How to Prepare a Picture Postcard Exhibit
How to Prepare a Picture Postcard (PPC) Exhibit
by Barb Harrison & Tim Bartshe
Perhaps you have been collecting picture postcards for many years and have spent countless hours examining, studying, classifying and enjoying your cards. You’ve read dozens of books about postcards and have become quite knowledgeable about your topics. Quite probably you have reasonable writing skills plus a bit of creativity and would really enjoy sharing your collection with the public. You may already be a member of the American Philatelic Society (APS) and the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors (AAPE) (IF NOT, WHY NOT?). What are you waiting for? You are about ready to enter into the world of exhibiting picture postcards!
What are My Goals for Exhibiting PPCs?
Most exhibitors exhibit for one or more of the following three reasons:
1. Personal satisfaction. Putting together an exhibit forces one to focus on a particular subject, organize material according to a particular story line, and learn many of the nuances of your material. There is a great feeling of accomplishment when completing a new exhibit.
2. Sharing your material with others. Exhibitors truly enjoy sharing their material and can receive valuable feedback from the viewer. Telling a story that will elicit positive responses from viewers, encouraging them to join in the fun, is another aspect of exhibiting.
3. The award. Exhibiting is a competitive endeavor and as such has rewards for a job well done. Many exhibitors really do not care whether they receive a top award or not, just achieving the first two goals is reward enough. That is all well and good and not all three must be achieved, but if you do the first two well, you will be surprised how well you fare in the award arena.
How Do I Get Started?
Getting started when you may never have attended a national stamp show let alone formed an exhibit can be a somewhat daunting task. Fortunately, in organized philately, you should never be alone struggling with the task. There are many out there that are just itching to help you along your journey.
If at all possible, attend stamp shows that have competitive exhibits. The exhibits do not need to be picture postcard exhibits because, as we will discover later, all exhibits are judged by five basic dimensions by which your exhibit should develop. Any well-done display that achieves a high award will have excelled in each of those areas. The best show to attend would be the APS-AmeriStamp Expo held each winter sometime during the months of January through March at various locations around the country. This venue showcases such exhibiting arenas as one-frame and display exhibits as well as picture postcards. It will give you a comparative view of what a postcard exhibit looks like versus a more traditional exhibit that you may have seen at another show.
Both the APS and the AAPE are prime sources for help in that each society offers a mentor service to help answer questions from the most basic to the most advanced. The AAPE is more oriented to exhibiting as it has an exhibit mentoring service. This mentor service can be a constant question-answer source for you via e-mail, and even assist in the development of page design and how to arrange your material once you have put it on a page. Acquire the APS Manual of Philatelic Judging, currently in its 5th edition. You would never consider playing a game before knowing the rules, and this publication will give you the basis by which your exhibit will be judged. Forewarned is forearmed!
Also obtain from AAPE the brochure entitled Getting Started in Philatelic Exhibiting, by John M. Hotchner. This short pamphlet answers some basic questions and encourages the reader to join the fray. For more detailed instructions in the art of exhibiting, The Philatelic Exhibitors Handbook, by Randy L. Neil, Third Edition, revised and updated by Ada M. Prill, © 2006, available from Subway Stamp Shop, is a very good resource.
SO: After reading, attending shows, studying exhibits and discovering the services of AAPE, you are ready to begin. We will start by going through the five basic aspects of how an exhibit is judged.
The Story/Treatment: As with ALL exhibits, the part of the exhibit that is primary is the Story Line. Material placed on pages and put up in frames at a show without a traceable and cogent story is a collection and not an exhibit. That is a major point to understand; putting your collection on pages does not bring to life the vibrant qualities of the material you collect. Many would question what sort of story picture post cards can tell us, and the response is “anything that you wish to tell”. These cards all have historical and/or social aspects that plead for an outlet. Creating or developing a story around them for your exhibit is a wonderful way to help them express themselves.
Just like there are Divisions within the General Class of philatelic exhibits such as Thematic or Cinderella exhibits, each of these formats may be applied using postcards as the centerpiece to tell a story. If you collect cats, use the subject to tell us about how cats interact with humans, how one artist portrayed cats during his career, cats in anthropomorphic situations, etc. Although showing your collection of cat postcards from one page to another may be appealing to the viewer who loves cats, it does little to develop a logical story necessary to become an exhibit.
Story lines can revolve around a number of different areas which make exhibiting picture postcards so compelling.
1. Topographical: A study of a place or places within a geographical framework. Within this theme, time can be used to show changes over different periods. Such real examples may include A Visitor’s Guide to Bloemfontein, Postcards from ‘The Yard’: US Naval Academy or The Cuyahoga River.
2. Thematic: A study of a particular subject, theme or concept. This could be a mixture of cards regardless of publisher, printer, country of origin, etc. Such examples could be Windmills, Strike a Light!, Lovely Ladies, or A View of the Blind.
3. Social/Historical: The use of the cards to illustrate some social or historical aspect of society. A wonderful example is the exhibit which enlightens us to the development of the picture postcard itself, The Golden Age of Postcards: 1898-1918. Another fine example is The Road towards Irish Independence, a deltiological review of Ireland’s struggle against Britain up to 1922.
4. Classification: This is a study of an artist, producer, photographer, etc., over a period of time or geographic area. Examples include The Picture Postcards of the Knights of Columbus or Donald McGill: King of the Saucy Seaside PPC.
