Collecting picture cards was all the rage in the early years of the 20th century. In fact the period from 1907 to 1915 is now known as the Golden Age of Postcards. During the peak of the craze, the U.S. Postal Service estimated that a billion penny postcards were mailed each year and many more were sent in letters or purchased to be added to collectors' albums.
In 1903 Kodak, which made thick photo stock with postal markings on the back, started selling the 3A Folding Pocket Kodak Camera, designed for shooting postcard-sized negatives. Cost: $3.50.
Printers, especially in Germany, perfected a method of adding color to black and white photos. Some were produced in great quantities.
"Then there were small scale photographers like A.W. Ericson [in Arcata] who would take images and print them on postcards," said collector Steve Lazar, "they weren't into mass production. There were big companies that produced large runs of things like landmark buildings in cities. There are definitely many levels of postcard rareness."
"People don't realize that they're valuable," noted Scott Brown, who, along with his wife Amy Stewart and a partner, Dr. Jack Irvine, owns Eureka Books in Old Town. "Postcards look small and insignificant. To the untrained eye they look like something you'd only pay a few cents for -- and in fact, 95 percent of them are crap -- but some can be worth $100 or more."
Since Brown's interests tend toward the literary (rare books are his specialty), he's fascinated by the way Golden Age postcards served as a communication tool.
"In the days before easy transportation, when you couldn't call friends or family on the phone, if you wanted to send someone a little note or greeting you'd send a postcard. Most of them are very casual. A lot of the time it would say something like, 'I got your card. Are you going to the dance? Write again soon.' It's something like Twitter today; your space was very limited."
Among Brown's favorites is one card that contains a slice of life from a century ago. The front shows three men near a mine at Bryan's Bluff. "Mamma" in Ferndale is the recipient:
"Received your card, sorry you could not come out. I was up at 4 o'clock, breakfast at quarter of five. I went in the wagon with Ed. I am going with him tomorrow. I am going home Saturday. Sorry your teeth don't fit. I would make him fix them. Love to all, Emma."