Harford woman has passion for postcards

October 22, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

When Mary Martin was about 2 years old, her mother, also named Mary Martin, started a postcard business in the family's Albany, N.Y., home.

Over the years, the mother instilled a love of postcards in her daughter. She taught the youngster everything she knew.

By the time she was 6 years old, young Mary could hold her own with postcard dealers. "It was obvious early on that I had the collector's gene," she said. "I was fascinated with postcards, and collecting them became addictive."

Martin remembers quickly learning to distinguish which postcards were good and which ones were bad. And she learned from the best, said Bill Martin, 65, her father.

"My wife, Mary, was one of the pioneers of postcard collecting in the United States," said Bill Martin, who lives in Havre de Grace.

Mary Martin, now 39, is running Mary Martin Postcards in Perryville, taking over in 1999, two years before her mother's death. She sponsors the largest postcard show in the United States and compiles postcard books to benefit children's charities.

And with annual sales of more than a half-million postcards, she boasts of having perhaps the largest collection of postcards in the country.

"I know all the big dealers, and I think I have the largest collection," said Martin, who also lives in Havre de Grace. "Although my mom started the business, I've bought a lot of cards to add to our inventory."

The mother began nurturing her daughter's passion for postcards at an early age.

As far back as the younger Mary can remember, she was collecting postcards, and she has amassed a personal collection of thousands of cards depicting Baltimore and social-history issues.

The tremendous growth of her collection is partly because of her enthusiasm for the third-largest collectible hobby - only stamps and coins are more collected - but also because she never throws anything out, Martin said.

"I'm from the house of `it will be worth something, someday,'" she said.

Also, she and her son, Joe Russell, 21, take turns attending about 45 shows held in this country and abroad.

And over the years, she has learned how to get the best bargains on the most coveted postcards, said her father.

"There's nobody in the postcard world that doesn't know Mary," Bill Martin said. "People contact her from all over the world when they need a card. And when she needs something, she knows where and how to get it."

But that doesn't necessarily mean she always gets the cards she seeks.

Martin tries to get as many cards depicting Havre de Grace as she can lay her hands on. And recently, a card went up for sale on eBay depicting a house in Havre de Grace with a cow standing in front. She was outbid on the card by another local collector.

"That postcard was worth about $5, and I bid up to $80 on it, and then I just gave up," she said.

However, there aren't many topics she doesn't have represented in the collection of cards she sells.

"It's very rare that I don't have cards depicting just about anything people are looking for," she said.

The postcards are stored in plastic sleeves in boxes that are a little larger than shoeboxes. The boxes are labeled with general subjects of their contents, such as states, countries, historic places, animals, movie stars, cathedrals, motels, cities, sports teams and athletes.

Then they are placed in alphabetical order on shelves in the main warehouse.

In addition to the traditional cards, she has some unusual cards that she keeps in a box labeled "macabre."

The box contains a collection of postcards depicting people lying in coffins.

And not only are the coffins real, so are the people in them.

"People used to hold open-casket wakes in their homes," she said. "And when people came to the viewing, they took pictures. These postcards are some of the pictures that were taken."

However, when she is in the market to buy new cards or sell some of the ones she has, Martin or her son will travel to shows each year throughout the United States and Europe.

However, this year, Martin's annual trip to London to the world's largest postcard show has been canceled.

"I can't take my postcards on the plane with me" as carry-on luggage, she said. "So I'm not going to go this year."

But she has plenty to keep her busy here: She's coordinating and sponsoring the largest show in the United States, which will be held Nov. 17 and 18 in York, Pa.

The show includes about 100 vendors who come from different regions, Martin said.

"I try to make sure there is only one person representing an area," she said. "So there's one person from Philadelphia, one from Chicago, and so on. When people are from the same region, they tend to have the same cards, and that's dull."

But there's never a dull moment when trying to buy the most coveted cards, Martin said.

"It's awful trying to buy cards at the shows," she said. "I'll run across the room and try to get a card, and by the time I get there, it's gone."

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