Are your sheds getting full and you haven't yet finished collecting? You might think about collecting farm equipment postcards. They require little storage space, you can keep them in the house, they don't have to be dusted, and they cost less than the real thing.
The people who collect farm equipment postcards aren't going to be happy that I tell you this. They want to keep it their little secret. But I think there are enough cards to go around: You just have to look for them!
Dallas Petersen of Villisca, Iowa, is sold on postcards. He has been collecting for five years and has 115 Allis cards, 90 miscellaneous cards and 18 farm equipment cards. He also has cards to trade. "I have 14 pieces of large Allis equipment, but cards don't take up much room," he says. "And when you find a different card, it doesn't take a trailer to get it home."
What kind of postcards are you going to find? In American Advertising Postcards: Sets and Series, 1890-1920, by Frederic H. Megson, the following categories are identified as being among the earliest of farm equipment and farm-related cards: steel fences by American, Corbett, DeKalb, Pittsburgh and Union companies; horse blankets by Ayres and Phoenix companies; horseshoes by the Phoenix company; fertilizer by Buffalo, German Kall, Hubbard and Royster companies; cream separators by Empire, Melotte and Sharples; gas engines by Brown, Bruce-MacBeth, Huber and Aultman & Taylor; machinery/equipment by Hart-Parr, International, Rumely and Case; and road rollers by Kelly Springfield and Monarch. You'll also find a lot of single cards from the years leading up to 1920.
After the 1920s, when Allis-Chalmers bought out Rumely, Allis-Chalmers continued Rumely's postcard promotions. That period also is the time when John Deere, Ford, Minneapolis-Moline and other manufacturers began producing postcards. Since no one has documented the cards available, surprises are found every time you look.
Brad Carlson, Janesville, Minn., has a varied collection numbering more than 2,000 cards. Brad's dad has been an Allis-Chalmers collector since Brad was a boy. About 12 years ago, Brad's father got into Allis postcards. Five years ago, Brad started looking for cards for his father … but he didn't limit himself to Allis. His father, though, remains a specialist. "To my dismay, he was not interested in them if they were not Allis-Chalmers," he says. "I found many interesting tractor cards of other brands, and it sort of took off from there."
Where do you find postcards? If you have limitless time and energy, they can be found at antique malls and shops, flea markets, auctions and garage sales. They're also available at online auction sites. The best place to find them, however, is at a postcard show. You'll find dates and locations of shows on flyers posted at antique shops and malls. A typical show features 10 to 75 dealers who handle nothing but postcards. Some carry a large stock of cards, as many as 50,000.
At postcard shows, each dealer's card inventory is carefully organized. Save time by searching specific categories, say, farm equipment, or farm-related headings such as specific manufacturer or item name. Visit with the dealer; tell him what you're looking for, and ask him where he files cards in that category. Since all dealers have their own filing systems, this will save you time and frustration. Most dealers, if they're not busy, are glad to help you.
Little information is available on postcard press runs, series components or distribution methods. Most of the equipment manufacturers that produced cards have merged or gone out of business, and if records pertaining to card production ever existed, which is unlikely, they are unknown of today. Equipment manufacturers understandably focused on promoting their products, not on recording data relating to promotional efforts.
Once you begin your collection, start a checklist of the cards you buy. It's a useful reference at shows, and helps prevent duplicate purchases. Use a three-ring "D" binder to store and display your cards in clear plastic, four-pocket pages. The plastic pages protect your cards from damage. Don't try to economize and put two cards in one pocket: There is a lot of information on the back of each card, and it's easy to see when you put just one card in a pocket. Messages written by the sender can be entertaining and informative, and printed information (such as artist, photographer, printer and more) is also of interest to the collector. Many cards within a series are numbered; you may want to see how many of them you can find.
Barr's Postcard News: bi-monthly publication, includes directory of collector organizations, classified advertising, events schedule, auctions. Barr's Postcard News, P.O. Box 601, Vinton, IA 52349; (800) 397-0145; www.Barrspcn.com
Postcard Collector: monthly publication, includes classified advertising, events schedule, forums. Postcard Collector, Krause Publications, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990; www.postcardcollector.com
Books on the topic: Many titles are available, including this sampling: Collecting Picture Postcards by Geoffrey A. Godden; The Postcard Price Guide 4th Edition, A Comprehensive Reference, by J.L. Mashburn; and Collector's Guide to Post Cards by Jane Wood.
In the 35 years that I've been a collector/dealer, I find that almost every postcard is a collectible to someone. Price has a lot to do with which card is purchased. If the price is too high, be patient. You may worry that you'll never have a second chance at that card. That's the chance you take, but remember, prices vary from dealer to dealer. Most cards start out at $2 to $3; rare cards in mint condition can sell for hundreds of dollars. Early steam or gas tractor cards, in particular, command a good price, mainly because of the scarcity of the card.
What do I collect? Rumely. And I have four cards. Thirty-five years and only four cards? Yes, but they're really neat cards …
- John Cole is a 35-year postcard collector and dealer from Minnesota, and a contributor to Barr's Postcard News.
As with all paper ephemera, when collecting postcards, quality matters. "It is far better to spend a dollar on a card that is in pristine condition than to invest in 10 cards that cost 10 cents each, but are in poor condition," advises John McClintock. Widely considered the "Father of the American Postcard Business," McClintock offers advice to beginning collectors in an article found online at www.barrspcn.com "A used card with the subject (or 'view' side) in mint condition is just as desirable as an unused card."
Identifying Picture Postcard Grades:Source: www.barrspcn.com
■ Mint A perfect card; no marks, bends or creases; seldom seen.
■ Near Mint Like mint, but very, very light aging or slight discoloration resulting from years of album storage.
■ Excellent Like mint in appearance. May be used or unused with writing and postmark on address side only. Clean, fresh appearance on picture side.
■ Very Good Corners may be slightly rounded. Almost undetectable crease or bend that does not detract from overall appearance of picture side. May be used on address side. A very collectible card.
■ Good Corners noticeably rounded with noticeable though slight bends or creases. May be used on address side.
■ Average Creases and bends more pronounced. May have writing in margins on picture side. Postmark may show through from address side but not on main portion of picture. Corners more rounded.
■ Poor Card is intact, but soiled or stained; cancellation may affect picture; writing on both sides.
■ Space Filler Poor condition; corners torn or missing; breaks. Least desirable card.