The Flipside

     Once upon a time at the Book Fair, I would get calls from potential donors asking whether we’d be interested in a donation of old postcards.    And perhaps half the time, I would be told all the postcards were in really great condition because “I threw away all the ones that had messages on the back”.

     If the person had not yet reached the point of actually throwing things away yet, I would try to explain that roughly half the postcard collectors in the world feel a message on the back ENHANCES the value, even if, as I can testify, a lot of the time that message does not rise beyond the level of “How are you?  I am fine.”  (Actually, in the early days, when postcards were as big as texts were, say, in the 2010s the message was more often either “I got your card; here’s one for you” or “I sent you a card and haven’t heard back yet.”)

     For one thing, that postmark tells us when the card was mailed (unless it was lost when some opportunistic stamp collector decided to pull off the stamp.  Have I told you—lately—about the postcard someone slipped off into a corner at the Book fair and just tore off the corner with the stamp on it?  I understand: this was, after all, a card which would have cost a WHOLE DOLLAR.  And to that bungler who tore the inscription out of a book, effectively destroying the value of both the book and the autograph, I have renewed that curse on you, using the usual pumpkin shell filled with…where were we?)  If you’re not sure whether you have a genuine old postmark or a modern reprint, a stamp and postmark from 1907 can be mighty reassuring.  Sometimes the message on the back will comment on the climate or local news of the area shown on the other side: useful local history.  And let’s not sniff at the appeal of just reading someone else’s mail.

     But sometimes the back of the card can amplify the interest or the resale value of a card.  Take that shot at the top of this column.  Very nice, very predictable.  Do you suppose it’s a motel, or a new branch of a local bank?  Funeral home? It might even be a new school building or post office, OR the residence of some new, exciting celebrity.

     This one was never mailed, and you can see why.  The ad for aluminum siding pretty much fills the message space.  It is, in its own way, exciting.  It’s part of that post-war world in which the aluminum siding salesman became a force to be reckoned with in the suburbs and city councils across America.  Until he was replaced, of course, by the vinyl siding salesman.

     Here is another ho-hum type of postcard: the state map surrounded by tourist attractions.  These used to be valued by grader school geography teachers: an inexpensive, graphic way to show a state’s individuality.  Fifty of these—wait, maybe forty-eight for some of us—would make kids remember SOMETHING at least from geography class.  This one has the added attraction of a small hand-drawn X, probably at the spot where the sender bought the card.  What fun!  Let’s flip it over and see if it tells us what these tourist stops in Missouri are.

     Um, no.  it does not.  Somebody at the Curteich postcard factory fed the wrong card into the printer at some point.  (You can check online and find both these cards with their correct flip sides.)  We have instead an ad for the resort in Indiana which boasts Pluto Water.  What I like best about this is that the sender DID buy it in Missouri, and wrote that message and marked that X without particularly caring that the text had nothing to do with the Show-Me State.  WHICH teaches us something about postcard consumers.

     Now this lad carries all sorts of interesting stories behind his back, but let’s enjoy the front for a moment.  This kind of goes with a previous blog in this spot about inebriated gentlemen, especially their use of streetlights.  You will notice that it comes from Italy, and that someone has translated the original caption for a reader of English.

     On the B side, we find out much about the sender and a little about the English reader.  It is franked, marked to be mailed free of charge for a serviceman on active duty in Italy in 1944.  That alone gives it a bit of added interest, although I expect millions of postcards franked for members of the service are still in attics around the world.  Note that he has not bought one of the usual American postcards available at the PX, but has gone for a homegrown specimen.  We may observe also that Italy, after so many years of war, was stilling producing postcards for sale to tourists, a testament to the human spirit (or avarice; take your pick.)

     If you read the message, though, you learn a little about the recipient, who is now singing with a big band.  (At what point in our history did we decide this had to be capitalized?)  This is the sort of thing a dealer in second-hand mail dreams of: something that touched a celebrity.  Can’t QUITE make out that last name, though: Bekale?  Of course, they’d have made her change it if she hit it big, but somewhere on the Interwebs….  Then, too, there were a lot more big bands out there performing than ever achieved any more than local fame.  For every Benny Goodman and His orchestra there were three dozen Kevin LaBaron and His Big Blue Bands.

     But the possibility is still there that someone who fell in love while dancing to the dulcet tones of Betty Bekale would find this card a treasure.  All because somebody did NOT throw it away because somebody wrote on it (and it didn’t even have a stamp.)

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