Postcards and the Storyteller

Postcard Storyteller logo

I started collecting postcards back in my late teens when I joined the International Youth Service (IYS). That was in the age of actual snail mail, well before email and the internet. Yes, back in the day when people knew how to use rotary dial phones, and we had this thing called a rolodex instead of the contact list on your phone or email account.

IYS was a student penpal service, matching young people with their preference of country, gender and age. For a minimal fee which you paid in international money order, you sent a form to Finland and waited to get an address to write to. I found some friends with whom I corresponded with for many years. One in particular, Clara from Hong Kong, has been a friend even to this day. Although there was a long lull in our correspondence, we managed to find each other again a few years back, reuniting in Hong Kong in 2018. We started writing when she was about to end high school, and I was about to go into college. She was able to visit the Philippines several times as a tour escort for outbound groups from Hong Kong to Manila, which is how we managed to make so many memories together through the years. I would’ve attended her wedding if I could, but that was not meant to be. Years passed, she was widowed and now with a grown daughter, and thanks to Facebook, we found each other again.

I learned a lot about other cultures through the many friends I found via snail mail, and one of the favorite ways by which we introduced each other to our respective countries was through postcards. Even back then, I considered them my window to the world. I really couldn’t travel out of the country then but found myself visiting all these foreign lands through these postcards.

When I started collecting, I collected all the postcards that I was sent, sending back postcards printed by the likes of National Bookstore, Bookmark, Goodwill, etc. Back then, at least half a row of shelves, and not just a rack, was devoted to different types of postcards, alongside 4-5x as many greeting cards. This was when people found a greeting card indispensable to send greetings and messages to friends and loved ones for any and all occasions.

Vintage postcards in my collection

I have to admit that at the start, I bought the Philippine postcards purely to exchange and send out. It took me a few years before I realized I should be keeping a copy of each card I sent, even before I made a decision to leave for New York.

When that time came in my mid-30s, my postcards made it to New York with my then fiancée, in one heavy shoebox. Another shoebox travelled with my balikbayan box when I finally moved in 2000. That, along with my pencils, were the only collectibles I took. I gave away my hardbound books and coffee mugs. (The mug collection would later make a return as I got into Starbucks mugs, a passion to this day.)

As I started my new life in New York, the postcard collection grew. I joined Yahoogroups and billboard lists which published postcard collector’s names and mailing addresses and collecting interests. We had roundrobins and swaps and swaplists. I can’t remember when it was that I started drifting towards maps and lighthouses. As I learned about different collecting categories and meeting people who collected them, I found myself just fascinated by these two. There were specific group swaps organized with these cards in mind. My collection grew. During local travels and vacations overseas, I looked for the maps and lighthouses. We even incorporated visits to lighthouses during our road trips when we could. When I suffered two miscarriages as we were trying to have a baby, we retreated to Montauk to visit the Montauk lighthouse and spend the weekend to heal. But I will not get into my fascination with these two categories today. That’s for another time.

Vintage lighthouse postcards

I somehow ended up drifting away from postcards as life got busier when I eventually had my son in 2004. There’s a definite demand on time and resources when you get into actively trading postcards, and although I never stopped collecting, I slowly lost interest in direct or group swaps. It was also around this time that I started sending postcards home every time we travelled, this time addressed to my son. I would pick up postcards wherever we went, and chronicle our trip and I would send them from the places we visited. Even when we were visiting family in the Philippines, I tried to send back postcards to give him something to go back to when he was older. All this time, I made sure to keep one postcard in mint condition for my collection.

Then around 2012, I discovered Postcrossing.com which seemed to be an interesting way to get back into the hobby. There I met other Filipino collectors, most notable of whom was Raine, a much younger then student of Architecture in the same University where I took my prelaw degree. She and I shared not just a passion for postcards, but a love for personal art and art exchanges. Because of Raine, I got into Artist Trading Cards and found Swapbot and ATC trading groups. I went back into postcards with a newfound interest in Philippine postcards to help me reconnect with everything I left behind. Swapbot also got me back into active swaps with other like minded collectors of postcards and other items. By this time, I had refined my collecting interests to include Vintage and Modern Philippines, New York and Paris. The first two were the places I called home, and the third, my favorite city after two visits many years before.

Vintage Philippine postcards

I got back into postcard swaps and trades with the same gusto as I did before and continued to add to my collection.   I joined a postcrossing group of Filipinos on Facebook under the banner of Postcrossing Philippines.   I  even got to attend two “unofficial” meetups in Manila while continuing to meet with Raine whenever I came home through a period of 4 years or so.. until some personal challenges made me stop once again.

In the beginning of 2020, I had tried to make a more determined effort to destash and shed the things that I no longer needed or didn’t have a use for.  The Pandemic and the lockdown that began in March 2020 made me look at my collection and I decided eventually, that the best way to trim it down to what I really wanted, was to go back to trading or swapping in postcard groups.

