Postcards put mark on history

Bill Burton of Dover looks through binders of postcards that he has collected. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

CHESWOLD — In this age of e-mail, text messaging and Facebook, sending a postcard to tell a loved one about a trip or to convey a short message is virtually a thing of the past.

But a group of area collectors seeks to keep the beauty and history of postcards alive.

The fourth annual DelMarVa Postcard Club show and sale is set for Sept. 9 at the Cheswold Fire Hall. About a dozen dealers will come from throughout the region, offering collectors a chance to browse through hundreds of thousands of postcards, whether they be historical, fanciful or downright beautiful.

Bill Burton of Dover has organized the show with Gary and Peggy Spengler of Frederica for the past four years after

Bill Burton’s postcards include the Delaware Blue Hen, the Milford Drawbridge and a post card of the Old State House in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

the previous incarnation of the club in Salisbury, Maryland had let the show wither away.

“Their club had been around for about 20 or 30 years but the members were getting on in years. I think the median age was about 85,” Mr. Burton said.

“Their last show was at the Wicomico Civic Center and I think there were about four dealers and five people came.”

“Gary and I thought that was a shame being that there’s about a million and a half people on the peninsula. We attended their next luncheon and asked if we could continue the show and move it north and they said, ‘Yes please. Do anything you can with it.’”

The show has become the first late summer/early fall stop for postcard collectors from throughout Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“There are seven shows between now and the end of November,” Mr. Burton said.

“There are ones in New York, Lancaster (Pennyslvania), Virginia, Mt. Laurel (New Jersey). And the hobby people haven’t had one since late July in Havre de Grace, Maryland, which is one of the biggest ones in the country. So we fit in well in terms of timing.”

There are two types of cards —view cards which focus on historical photos of specific places and topical cards, featuring cats, generic beach scenes, holiday scenes and more.

It’s those historical cards that Mr. Burton is most interested in — specifically photos of places that aren’t around anymore.

“My background is in city planning so that’s the kind of stuff that interests me,” said Mr. Burton, who moved to Dover four years ago from New York.

Upon his arrival in Delaware, he went about collecting cards depicting the First State and Dover in particular.

“I found about 50 or 60 (Delaware) cards in the first month. I found them to be very common cards,” he said.

Mr. Burton says he has about 150 Dover-centric cards and close to 2,000 Delaware ones, many depicting places that aren’t around anymore.

“I try to keep it below the canal. Once you get up into Wilmington, it can become an endless dark hole and get pretty overwhelming,” Mr. Burton said.

He has two cards with photos of the inside and outside of what the card describes as Nixon’s Opera House on State Street. Back when the photo was taken, it was also called the Dover Opera House, which later became the Capitol Theater and then the Schwartz Center for the Arts.

Another of his cards is of the old Quality Inn, which used to be on the corner of U.S. 13 and Loockerman Street.

“It’s just fascinating to find a document of what used to be in places and then to think what they tore down to put that there,” said Mr. Burton whose overall collection was at 11,223 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Prices have gone down since the heyday of collecting in the 1990s and many cards can be bought for a dollar or two.

While he collects cards of historical nature, many favor cards of a very specific nature.

Bill Burton’s collection contains two postcards carrying the label of Nixon’s Opera House on State Street, which shows the old Dover Opera House, built in 1904, as it appeared during its 10th anniversary. The building’s other incarnations have been the Capitol Theater and Schwartz Center for the Arts. (Submitted photo)

“I ran into one woman once who collected postcards of cows looking over their shoulder with their rear feet in water. And don’t you know, I actually found two of those that same day,” he said with a laugh.

“People go for all kinds of images.”

The first picture postcards intended for souvenirs in the U.S. were ones made for the Chicago Exposition in 1893.

They later became a source of great art with painters such as the Wyeths highlighting their work on them.

These days, Mr. Burton said while people don’t necessarily mail postcards as much as they used to, they are still produced.

Cats in hats are a popular genre of postcards for collectors. (Submitted photo)

“They are more a souvenir now more than anything else. You can go down to Rehoboth and see a rack of 20 or 30 cards. Some show some touristy beach scene that bears no relationship to Rehoboth or have lifeguards that haven’t been there for at least five years,” Mr. Burton said.

“It can be the same for Dover. The card can have ‘From Your Friends in Dover’ and feature hilly roads in a deep forest and you think ‘Where is that in Dover?’”

Unlike coins and stamps, which are produced by the government and collectors know exactly what’s out there, postcards have endless possibilities.

“It’s a whole discovery process and that’s what makes it fun,” Mr. Burton said.

The Sept. 9 show runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cheswold Fire Hall, 371 Main St. Admission is $3 with door prize drawings to be held on each hour.

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