Deltiology, the study and collecting of picture postcards, is thought to be third largest collecting hobby in the world.
Once upon a time, weary travellers knew that their first duty upon arriving at a destination was to buy a bunch of picture postcards and write a “wish you were here” note (or something similar) to all friends and relatives.
The hobby of collecting postcards with images of wonderful faraway places naturally sprung from this habit. Many of us had – perhaps still have – stacks of these colourful pieces of paper in some shoe box.
Today, hurried digital messages are fast replacing postcards… which, paradoxically, could make deltiology that much more appealing.
Yes, the study and collecting of picture postcards is called deltiology. The term was coined in 1945 from the Greek words deltion, meaning a small writing tablet or a letter, and logia, meaning study. By the time the name was invented, picture postcards were at least one century old.
As far as we know, the world’s oldest postcard was sent in 1840 in England. The postcard was sent to the writer Theodore Hook. The postcard bears a black penny stamp and features a hand-drawn caricature of post office workers. That’s why it is believed that the postcard was a practical joke perpetuated by Mr. Hook himself. In 2002 the postcard sold for a record £31,750, which was no joke.
The French claim the title of ‘the first” when it comes to the oldest official picture postcard. It was created in France in 1870 at a training camp for soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war and bore a lithographed design with the words “Souvenir of the National Defence. Army of Brittany” incorporated in it (in French, of course). However, this postcard did not have a place for a stamp and there is no evidence that it was ever posted without an envelope, as true picture postcards should be.
In any case, the picture postcard trend quickly caught on throughout Europe. The years following the mid-1890s are known as the golden age of the picture postcard.
Today, deltiology is thought to be third largest collecting hobby in the world, after stamps and coins. Many deltiologists limit their acquisitions to cards by specific artists and publishers, or by time and location. Town views are among the most popular themes.
Vintage postcards enjoy a steady popularity on bidorbuy. With a good reason, for they are a wonderful testimony. They tell us how a city, village or landscape looked like; how people dressed; or what was popular at a particular point in history. Engrossing stuff indeed!