Craig puts his own stamp on historic postcards

Harford executive is working on his second book of collections


David R. Craig scattered about 20 postcards on a long table in the back of the Historical Society of Harford County.

"Finding mistakes on postcards is one of my favorite things to do when I look at them," said Craig, thumbing through a book.

Seconds later, he laid the book on the table and pointed to a postcard.

"This one says it's the Havre de Grace Race Track," said Craig, a Havre de Grace native.

"The features of the track in relation to the date on the back of the card show me that it can't be the Havre de Grace track. But when I use a postcard, I go with what it says it is."

Harford County's 57-year-old executive is talking about postcards he used in the book that he co-wrote with Havre de Grace resident Mary Martin last year. Called Greetings From Havre de Grace, the book has sold about 1,500 copies.

After he completed the book, a representative of the publisher, Schiffer Publishing Ltd. of Atglen, Pa., asked Craig what else he could do.

Craig, an avid deltiologist (postcard collector) who earned his bachelor's degree in history from Towson State College in 1971, went into overdrive thinking about the possibilities.

For starters, he is compiling a book about the Gettysburg battlefield. After that, he plans to do books on Harford County, Annapolis and Chesapeake Bay beaches.

Martin, who has written 25 postcard books, said Craig is the man for the job.

"He was the perfect person to do the greetings book because he is Mr. Havre de Grace," said Martin, who just completed a 127-page postcard book, Baltimore: A History in Postcards, to benefit Johns Hopkins Pediatrics Oncology Friends. "He has lived here all his life, and he knows the history."

Craig will do just as well with his picture book on the Gettysburg battlefield and anything else he wants to tackle, she said.

"David is so passionate about history and postcards," said Martin, who owns Mary Martin Postcards in Perryville, which her mother, also named Mary, opened about 40 years ago. "He's found a way to use the postcards to make history interesting, instead of just filling a book with words."

Craig doesn't have any difficulty getting the best postcards, said Martin, 39.

"I'm supposed to have the best collection around here," she said. "But when we go to trade shows, people that used to save cards for me are now saving them for David. He's become my biggest competitor."

Getting the best cards means his books are of the highest quality, Martin said.

When he isn't frequenting postcard tradeshows, Craig is working on his Gettysburg battlefield book, which will include about 250 postcards.

Craig said his passion for U.S. history, the battlefield's historical significance and a lack of sources on the topic were the reasons he selected the battlefield for his latest book.

Craig's interest in Gettysburg began while he was a student working on his master's degree in U.S. history at Morgan State University.

During that time he began amassing a collection of books on Gettysburg - it now contains more than 75 volumes - to write his thesis on Gettysburg Gen. James J. Archer.

While doing research for his thesis, he found a book containing a bibliography of more than 400 books about the battle but noted that information on the battlefield is usually in the form of a tour guide or brochure, he said.

Craig is drawn to the historical significance of the battlefield, which he said has about 1,400 monuments, about 10 times more than any other Civil War battlefield.

To start his project, Craig contacted Martin, who owns millions of postcards on subjects as diverse as bridges and corkscrews and asked her what she had on the battlefield.

As she did for the first book, Martin brought over a box of about 5,000 postcards for Craig to peruse.

He donned jeweler's glasses with magnifying lenses and went to work scrutinizing the cards in his son's old bedroom, which he converted into his workspace.

"I spend tremendous intense time working until 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. in the morning on days when I have a lot in my head," Craig said.

In addition to Martin, several other people lend him cards, so he devised a system for ensuring they are returned to their rightful owners.

"My biggest worry when I borrow cards from someone is ensuring that I get them back to their rightful owner," he said. "The stickers go on the back, and they come right off when I am done with them."

To compile his book, Craig selected his favorite cards from an assortment dating mostly from 1905 to 1920. He has whittled the number to about 400 cards, of which about 250 will go to the publisher, he said.

"Eliminating 150 cards can be even more time-consuming that sorting through the box of cards I started with," said Craig.

As for the future, he is eager to do a book on Harford County, but there's a snag, Martin said. Craig has his heart set on a rare, unobtainable collection of Harford County postcards that are owned by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels.

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