From nice to naughty, postcards draw enthusiasts

April 18, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

HAVRE DE GRACE -- The demure Victorian miss, tightly laced into her ball gown, perches daintily on her chair. But slip a piece of red cellophane over the top of the postcard, and she reveals a glimpse of thigh and the suggestion of a bare bosom.

Fava Sherrard, a 75-year-old postcard dealer from Rising Sun, took one look and howled with laughter. "This must have been so naughty 80 years ago," she said.

Such "red-light" postcards and about 2 million others -- from the everyday Walt Disney World variety to those with real human hair, satin clothes or eyes that wobble -- drew about 1,000 people to Havre de Grace for the first Chesapeake Postcard Show yesterday and Friday.

At a community center in the historic Harford County town, postcard enthusiasts bought and looked at all manner of 3-by-5-inch pieces of the past as 40 dealers from as far away as Canada, California and Texas showed off and sold their gems.

Mary and Bill Martin, owners of Mary L. Martin LTD, a Cecil County store that carries more than 10 million postcards, pTC sponsored the show, which they plan to have in Havre de Grace every spring. They know their postcards. Specializing in antiques, their store carries cards depicting, among other things, disasters, outhouses, lynchings, paintings, faintings, battles, cows looking left, cows looking right.

The Martins kept their rarest postcards in a glass case at their booth. A postcard of the Titanic, signed by three survivors, carried a $500 price tag. A Victorian-era set of six postcards with colorful plump pigs -- and messages like "Grow fat and be happy" -- went for $300.

Modern postcards, with scenes like Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and Walt Disney World, sat in a pile at another dealer's table and went for 10 cents apiece. Most postcards at the show sold for under $10.

Postcard fanatics quietly staked out claims in front of dealer tables, methodically searching through folders, albums and boxes.

Clarence and Shirley Booth left Hampton, Va., at 5 a.m. to be in line when the doors opened at 10. Alas, Mr. Booth came up empty-handed in his search for Christmas postcards to complete a numbered set.

"It's a treasure hunt," said Mr. Booth, who keeps thousands of postcards tucked into plastic pockets in albums. "It's the nostalgia."

Postcards became collectibles in the 1960s, Mrs. Martin said. Most collectors choose just a few categories, such as a hometown or favorite subject.

Mark Russell, Mrs. Martin's partner and son-in-law, recalled one woman seeking -- and finding -- postcards of cows staring to the left.

Suzanne Klies of Laurel came seeking postcards of dogs. She finally decided on a $3 card featuring an elegant drawing of a woman strolling with a collie. "I like it because it's one I don't have and it's pretty," she said.

She buys lots of cards, she said, but later decides which are worth keeping and sells the others.

Like most other collectors, she said she looks for postcards in good condition, with no torn or folded edges, and ignores the messages, postmarks and stamps on the back.

"That's how you can tell an experienced collector. They ignore the backs," said Warren Smith, a dealer from Alexandria.

But sometimes the messages from the past can't be ignored. Mr. Smith said he bought a large collection of postcards written by a Maryland woman on her yearly vacations to Florida during the 1940s and '50s.

"Every year, she stopped at the same places along the route and bought postcards to mail back home," Mr. Smith said. "I could chronicle her trip each year, where she ate, how she slept, the weather and what she did."

Postcards first became available in 1893 when the daily post came twice a day and postage was 1 cent.

"Remember back then people didn't have phones or radios or televisions," said Mrs. Martin, who has been collecting postcards for about 30 years. "Postcards were an instant hit because they were such an easy way to stay up on the news."

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