Post Card Collecting

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Determine If Your Post Card Is realPost Card CollectingAs a window into the past, an old post card reveals a fascinating view. A photograph captures a moment in time, preserving forever people and places long vanished. Words written on the back are a tiny fragment of someones life.

Post cards as a form of communication have been popular since the invention of the postage stamp. In the early years of the 20th. century, photography was too expensive for working  people. Cameras were cumbersome and developing a photograph rather involved.. People who travelled outside their usual range liked to show the folks back home how marvellous the place was and what a good time they were having, just as we do today. As souvenirs and mementos from loved ones these cards survived , a tangible link to a differnt world.

As a  post card collector you may want to specialise on a particular era and seek cards from your district or town There must be millions of cards in circulation but as I can't collect them all I have settled on cards, say up to the 1950's , featuring Brisbane. Much of my once gracious city has vanished under the wrecker's hammer. Fortunately I can  still marvel at the classic architecture, expansive vistas and lovely views because it was recorded on film.

The advent of online selling has provided the opportunity for collectors to easily indulge their passion but it has also has meant profit for the disreputable.With he aid of technology it is possible to reproduce 100 year old postcards on a laser printer using a computer programme. The fakers use  original images either from a genuine postcard or period photograph and pedal it as the real thing. If you pay good money for a collectable it is reasonable you get what you pay for, so here are a few tips I can pass on from my experience employing advanced Police forensic techniques.

Fake postcards will not have writing on the back and will be advertised as 'good condition' with a 'small crease,' or 'edge wear'.etc.etc. Before the First World War and the advent of fountain pens, writing was done with a quill pen which required continual dipping into ink. This produced variations in the stroke lines that alternated from dark, when the nib was full of ink, to light, as the ink ran out. The letter  form was more elaborate with swirls and curves. You can be quite certain the card is old if written on with pen and ink and very certain if a penny stamp is attached. It would still be possible to fake it, but not worth the effort for the monetry return.

At this point you may be wondering what is all the fuss about a few dodgy postcards.After all you can pick them up for a few dollars so how can it matter if they are reproduced ? Well, it's like this......Dishonest Ebayers are making good money from honest people Suspicion now falls on the good trader providing a service for collectors. Producing fake cards is a nice little earner and who likes being ripped off. And it just happens to be illegal under the Queensland Criminal Code because knowingly handing counterfeit is, 'intent to deceive.'

Fakers want you to think your card has been stored in an album for years. To give that appearance, one trick is to mark the corners with a piece of  metal which leaves a faint line .This gives the impression the card has been retained by tabs like old photo albums once had.

Old paper products often exhibit brownish stains. This is caused by the reaction of acids in the paper and contact with human skin, which is one reason why precious documents are handled with gloves and stored in special archive quality sleeves.Fakers know these spots reveal the card to be old so speed up the process by using tea or coffee. If the image seems bright, like a modern photograph, be aware 'brighteners' were not used in cards until the mid 1950's  when Titanium oxide became available..A black light scan, which uses the ultra violet spectrum will show up these cons when they glow in the dark This is called fluoresce. I recently had a card with an 'age' spot on the back. Sure enough it fluoresced showing the 30's image to be made circa 2009 !!

So when your lovely black and white card arrives and it looks like a modern black and white is.

 30 + magnification under white light will reveal imperfections copied from the original image,  which would have sustained wear and tear in its life. This is reproduced as minute blemishes normally invisable but a dead giveaway when magnified ,showing your  vintage card is new.

Its been claimed some popular post cards in the old days were copied a number of times from the original view which accounts for duplicates on Ebay and that blemishes on the card were carried over from the source. People sort of forget the technology we have today wasn't invented back then. They were never 'copied'. They were printed as a run. Cards made from a photograph started life as a negative plate which was  valuable and carefully handled. Any damage to the plate produces blemishes which look quite different to what I commonly see. What I see is minute damage to the lacquer finish like scratches dents abrasions carried across from a genuine card during the laser copying process.

