An old postcard depicts a “Girl and B(u)oy on the Maine Coast” with the invitation “Meet me at Bailey’s Island, Me.”
Bailey Island General Store has a rack of lovely Bailey Island postcards, and sometimes I buy a few to send to friends. Perhaps you sent a card or two this year and perhaps 100 years from now they will wind up in someone’s collection. How will our world change by then? What insignificant fact will you write on the back of that card that will amaze future collectors?
Years ago, my mother told me about the ephemeral aspect of the antique culture. Ephemera refers to any type of paper — old advertisements, posters, labels, matchbooks, etc. I never gave it a thought until one day, while browsing in a Philly thrift shop, I found a shoebox filled with postcards categorized by U.S. states. Hmm.
For 34 years we’ve vacationed at the Driftwood Inn on Bailey Island, but I doubted there could be one of the island in the box. Checking through the Maine section, the first card was of the island, before the Cribstone Bridge. What luck! I was hooked by that first 50-cent card.
Turning the card over, I noticed the curly, fancy handwriting of olden days, and just a name, city and state for an address beneath a 1-cent stamp. Feeling a surge of interest, I began to cruise thrift shops for more cards and learned from a friend that there were postcard dealers and shows all around the country. The International Federation of Postcard Dealers has a website as well.
Dealers vary … some will mail a card, some will mail photocopies, some will scan an image, some require private appointments. Mail approvals have dropped off with the rise of eBay and other sites. I, however, love the thrill of the hunt at a postcard show. For a modest fee, you can enter a building with more than 50 dealers selling millions of postcards. There are cards of every category: flowers, pets, holidays, cities — if you have an interest in trains, pull up a folding chair and thumb through hundreds of them. I’ve even attended the Pine Tree Club’s shows in Portland some years. Of course there are more Maine cards in Maine than in other states.
More so than the colorful front of each card (they were hand-painted in Germany before World War I), the messages on the back tell much about the era pre-1930. One person wrote to her mother, “Please bring up some blueberries and cream.” Another card mentioned that the writer caught 13 fish that day for breakfast at the Driftwood. Another wrote that he and his sweetheart went canoeing until the high tide barely let them get under the New Meadows Bridge. My favorite is the 1940s card on which the writer tells her friend that, due to the shortage of men during World War II, she had to pretend to be a man to dance with the other girls at Library Hall.
The postcard has a unique history, evolving from the “private mailing card” to a card with a small white strip on the front for a message to the half-back card we know today. In the early 1900s, most folks didn’t have cameras, so purchasing a card was the way to go and they were sometimes treated as souvenirs. Folks kept collections to show to friends.
I’ve collected many cards of the Driftwood Inn over the years. With each card, I marvel that the sender mailed it to another state or country, yet somehow it wound up back in my hands. The earliest card I own is a 1903 card where the author quoted a Bible passage.
Postcards sold at Miss Prince’s Shop and Ice Cream Parlor, 25 cents for 14. I’ve met island residents who also collect Bailey Island, Orr’s and Harpswell cards.
Antique postcards aren’t just visually pleasing. They also provide a peek into our past and a reflection of social style and contact through the years. And in today’s world of email, texting, tweeting, etc., the postcard is still available for us to send, receive and enjoy.
Hannah Campbell and her family have vacationed on Bailey Island for 44 years. Her poem “Kiss Me on the Cribstone Bridge” appears in “Glimpses of Harpswell Past and Present: Stories Celebrating Maine’s Bicentennial.”