Where the cards come from

It’s all about critical mass. We went into this knowing we would never compete with jumbo sites. But then, boutique hotels aren’t trying to compete with Hyatt, either. Finding a niche and exploiting it without masses of advertising can be tough. We’re working on it. Meanwhile, as cards go out, we need to bring more in.

Postcard collecting is possibly one of the world’s largest non-hobbies. Not all that many people actively go out to find cards for a collection, but it seems like almost nobody throws away those they receive from friends or relatives. And everyone has every card grandma ever got, which may account for the great supply of cards from early 1900s, many saying things like “we just got the hay into the barn, so let the snow fall and are you coming over on Sunday for supper?” On top of those, people go on holiday and buy cards they mean to send but never do. (Guilty!) Postcard shows of course are a great source of new stock, and flea markets. But these are concentrated in certain countries. Here in Hong Kong, we have almost no domestic source of new stock. Our version of a Thieves’ Market, called Cat Street, has a few old cards and lots of reproductions, at oddly high prices. Likewise an “antiques” street in Jakarta is called Jalan Surabaya, where maybe one or two vendors have a few old global cards that aren’t usually worth the effort–or the cost.

People ask us about placing cards on consignment. In principle, no problem–but we have reasonable rules about that (such as: we need to have the cards here) and once people realise they are losing physical control of the card, they change their minds.

We haven’t been to many postcard shows but greatly enjoyed the ones we did attend. It seemed like everyone knew each other, a social event, and we went to learn how people were deciding which cards to buy. Well, it’s no surprise that postcard and coin and stamp collecting are similar–impossible to get them all, so pick a specialty and focus on that. Someone only wanted cards with blue umbrellas. Sure, such cards exist, but databases don’t usually drill down that far. So it’s the thrill of the hunt. Some of our most interesting cards came from a hidden bookshop in the antiquarian section of Tokyo, many years ago.

Auctions are great too, but unlike card shows where prices can actually go down towards the end, the reverse is true with auctions and the final price may just be too high to justify buying a nice card and then holding it as inventory in the website. Plus, it can take much more time than we have to follow online bidding.

Flea markets, alas, are good for quantity only. By the time cards get to the table on the front yard or in the garage, they can be pretty well beaten up. Even so, there may be a blue umbrella in that box somewhere.

We have joked that the ideal postcard would be a photo of people being boiled in a large pot in Borneo in the 1800s, and the reverse would have three perfect stamps, a readable postmark, and the message “This was Uncle Jim but we got there too late …” We don’t expect ever to find that, but we are still hoping to find something similar, with any photo and any message, stamped and clearly postmarked before 1900. And we don’t know where it will come from.