Confessions of a collector

Jesus compositeJohn ClaydonApril 2nd 2020

Confessions of a collector with John Claydon

One of the contributions I used particularly to enjoy in PPM a few years ago was Michael Goldsmith’s diary of his experiences as a dealer. Most of us collectors come to savour the hunt for postcards almost as much as the postcards themselves, and so it was lots of fun to relive his experiences with him. And of course there were snippets of information, ideas and tips to be picked up along the way. I loved the adventures he described of going to examine a hoard of postcards or being handed a bundle of cards at a fair, and shared the electric sense of elation when a string of Louis Wains turned up or disappointment when endless greetings cards were the order of the day.

I can’t remember the diary of an individual collector ever being a feature in PPM, though sometimes letters do reveal aspects of the emotions and dilemmas of being a collector. Richard Phillips’ letter of the month in the current April edition of PPM is one of these, for me the best bit of the whole magazine, probably because it so precisely mirrors my own experiences of longevity in the hobby.

So, I wonder if one of the things we can do in these dark times when fairs, car boots, flea markets, auctions and all the rest are off limits is share the human side of our own collecting. Maybe this is a wonderful opportunity to rekindle our enthusiasm by recounting our own individual experiences and hearing about those of others. How on earth did we get into this addictive hobby, and what are the pleasures, disappointments and above all, memories it has brought with it? My plan is to break the ice and tell you about my own postcard collecting experience in the hope that will inspire contributions from everyone else.

My association with postcard collecting begins a long time ago, back in the 1950s I’m afraid, though judging by the age profile of most postcard collectors I’m hoping that won’t make me seem too long in the tooth. A hobbies competition was organised at my primary school, which meant of course that my mother intended me to win! We cast about for what on earth we, sorry I (!), could enter, rejected dinky toys, marbles, pressing wild flowers etc, and finally hit upon postcards.

I should say this was unusual for the time. The ubiquitous collecting hobby of that era was indeed cards, but tea cards rather than postcards. Brooke Bond had more or less cornered the market, which is why there are so many unsaleable sets of them often in albums today, with the Typhoo cards you had to cut off the packets a distant second. Bubble gum and sweet cigarette cards were the main competitors.

Anyway, our secret weapon in the competition was to be the shoe box in the sideboard which had long been the repository of any postcard we received, and the project was to stick the best ones in a scrapbook, one of that large, old-fashioned type, often with a picture of the activities of the royal family on the front. As my mother never threw anything away, I’m surprised we don’t have it still, but I bet the cards lurk somewhere in my collection. Mostly, these were fairly predictable British seaside offerings including the odd comic, and some earlier greetings cards and family photos, but my uncle had been in the army in Palestine in the First World War and cards from him included a magnificent composite 12-card picture of Christ. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was a fantastic centrepiece for the scrapbook.

To cut a long story short, I won, pride swelled my breast and my mother was satisfied. Our scrapbook drew positive comments for its arrangement and presentation, and someone no doubt was pleased with its methodical organisation. I was transformed into the schoolboy who collects postcards.

* Composite picture of Jesus from 12 postcards