The Small Dramas of Deltiology

I used to pride myself that I wasn’t a collector. This was a pile of piffle, then and now. Sure, I never was the type to blow my bucks on the “collectible” bandwagons of Llado, Swarovski, or Hummel. Nor am I a pack rat. But trust me, I have caches of related objects I love, darn cheap and mostly cheerful.

Deltiologists are people who collect and study the postcard, and according to Wikipedia they are the third largest collection of collectors in the country, after philatelists and numismatists. I’m not worthy of the tag because 1)I know nothing about postcards,2)the most I’ve ever spent on one is fifty cents, and 3)I don’t usually buy postcard for the pretty pictures, I buy them for the message on the back.

Sometimes, as you’ll see, the messages aren’t cheerful. But they’re a window to a past, a person and a place, a few lines that are a peep into someone else’s life. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I suspect that it’s my snoopiness that pushes me to paw through dusty shoe-boxes in “antique” shops reading someone else’s mail.

This postcard has no stamp, no message and no postmark on the verso. It depicts my great-grandfather Peter McArthur, Canadian author dubbed “The Sage of Ekfrid.” He’s atanding in front of the family farm near Glencoe, Ontario.

This is a shot of Spoon island from Evandale, St. John River, NB. It’s postmarked Fredricton, NB Sept. 11, 1911, and sent to Miss Ida McCurdie in Black Point, New Brunswick.

“I arrived OK but oh dear I am in a deadful lonely place. I do hope you will come to the exhibition but I hate to ask you to board with me as it is not a nice place at all, the food and the people are lovely but I do not care much for my room,but if you don’t mind I would be oh so glad to have you but by all means try and come to the ex — add business College. Ina.”

Are Ina and Ida sisters? Is Ina going to business school? I’m glad she’s getting decent meals.

“Maid of the Mist” Fountain and Washington Statue, Public Garden, Boston Mass.

It’s postmarked Boston, October 3 1922. It’s addressed to Mrs. Jim Hamilton, Charles Sta,, Restigouche Co NB. “My dear: Having lovely weather here. Tell Jim he made a mistake in our fortunes. I expect everyone is busy with with potatos. We are all well and happy. Love, Ethel H. Hickson.” Well yeah, October in New Brunswick means bringing in the spuds to this day. But what mistake did Jim make about their fortunes? Hmmmm.

This one’s so sweet. Postmarked April 13, 1911 this postcard of The Church of  Bonne Ste. Anne, Quebec is for Miss Hetty White, Gananoque, Ontario. “Dear Friend, Was in town yesterday but had no time to stay I seen you and Miss Anderson but didn’t like to step up to you because I was not dress [sic] good enough. I just had my work clothes on but will be in next Saturday to stay over Sunday. Bye bye and love, Bill.”

This last message is more mundane and en francais, but it’s a favorite of mine because it depicts the Rue St. Maurice, Trois Rivieres, Que. I remember the street looking exactly like this, and I I used to wait for the bus home in high school in front of that church.Postmarked October 30, 1958 Emmanuel and Jeannine sent this to M. et Mme. Aime Boucher 2 Main Street, Aylmer Ont. That’s a double family geographical connection: my father’s family lived in Aylmer during the 1940s.

They wrote: Hello, tout le monde: J’espere que tous allez bien + que ma tante est bien de son rhueme. Nous sommes a T. Rivieres avec Jeannot. J’aimerais ecrire a Huguette et Gerry mais je n’ai pas l’adresse. Dites leurs bonjour pour nous. Bye Bye, XXXXX Emmanuel et Jeannine.” Translation available on request.

Those postcards are but a handful of my collection. I love those tiny vignettes, the peek at the  life of people I could never know — well, I might have walked by Emmanuel and Jeannine on the sidewalk I suppose.

And just maybe no one can be a writer unless she’s a snoop.



Filed under Art, Collections, Into the Mystic, Less than 50 cents, Paper

7 responses to “The Small Dramas of Deltiology

  1. You would never snoop, my dahling—you merely glean, and probably upside down and backward, depending upon the slant of the paper.

    Snooping is neither sinful nor rude, if the missive has a 3c stamp, or smaller. That would put the sender and the receiver most surely of an age at which any past transgressions or news are no longer unforgiven or applicable.

    Or they’re past caring.

    I have in THE ROOM a shoebox which contains the lifetime correspondence of a maiden lady, whose name remained Miss from the Twenties, when the yellowest envelope was sent, until a few years ago, at which time her heirs cleaned out her house of valuables, then consigned the rest to one of those Clean-Sweep agencies, which had collected all her worldly goods. I bought from him the box of paper, Valentines, letters, sympathy cards, and several faded lacy paper doilies stuck through with the rusty pins affixing dessicated flowers, crumbling so badly that I slid them delicately back into the envelope.

    One of my own faded postcards is from a friend who was working in Tanganyika just as the merge came, and has the original postmark, just before they were all converted to Tanzania.

    My very favorite, though is a homemade one, also from my college years, from a lovely high-school friend. She was far away in art school, and the card was illuminated in the manner of the early-centuries monks, with stained glass and ornate letters spelling out,


    I love correspondence of ANY kind.

  2. absurdoldbird

    I used to collect postcards for this very reason – to have a peek into people’s lives. These days I buy vintage postcards for other reasons but I still enjoy reading the messages on them.

    Great post!

  3. Thanks, Val! And welcome to C & C.

  4. I’ve added Val’s gorgeous blog to my bloglist. Check it out for lovely art and photography:

  5. Kim Shook

    I collect postcards, too, Maggie. I love the pretty ones and have a revolving display of holiday ones on one of those multiple photo pick things. But I’m always disappointed if they don’t have a message on the back. I also have a scrapbook that my grandmother kept during WWII of letters, cards and photos from her flyer fella in Europe. Ephemera – I always thought that was a gorgeous word.

  6. Ephemera — so lovely the way it unwinds so lightly and softly from the tongue.

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