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Lessons In Collecting Greeting Cards

Images of sorrow, pictures of delight
Things that go to make up a life

These lyrics from Home By The Sea (Genesis, 1983) always come to mind when at an estate sale. No where is this more evident to me than in those boxes of greeting cards which I compulsively drag home with me.

Box of old greeting cards And you do know by now that when I say ‘boxes’, I do mean real boxes, not shoe boxes, right?

These boxes of old greeting cards are gold to me — and they should be to you too.  But if I say that then you and I will be elbowing one another at the next estate sale… That’s not good for me personally.

But underneath this warrior-collector and hoarding fool beats a heart of gold. So, being the nice girl that I am, I’m going to ‘show & tell you’ some secrets of collecting these boxes of greeting cards, Thursday Thirteen style.

Vintage Greeting CardsThere’s gold in them there boxes, and its not just the greeting cards themselves.

The first thing you must do when you get a box of old greeting cards is go through them and open each and every one of them. Yes, you are going to see a lot of Jesus cards, enough foil cards to possibly damage your retinas, and more ugly and boring cards than you can imagine. But it is worth it, as you will see.

You do this for several reasons.

The first being that you have to get the cards out of, and away from, the envelopes.

The glue on the envelopes and even the paper used for them is bad news for pretty cards. Not only will the glue stick to and rip cards, but the acid will tan the cards. (Yes, it tans and marks the inside as well.)

The other reason you open each and every card is to read and enjoy them.

Along with greeting cards — holiday cards, sympathy cards, get well cards, thank you notes — people write their best wishes & their news. Reading the cards you get a real sense of the former owner’s life.

If that seems too voyeuristic for you, consider your reading a way of keeping that person’s life and memory alive. In that sense, it’s no different than reading a biography.

But what makes a box of old greeting cards such a treasure trove is that frequently people also sent along photos and other paper items. Clippings of births, weddings, deaths, and other events are common place.

Vintage Birth Announcement

In my first really big score (5 boxes of greeting cards from one estate), I found a wedding announcement from my then-husband’s family. It was from the 1940s or so, so it was on different branches of the tree, but my then mom-in-law was thrilled because they had no record of the wedding for the genealogy project she was (constantly) working on.

Also in that box we found a $50 bill. (Because, yes, people often include money in gift cards.) That paid for my five $5 boxes twice.

It hasn’t happened again since that time, but who knows? It makes opening each card sound that much more fun now, doesn’t it?

As a collector I’ve discovered another secret about these boxes of greeting cards.

Because this person saved these cards and clippings in ‘that desk drawer’, they tended to toss into that drawer other paper items such as souvenirs, clippings and even trinkets of their own. Perhaps for that ‘one day’ scrapbook. If you’re an ephemera lover, then these boxes of ‘junk paper’ that families are too annoyed with, or bored by, to search through can be boxes of heaven.

Here are few of those glorious ephemera finds:

A 1936 receipt or a money order from Security National Bank.

1936 Security National Bank Receipt

A check stub for the above Doris, for her work as a teacher at Howards Grove Public Schools. (I know some teachers who feel they make the same salary now.)

Old Public School Check Stub

A program for The Community Players of Sheboygan, 1938. (For more on such things, see here.)

Sheboygan Community Players Vintage Program

A 1924 Perfect Attendance Certificate — no wonder Phipps became a teacher!

1924 Attendance Certificate

Folded inside this several page packet of family history, was this photo Christmas card from the Calveys. (From this I now know that Lorraine Pool Maersch and I share(d) a birthday — the day, not the year, thank-you-very-much.)

Vinage Family Tree History & Christmas Card

A slick flier on the Japanese Exhibition House, The Museum of Modern Art, Summer 1954. (You can click this to see it in more detail, however it is cropped to show the diagram/floor plan as it was too long for the scanner — if you really must see it all or know more, contact me.)

Japanese Exhibition House

Everyone of that certain age had clippings of those poor Dionne quintuplets; Phipps was no exception.

Old Quints Clipping

I can’t believe I scanned any part of this… It’s a six page typed tribute (eulogy) by Janice for her dead brother, Dr. Kenneth G. Weckel. I’ve never had the guts to read it past the start of the third paragraph & I’m only showing you the top portion because I don’t want to be insensitive. One day I will read it.

A Sister's Tribute

Lastly, this vintage pharmacy postcard (postmarked 1959).

1959 Grube Pharmacy Mailer

From Grube Pharmacy, this postcard was mailed to physicians, promoting the virtues of their pharmacy services — which included the presentation of the pharmacists home number.

And with that, she fainted.


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Deanna Dahlsad

Deanna Dahlsad Robin, and anyone else, try listing them in our Marketplace! http://www.collectorsquest.com/marketplace September 24th, 2012 at 3:55 AM

Jessica I have just found a trove of cards from the 1910s-60s. Any suggestions on what to do with them? June 4th, 2014 at 6:32 PM

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