Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2017 Issue

Postcards: A Fading Business But Increasingly Collectible

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Salmon's postcards were an over 100-year-old tradition.

It is another sign of the changing of the guard in terms of print versus electronic media. Britain's oldest postcard publisher is closing its doors after over a century in business. J. Salmon opened as a general printer in the 1880s, and by the turn of the century was publishing postcards and calendars. It has continued ever since, a family business now run by the fifth generation. Soon it will publish no more. Printing will stop by the end of the year and the business will wind down in 2018.

 

Charles Salmon, 61, who runs the operation with his 56-year-old brother, Henry, cited changing technology as a major reason for their closure. The fact is people no longer send postcards nearly as often as they once did. Email and social media, which have had a similar affect on the writing of traditional letters, has done postcards in. Salmon is not the world's only postcard publisher and you will still be able to buy them, but seriously, how many people still send postcards?

 

In my youth, our family used to receive them regularly. It was a rite of travel that you send them back to family and friends not so fortunate as you. "Wish you were here." But, of course, you weren't. Too bad. It is a rarity to receive one today, and usually it comes from someone who wants to convey a short message, rather than a traveler, and it is someone whom your and my children would describe as an "old person." I doubt that any of my children have ever sent one, and the few they have received came from "old people" of my generation or older.

 

Reportedly, sales at Salmon have dropped from a peak of about £20 million 25 years ago to £5 million today. Charles noted that another reason for closing is that no one in the next generation has expressed an interest in continuing the family business, and with results like that, it isn't hard to see why. When you can post pictures of your trip on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or wherever, and send personal messages via email or the various instant messaging services, who needs postcards? Just a few nostalgic old people, I guess.

 

Ironically, there is an area where postcards do still seem to be alive and well – collecting. As print collectors have expanded their focus to include more ephemeral items, postcards have become more popular. They provide an excellent window on their times, old pictures with a personal message. They were sort of an earlier generation's Twitter, just enough room for a short message, but with the addition of a picture. There was enough room for about 140 characters before that small one-quarter of the card on which you could write your message was filled. We just didn't know to call them a "tweet" then.

 

Salmon's other product, the calendar, is also collectible today when it features desirable illustrations. My guess is the calendar for sale business is suffering too, a victim of the free one. Maybe merchants no longer hand them out, but my mailbox becomes more laden with them every year, evidently an inexpensive promotion by charities seeking a contribution. I kid you not – I got my first free calendar for 2018 last May, and a couple more before summer was over. I suspect each was trying to be the first to deliver a new calendar, thinking that would give them a heads up in eliciting my donation. I may not be curing disease, helping the poor, or saving the environment with my contributions, but at least I am helping the cause of printing more calendars so they can ship one to my neighbors too.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
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    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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