I started again in September, but the global slowdown of mail hampered my effort.  I picked up in November and December and have been back since.  I started an instagram account dedicated to postcards and my growing collection, under the handle “postcard_storyteller”.  I believe that every postcard is a way to tell a story, and I have a lot of those stories to tell.  Beginning with this one, and then some.

To date, I have also created a Youtube channel under the same handle and plan to produce more videos about the hobby.  I have joined a few other groups to widen my swapping circle.  All of those are stories for another time.  For now, it’s just me announcing to the world that I’m back, once again.  I don’t think my “return” will be complete without dedicating a portion of the blog to this newfound return to postcards, so let’s start off with this.  Here’s to more postcards heading my way, and heading out into the world to the homes of like minded souls who look through the same window to the world.

Back to the old look, back to my postcards

Okay, I have to admit, I’m a creature of habit.  (Tapa all week long? I used to do that…)  I tried a different ‘look’ but it didn’t quite feel right, so I’m back to this layout.

Saturday morning.  I just sat down at 11:35 (finally!) after waking up close to 9am.  Ate breakfast in front of the TV and then proceeded to photograph more postcards.  (Photographing vs. Scanning? Photos work better for me, but I have to admit it takes some angling and set up.  I think I am getting the hang of it, though.)

In 10 minutes I have to prepare lunch for the mother-in-law. No cooking.  Just heating and fixing the portions.  I already made rice earlier this morning for the breakfast of the boys.  Another Saturday here.  I’m trying to decide if what I’m going to do next after the lunch is ready.  (The boy is bugging me about doing another video for “THE ANGELO REPORT” on the toys we got yesterday, but I told him I’m not taking a video of him in his pajamas.  That’ll have to wait for later before we leave for errands when he’s dressed appropriately.)

I’m trying to get him into postcard collecting but more to introduce him to the children back home (found a teacher in Bulacan with whom I’ll be trading postcards with and I’m trying to arrange for his students to write us), and hopefully help him improve his handwriting and writing skills.  Of course I know half the effort will come from me, but I want to broaden his horizons, so to speak, and get in him touch with his Filipino heritage beyond his family.  I am trying to sort through my collection to get rid of duplicates as well, and I didn’t realize that I had traded away a lot of the ordinary New York postcards which are no longer available.  I guess because I could easily pick up those postcards off of the souvenir stores in Manhattan, I figured I could always have access to them.  But the landscape keeps changing and even the postcard stocks do.  There are some artsy postcards I purchased in specialty shops like bookstores, and I don’t know if those are still available.  Learning from that experience, I’m now setting aside one copy of each postcard I buy in multiples to trade with.  I managed to save quite a few, but I remember quite a number I wish I had kept copies of.

I’ve managed to keep the postcards in mint condition by keeping them in hard shoe boxes, and I’m trying to get to the map postcards sorted by states to begin with so I can upload them and people can see which postcards I DO NOT have.  Since I started collecting in 1985, I’ve amassed quite a collection, in different shapes and sizes, and even New York, believe it or not, has at least 4 map postcards out there, not counting the Manhattan map from the local Disney Store.  (I’m not even sure it’s still the same map available there since they’ve moved locations.  Have to check that one out one of these days.)

Long Island Map (Showing Montauk Lighthouse)
When I see a postcard rack, my eye has been trained to look for map postcards right away, be it here in New York, in the newstands of Paris, at the airports we stop or land in, or in the souvenir shops in New York and elsewhere.  I always grab more than one because there are a lot of map postcard collectors out there, and since it’s a very particular collecting interest, we usually want a map postcard in return.  During my last 4 trips home, I’ve also picked up postcards of Boracay and other provinces of which they produced combined map and multiviews postcards with.

Lighthouse postcards, my second main collecting interest, are a little trickier to come by because they are normally not available in land locked states or areas where they are not close to the sea.  Being from the East Coast, though, I am lucky that even New York has its share of lighthouses, even if the postcards are not available in the city.   In fact when we travel close to one, we try and make it a point to visit the actual lighthouse and take pictures.  The good news is that there are a lot of lighthouse postcard collectors who will swap for them as well.  I have had the good fortune of visiting and taking pictures of at least two of the most famous lighthouses in the country (Montauk Point Lighthouse in Long Island, and Cape Neddick or the Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine) and I am going to attempt to produce my own postcard using my photography.  (Another post being drafted on that one.)  Of course, most postcard collectors prefer the commercially printed ones.  So I’m very happy to have come across mail art and found a group of people in the IUOMA who are all into handmade or privately produced postcards.  (And yes, I found kababayans there, too.)

Mail Art Watercolor Background 10
Watercolor on Gesso postcard

Mail Art.  I have always been awed by how creative people can get, and I try.  More for personal therapy and as a ways of communicating, but I try.  The reason I emphasize this is I am completely bowled over by the talent of the people in that group.  I am looking forward to start swaps in that area, but I am trying to come up with something decent to exchange with.  As it happens, there is a minimalist group for which my existing set of watercolor backgrounds on gesso would work well with.