Another method  is to examine the words, 'Post Card' Fakers use the same style of printing over decades that they copy from the back of an unused card. Printing styles changed like everything else so if you have a card from 1910 and one from 1930 with the same printing style then its pedigree is doubtful.

A really simple way of picking a fake is to have a close look at the card's edges.A genuine card no matter how well cared for will have the right angle edges buffed to a greater or lesser degree. Fakes have sharp edges  recently cut with an edged tool like a matt board cutter.Sometimes the blade needs a second pass to cut through leaving  tell tale tram tracks.

 Its funny how the same images keep croping up.. Now, if a card is a 100 years old, the chances of finding its mate in near perfect condition must be on the high side of astronomical.


When these postcards are produced on a computer, the letters  are lighter and cleaner in form than the real cards. Again, magnification reveals much about the method. Old cardboard was more fibrous and not as bleached as todays card. Frauds can use old card board  or artificially aged card   but the form of the laser copied letters will still flag a fake. Magnification shows the print  on genuine cards will have 'bled' slightly into the surface producing a ragged edge. Not wanting to bore you with science so just let me say the process is called spetroscopy where the organic resins in modern printing toners are compared with old inks originally used on the board. These toners are distinguished under magnification by differences in morphology of the fused and compressed toner on the surface.

 Plain paper copiers build up the image on the surface where as genuine cards used ink that dried and was partly absorbed into it. Also the space for the stamp was often a dotted line minutely imbedded into the card during the printing process. A fake has it copied on with none of the these features visible. To the naked eye these charming  images look great but magnification reveals the con artist at work.

In summary, avoiding a fake card is easy if you are certain the seller is bona-fide. A feedback score of 100% is a guide to their integrity but may only mean they quickly refund when caught out....or more than likely, buyers assume because the picture is old, the card must be, and are happy with their purchase. Perhaps the best way for a collector to acquire the genuine article is to only buy cards with ink writing or be prepared to buy it anyway knowing it may be a fake... because you like the picture.



UPDATE :- The latest scam  .... fake postcards being listed from overseas. Frauds are disposing of photoshopped images to unsuspecting traders or as I discovered recently, a card produced from photographing another card. The same vintage scenes appear on clean white paper supposed to be 100 years old...duh!!

UPDATE 2 :- Alas, some con artists continue the scam. Recently a fake depicting a scene of North Quay Brisbane was advertised . A couple of lines down the real thing  was up for bidding. Of course the seller denied any wrong doing with some nonsense story about buying the card from  a marvelous old collector. The fact that astute buyers could compare  the fake post card with  the genuine post card at the same time ...seemed to escape him.

UPDATE 3.:- Black and white postcards are easy to fake with their monchrome image but what is a little more difficult is the white border around the card. Fakers often get this wrong with uneven spacing so the card looks lopsided. Also, the scene's name is often written on the image and underlined in the picture. This was common practise on old commercially produced  photograps of popular scenes and usually signals a simple photocopy. In keeping with this amateur approach, the words 'Post Card' on the reverse are also unevenly spaced and the modern photograph paper is thin and hard. Look closely and see how it tends to curl at edges where as old  more fiberous card  stayed flat and tended to fray at the edges which under high magnification have years of grime embedded.

UPDATE 4 :- A current batch of B&W fake postcards are up for auction. Interesting to note they have been posted on the same day  with same descriptions but with different Ebay seller names. What are the chances its the same seller using another name so he can bid against himself?

UPDATE 5 :- Recently a  seller specializing in Nazi memorabilia listed a postcard featuring a war time era naval scene. Obviously fake he tried to justify the deception by adding the words, 'post war,' yet affixed Hitler era stamps to add authenticity. This pretend 'collectable' got a lot of laughs from my colleagues.

EBay post card scammers are the same as all the other liars and cheats....they want your money.



If the card is advertised as having no writing, minor corner wear,  fine condition, not postally used, then it's most likely fake ...simple as that.


Happy Collecting







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