Be careful! They’re Out There!
Postcards, like many other antiques, can be reproduced, [Oh, come on, let’s call them what they are: forgeries.] and some reproductions are very hard to spot. Since one of the factors in a postcard’s value is its age, and reproductions have little monetary value, it is important to know what you’re buying. In spite of that, they may be desired by some collectors due to their subject matter. Like fine art, some cards are so costly that collectors can’t afford to buy originals and may settle for reproductions just to have the images in their collection.
For example, vintage postcards of Kewpie dolls generally start in the $50 range. However, cute reproductions are around for under two dollars. Sets, such as Days of the Week, continue to be popular with collectors and some people still use reproductions for correspondence.
So what are the telltale signs of reproductions? Often, pre-1920 greetings, now out of copyright, are reproduced by reputable printing and stationery firms.
For example, take the Bear Family Days of the Week cards, which originally published by Heal’s, circa 1908. The Monday card, showing laundry day, is an original. You can see the publisher’s mark in the lower right corner.
In an original postcard, the front and back sides match in terms of era.
Like this Easter card – both the front and the back sides show signs of pre-1920 markings. The back side shows embossing, as well as a pre-1920s stamp box and vintage publisher’s logo.
On the other hand, the back of the Tuesday “Ironing Day” card, is a clear reproduction from Merrimack. This reputable publisher notes “Replica of the Antique Original” on the top of the address side and shows its name and zip code (a clear indication of post-1963 publication) at the bottom.
This repro is clearly labeled as such by the publisher.
What if this repro was from a rogue source and didn’t include those clear signs? One clue is the brightness of the green printing, which we don’t see on pre-1920s cards, since the colors used on the back side were much more muted back then. And, look at the stamp box: pre-1920s cards never had the single word “stamp.”
This is what the authentic issue looks like.
The black-and-white Republic F-84E Air Force Thunderjet is also a reproduction. The postcard is clearly a printed card, which is evident from its finish. Under magnification, you can see the dot pattern that characterizes modern postcards. Yet, the back side carries an AZO (points up) stamp box, which is a standard marking for a real photo card published between 1904 and 1918.
Many popular linen-era cards are reproduced, too! Even long-time collectors have been taken in, recognizing some of their “great buys” as reproductions only after examining their purchases carefully.
Below, we see a composite of two linen cards that have been reproduced. The top card, the Lifeguard Station on Jacksonville Beach, Florida, shows very muted coloration. Most linen cards are bright – even garish – but not this one. That’s a first clue. Additionally, this card is lighter in weight than the typical linen. It just doesn’t have the “heft” that it should.
The address side is from a postcard of Sanders Court, a 1930s motel venture by “Colonel” Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. The original Court/Café in Corbin, Kentucky was demolished in the late 1960s, making this a collectible subject.
Tougher to spot as a repro, the back side looks vintage, including the original Colourpicture publisher’s mark and stock number. But closer examination shows, in 5-point type at the lower left, a note saying, “Reprinted 1990.” Like the Jacksonville Beach card, the color saturation of the image and the “heft” were clues.
This is a real linen card. It “feels” like it’s genuine.
Other reproductions are almost impossible to illustrate, because they’re so well done. One unscrupulous trick is to literally glue a reproduced image to another postcard – one that truly is vintage, so the back side appears to give it the authenticity of a pre-1920 or pre-1908 card. In this way, a forger can turn a worthless common vintage card into a sought-after busy street scene.
It’s easier to unwittingly buy a reproduction card through the Internet because you can’t examine and touch the postcard. But even at shows, reproductions can end up among your purchases if you’re going through cards quickly. One caution to every collector would be – whenever in doubt, remove the sleeve before you decide to buy. Sleeves hide many flaws. They dull the image slightly and disguise the postcard’s weight.
Reputable dealers will mark cards in their stock as reproduction if they’re aware that they are reproductions. Sometimes, in their hurry to mark and sleeve a large collection of cards they’ve purchased, they’ll miss one, though. If they are in doubt, dealers should seek the opinions of other dealers.
The moral of the story is . . . examine postcards very carefully, front and back. Read all the fine print. Pay attention to the “feel” of the card and the appropriateness of its colors to the era. Make sure the age signs of both sides of the card match. If you’re in doubt, ask the dealer to help you examine the postcard more closely.
I collect “Real Photo” cards that I have to be VERY careful of…trains at or near a depot. These usually sell for $40.-$100.+ each, so if it has a AZO back, I only buy ones with postmarks. The fakes are new photo repros on fake backs.
Sad that forgery exists in the collecting world!
Real photo postcards can be reproduced cleverly and deceptively if the original negative is still available. After a period of years the silver nitrates begin to break down at give off a shine on real photo postcards when held up to light. The lack of shine indicates a fake.
I collect “postally used” cards. I enjoy the writing on the back.
Also, I figure that if they have been mailed and still have the canceled stamp on them they are most likely the real thing.
Excellent article with good suggestions to follow. I have purchased a few myself and don’t want to repeat that mistake..
Excellent article! Most of the cards I collect probably aren’t valuable enough to encourage forgery but this is good information to have BEFORE I make a mistake and pay too much for one.
I have just begun collecting postcards and of course, my favorite finds are RPPCs. Thanks for all the tips. I will be more aware as I begin to explore for my next purchases.
“black-and-white Republic F-84E Air Force Thunderjet is also a reproduction” I’m confused? There were no jets in 1918? Or do you mean that’s supposed to be a real photo card and it has the wrong back? Personally the card reminded me of the cards I could buy at the fairs, from the tent vendors in the 50s and 60s. Thus and you’re correct, they were Litho not real photos. Mass produced carnival cards. Is there a RPPC of this card? 🙂
excellent post –