Here’s another interesting collecting genre: FREECARDS or ADVERTISING cards, and I have a ton of them.  Back when I started, I received them from Singapore, Europe and of course, the United Stated.  There was a time a local company in Manila attempted to get into the business but they didn’t quite click there.

FREECARD: New York City Ballet 2003 Winter Season

They are literally FREE and are picked up from racks in cafes or stores and are meant to advertise the subject of the card.  I have seen less and less of these in New York and am wondering if they are still around.  I keep only one of each and are now using the freecards as backing or postcard base for my mail art.  I am NOT trading them right now and will keep what I have as is, but I know what a collecting interest means to a postcard collector.  I’ve started a Flickr set to showcase the more interesting ones but not all are available for trade.  Unfortunately, this is not a priority in terms of documenting what I have in the collection so you’d have to e-mail me if you are interested in them.

If you are interested to receive one of my own postcards or wish to trade, please e-mail me at postcardmailbox@gmail.com

I have a general album of POSTCARDS AVAILABLE FOR TRADE OR EXCHANGE which will change according to what is available.  The photographing and uploading is taking a lot of time so I am not going as fast as I hope I could, so if you are looking for a particular postcard, please e-mail me.  I am looking to get rid of a few boxes of postcards that are not within my collecting interests, and I might have something you are looking for.

Happy postcard collecting!

Postcards and Mail Art: Newspaper Collage

I’m not feeling too well today.  I don’t know if it’s the heat or just my present medical condition, but I am really feeling weak.  I did manage to do errands with the boys and get home in one piece — and even pull together a decent dinner for all of us, but I’ve mostly done everything tonight while in bed.  (Like right now.)

So yes, I’ve started putting up some of my postcards in my Flickr account which you can view by going to this collection which, as of tonight, contains 5 sets: Lighthouses, Maps, Modern New York, Americana and Mail Art.   I have a subpage on Mail Art Backgrounds which I just uploaded but I am not including that in the collection for now.   I haven’t quite figured out how I will identify the postcards that I have duplicates to trade with — but that can wait for next time.  I have a long, long way to go, but at least I got it started.  (FINALLY!)

I’ve also put up a Postcard Exchange page (see link on the sections corner up on the left or on top of the page) which is still a work in progress.

Three days ago, during the course of my bloghopping, I chanced upon some art blogs which mentioned art postcard swaps which totally piqued my curiosity.  (One particular postcard swap I would’ve loved to participate in would have been Liberate Your Art 2012 from Kat Eye Studio but sign ups are already closed. )   End result was I found myself toying with the idea of creating newspaper collages on old postcards or just about any other paper I can cut into a 4.25″ x 6″ piece.

I was so inspired I created four pieces right away during my lunch hour but which I totally ruined by applying mod podge to later at night, then trying to flatten them by pressing them between the pages of a book I weighted down with something heavy.  End result was that the mod podge caused some of the “white” of the book page to adhere to the postcard, ruining it.

Newspaper Collage on Postcard gone wrong
Newspaper Collage on Postcard Gone Wrong

Well, it’s a learning experience for me.  As you can see, I’m Michael Phelps crazy (again).. just as I was 4 years ago.

As a postcard collector, I think it’s a novel idea to pull together part of the newspaper edition of the day in one postcard or several, then keeping them for posterity or to trade.  I make sure, though, to include the newspaper banner or part of it (which, in the case of my first batch, came from the August 1, 2012 edition of the Wall Street Journal.)  You will see a full “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL” and the full day and date in the piece.  These are all headlines and graphics and part caption.

My next set of collages done yesterday were more photo-centered, and this time, I made sure the photo credits were likewise included.  Or at least those that I can pull.  (I seem to have forgotten to clip the credits for the photo background but I will try to remedy that if I can still find a spare copy of this issue.  I managed to make a set of four from the August 1, 2012 edition of the New York Times this time around.)    Still Michael Phelps crazy but he’s the big news in the papers these days.

[4]  Mail Art: Newspaper Collage Postcard - NYTimes 01Aug2012 #4

Right now I’m still trying to decide if I will still try and do modpodge on this one, add other embellishments or elements to it, or maybe paint in some color?  If I do add some form of sealant or glaze on top, I will make sure to flatten it between sheets of parchment paper to avoid any part of the book page from adhering to the piece.  (Lesson learned!)

When the collages are ready, I intend to offer them for trade or just to send out to anyone interested.  Or I might just keep them and instead offer up photo print postcards instead to trade.

How-tos to follow via GothamChick.com.  I brought home three copies of Friday’s Wall Street Journal but had gotten busy with the watercolor backgrounds I did instead.  (More on that in another post.)

Art Postcards: Watercolor Backgrounds