Archiving Postcards

-Beth Kanell, Archives Month Committee Member, Waterford Historical Society

Happy Halloween!

Image courtesy the author

One of the great heartaches of an exploring historian or archivist happens when a picture or postcard, or even a letter, has been fastened with some kind of glue or paste or tape, into a scrapbook.

The big plus of a scrapbook is that it illustrates how items connect with the person pulling them together. But the big minus is, vital information on the “flip side” of an item can be lost or damaged, if the item is fastened in a way that won’t let it pull free with its details intact.

Image courtesy the author

Storing vintage postcards is much simpler today than even a few years ago. Two good storage systems are shown here: a loose-leaf album with pages that have see-through pockets for the postcards, and a secure moisture-resistant container that can be divided into labeled section for larger numbers of cards. The loose-leaf album’s big advantages show up when you take it to a gathering or simply pull it out to show an archive visitor: It’s simple to examine the cards, front and back, without handling or damaging them. Using a separate album for each topic or donor adds to the value of this method.

The container’s obvious plus is the quantity of cards it can hold. But it must be filled almost to capacity, to ensure that the cards don’t bend or have their corners hurt with movement of the container. Also, each card should be in its own plastic sleeve, preferably of an archivally stable plastic.

With either of these methods, it’s important to store information with each card. The simplest method used in the Kanell postcard archive is to jot the information on a “sticky tag” and press it into place—never on the card itself, but on the outside of the plastic sleeve holding it.

Images courtesy the author

An additional method, very useful in the long run, is to scan each card and its accompanying information and store these images in a well-labeled file. Consider keywords and family names, as well as dates, in selecting how to label and organize this information.

There is one added plus to collecting postcards, which were at their most interesting in the so-called Golden Age of penny postcards, 1907 to 1915: Not only do you preserve a meaningful and often entertaining image, but the postmark, stamp, addressee, message, and writer are all valuable information.

So archive your postcards with care—and never glue them into scrapbooks!

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