Cabbage vendors, butter markets and the 100-year-old woman from Kerry
A vast collection of vintage Irish postcards – to be auctioned next month – paints a picture of a long-forgotten Ireland
Cabbage vendors: a postcard included in one of the biggest collections of vintage Irish postcards dating mostly from 1905-1920
Are you a deltiologist? No, it doesn’t mean membership of a weird cult or refer to the latest fad diet. The little-used word is used to describe a collector of postcards. Deltiology is one of the most popular fields of collecting and a widely-practised hobby worldwide – rivalled only by philately (stamps) and numismatics (coins and banknotes).
Postcards were hugely popular during the golden era of the postal service – the late 19th and early 20th century when there were several deliveries of mail daily in the major cities and towns.
The cards were used to communicate a brief message or simply to convey greetings and were, essentially, the Victorian equivalent of texts, Tweets and Instagrams.
Some postcards were blank on both sides (the front for the name and address of the recipient and the stamp, with the back of the card used to write a short message) but picture postcards were far more popular (with the back divided: the right-hand side for the name, address and stamp, and the left-hand side for the message).
Cards were illustrated with every conceivable image – famous people, grand buildings, town and cityscapes, natural wonders and sometimes “news” events .
Some were erotic, others humorous and some a combination of both, particularly the hugely popular “saucy seaside” British postcards.
Until the end of the 20th century postcards were a staple feature of domestic and foreign holidays – whether a “John Hinde” image of turf-collecting children in the west of Ireland or a flamenco dancer on the Costa del Sol. But the sending of postcards – like the use of surface mail generally – has declined with the exponential increase in mobile phone usage.
Postcard albums can still be found in many Irish houses and often turn up in specialist auctions, antiques and rare book fairs and car-boot sales.
Collecting vintage postcards is an inexpensive hobby (cards often sell for as little as 50c or €1) and most collectors are motivated by pleasure not investment potential. As in all fields of collecting there are exceptions, and cards with particular historical resonance – cards, for example, depicting Titanic can sell for hundreds of euro. Those (incredibly rare) surviving cards posted at Queenstown (Cobh) during the ship’s final stop-over are worth many thousands of euro.
For collectors of postcards the choice is vast as countless millions of cards were produced. Most collectors choose a relatively manageable category – like, say, a single Irish county.
But even then the range of subjects is enormous as almost every town, village, building, monument and street was at some point the subject of a picture postcard. Collecting cards from a large county such as Cork or Donegal can involve a collection of thousands of cards and take a lifetime of collecting.
One of the biggest collections of vintage Irish postcards ever assembled – some 9,000 picture postcards mostly dating from 1905-1920 – has been consigned to Whyte’s auction of collectibles which takes place in Dublin next month.
The collection involves topographical scenes of Ireland, and there are cards from every one of the 32 counties.
Auctioneer Ian Whyte said the collection would be broken into lots and “the average price per card is between €3 and €5 but some cards are worth up to €40 each”.
Mr Whyte said images of “scenes that have changed radically in the past 100 years” were especially sought-after, as well as cards showing small villages, shop-fronts and modes of transport. He said “given Irish people’s strong affiliation to their native county, many people tend to only collect cards from their own county”.
The auction will enable existing collectors to fill gaps in their collections and may attract a new generation of budding deltiologists.
The auction will take place in the Freemasons Hall on Saturday, June 13th. see whytes.ie