A Look at Leather Postcards
What do you do when faced with lots of competition? Make something completely different! That’s what publishers did during the postcard boom of the early 1900s. All kinds of interesting materials were used to pique the interest of buyers. One of these different materials was leather.
Starting in 1903, postcards made of leather were decorated by pyrography (literally “fire-writing”). Also known as pokerwork, it involved decorating the postcards using the tip of a sharp tool heated by fire. Surprisingly, it was a popular craft among ladies. Designs were burned into deerskin and color was often applied afterward. While the leather in newer postcards is often stiff, the leather of the pre-1915 era is very thin and soft.
About 1909, the post office banned the mailing of leather postcards because they were getting hung up in the new sorting machines. But dedicated collectors still sent them using envelopes. In later years when postal machinery became sturdier, the cards were again permitted in the mail. They can still be purchased in souvenir shops, especially in the American West.
Leather postcards were produced in huge numbers and covered just about every topic imaginable, from Sunbonnet and Teddy Bear days-of-the-week sets to college girls and pennants; from Indians and Santas to animals and main streets.
Some came as a series to enable the sender to mail one card after another to complete a puzzle or a story. Some leather cards had holes punched around their borders to encourage collectors to add fringe or to gather a large number and stitch them together with rawhide to make a stuffed pillow or wall hanging.
The November (1905) issue of the Dry Goods Reporter pictured a pillow cover made of 24 leather postcards that had been stitched together. The publication encouraged stores selling postcards to display something like this in their windows to increase sales.
One of the most popular leather postcard artists was W. S. Heal, whose successful postcards showed the humor of frontier living and stereotypes of the era. Watch for his signature [imprint], it will raise the value of the postcard.
Most of the pre-1915 cards show comic images and are easily collected. However, outstanding leather cards – with vivid colors, political themes or die-cut shapes – can sell for double digits or more.
Leather postcards made before 1915 are not hard to find and many dealers have large numbers of them. Also, a good selection can be found in online auctions.
Several dealer sites list even common leathers for above-market prices, so don’t overlook the bidding sites when collecting leathers. On those sites, I’ve seen pre-1915 leathers selling for reasonable amounts. Be aware that some leathers showing the ancient religious icon from Eurasia cultures, political images, and university pennants selling above the average price.
Some dealers believe, for a variety of reasons, that leather postcards can be difficult to sell. Those dealers need to find the collectors who specialize in novelty postcards and cards made of uncommon materials.
If you have some leathers in your collection be sure to store them in acid-free plastic sleeves and don’t compress them tightly.