card whose back side is divided into two sections to allow for both was made after March 1, 1907.

The highest quality early cards came from Germany where they produced beautifully drawn color pictures of women. The women looked like what we think of as Gibson Girls, with lovely hair and huge, elegant, elaborate hats. In 1915, when World War I broke out, the United States was cut off from these German cards and even from the inks used on them, and they were no longer made. For that reason, cards from that early era are extremely valuable.

There are patriotic cards, cat cards, cartoon cards, seasonal cards, and many, many other special categories. The condition of the card is always a factor in determining it’s value. Bedard said that cards vary in value from fifty cents to several hundred dollars. Collectors go to post card shows where the demand for certain cards is extremely high. "When the doors open, it’s like a feeding frenzy," said Bedard.

View Cards Record History

View cards is the name given to post cards which show scenery. "Cards made from real photos are more valuable than chromograph prints," said Bedard, "because fewer of them were made." Likewise, cards from the larger cities like New York or Chicago are less valuable than those from small towns, because fewer were made of the small town scenes.

The details and special features make some cards unique. There were some with pictures of ladies whose dresses were flocked with real felt. Some were made with special transparent paper that could be held to the light to make special colors almost appear to light up. Some even featured real hair.

View cards play a valuable part in recording history, because they often capture a moment in history that is recorded no where else. Bedard said, as a Realtor, post cards often provide important clues. He said that he has been in a situation where a property owner swears repeatedly that there are no underground fuel storage tanks near certain property, and yet Bedard has seen a post card showing that the property was once a gas station. "I almost wish I hadn’t seen the post card," said Bedard, "so that I could believe him."

Bedard said that certain cards were made up and then the name of just about any and every town was inserted as a caption. For example, there is a series showing a couple kissing with the caption, "The girls are all affectionate in ____." Insert the name of any small town, and the card’s a big seller.

His favorite is a photo of the Swiss Alps, showing towering snow-capped mountains, that says, "Greetings from Jonesport, Maine." "They did take some liberties," said Bedard.

Bedard said he began to collect post cards "because I think I am a frustrated artist." He said he began by collecting coins with his son when the boy was in high school. "Coins show artwork too, but not nearly so clearly as post card pictures. I collected these beautiful women because they were just beautiful art work." He said he began his collection by buying many cards from a post card auction from the estate of a woman in Kennebunkport. "When I added up all my purchases at the end of the day, I couldn’t believe what I had done," he said.

Members of the Society enjoyed thumbing through the numerous books of post cards that Bedard brought to the meeting to share. He brought a very extensive collection of view cards from Downeast towns from Steuben to Machias. Arranged by town, the pictures show the survey town’s history, as many are of the same important buildings, as photographed over the years.

Richard Bedard presented to the Historical Society a ledger book of Milbridge financial records from 1848 to 1880. The old ledger probably belonged to the town treasurer, and records tax revenues as well as all of the various expenses in the earliest days of the town’s incorporation. President Gary Willey thanked Bedard for this generous donation.