The criterion for this section called “Treatment,” which is some 30% of your score, is fairly simple in that it is the “development of the story based upon a well-defined title page and how well the material chosen is interwoven and aids in story development.” In simple terms, did you select a title that says what it is that you are trying to do, how well did you develop the story from the standpoint of covering and developing the subject in your title, and how well did you choose material to do this task? It is just as simple as that. The BEST way to accomplish this goal is to write an outline or plan by which you wish to develop your story. If the outline is well constructed, you now can choose the items that best develop each section of the outline in a balanced and more focused manner. Make your material fit the story, not the story fit your material. The former will always do best in the scoring arena. One very good reason you want to work from a story outline is that you will achieve a balance of the material needed for each section of your story. You also will discover that you may need to find an item that you do not have but is necessary to properly make a point.
Research and Knowledge: This portion of your score, with the same importance as Treatment (30%), is broken down into two sections: your knowledge of the subject and that of the cards themselves. Each aspect of knowledge is of equal value or 15%.
Subject knowledge is expressed in two separate forms for all formats of exhibiting: implicit and explicit. The implicit aspect relates to the selection of the material that best reflects your knowledge of the subject. The explicit aspect relates to answering questions about the subject that your material would bring to light but not directly answer from viewing the item itself.
Knowledge of the cards is an aspect peculiar to picture postcards. The exhibitor needs to present information about the publisher, photographer, series and number within the series, where printed and other aspects about the card to display personal study and research into the aspects of the cards themselves. This, obviously, is not an easy task and unlike philatelic subjects, very little has been written about these details and much is most likely lost to us. Most of the companies making the cards recorded little or nothing about their business and what they produced. Fierce competition, proprietary processes and loss of any records kept are key reasons for this. Obvious information from what can be seen does little to advance this knowledge, but such things as the differences in the reverse of the cards, multiple printings and variations along with personal observations about the peculiarities of the cards themselves will go far in gaining points here, even if there is nothing in the literature for your subject.
If there is no information about your subject, you will need to tell that to the judges in the title page or synopsis. Personal research can be shown through explanation of the cards that only your experience and observation can give. Even though you may not show a number of cards from a series, making a statement that the card, number 26, is from a set of at least 40 (the highest number you have viewed) is positive. Anything that you discover during your collecting of these items is fair game to put into your exhibit showing that you have gone beyond the basic and obvious knowledge that anyone could glean from the cards themselves. This is a particular challenge to the picture postcard exhibitor -- to find or develop the information related to the production of the cards themselves.
Difficulty of Acquisition: Try to include cards that you know from published information or personal experience to be scarce or difficult to acquire. This information can be subtly imparted to the viewers by statements like “only example seen by exhibitor in over 20 years of looking” or some such language. This also shows knowledge as well as garnering points on rarity. This section is worth 15% of the score. Subjective words like “rare” and “scarce” should be avoided as they have rather nebulous meaning to each viewer.
Condition of Material: Condition (15%) is very important. Cards, unless very hard to find, should be free of defects, particularly if they are newer and have not gone through the mail. Much of the material available, particularly in the earlier years, was sent through the mail, and if these predominate in the population of available cards, some corner rounding and cancellations and/or ink transfer from the reverse may be expected. This also may assist in difficulty of acquisition factors if pristine cards are the exception rather that the rule. You must use the most appropriate material available to tell your story and if it is used, so be it. Torn and/or repaired cards should be avoided in most instances. The goal is to display the best condition available for the material selected whether unused or used.
Presentation: Strive for a neat and orderly look for your exhibit. Be creative in overcoming page arrangement problems and the redundancy of two cards on every page. Creativity and ingenuity can go a long way to make the exhibit compelling and visually attractive. And remember, neatness at 10% does count! Since this is not an English composition, the occasional typo will not detract, but do your best to avoid errors.
Preparing the PPC Exhibit
[Much information can be gained from reading the above mentioned publications. For further study, some excellent references on older cards are (1) Picture Postcards in the United States 1893-1916, by George & Dorothy Miller, probably the best reference for U.S. postcards; (2) A History of Postcards, by Martin Willoughby, European background of ppc’s; (3) The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards, by Susan Brown Nicholson, an expert dealer, author, collector, columnist. There are hundreds of outstanding PPC references. If such books are not in your own personal library, many postcard clubs have libraries for use of members. Some local libraries may also have a few PPC reference books. Following are a few pertinent points related to picture postcards in particular.]
Title and Synopsis Pages: The Title Page goes a long way in setting the stage for what your exhibit should be. A well designed title will focus the viewer into the arena where you wish him or her to be when critically evaluating your labor. This page should clearly outline the goals and parameters of the exhibit which can be done nicely by a plan which will reflect the outline you used to create your exhibit. The Title Page should be the first and last page done for your exhibit, the first in that it defines your exhibit and the last in that it needs to state exactly what the finished product really is. The Synopsis Page(s) is seen only by the judges and should be used to inform them of problems, challenges, and qualities of your material and exhibit subject. It should NOT be a reiteration of the title page. This is your chance to talk personally to each judge, so do not waste the opportunity by including a lot of irrelevant information that is NOT necessary to judge your exhibit. Be succinct and to the point; in fact a bulleted fact sheet is sometimes the best way to go, the Power Point approach. This is your opportunity to bring up things you want to brag about and to address criticisms and questions that they may have about your exhibit.
The Philatelic Exhibitor, quarterly journal of the AAPE, often contains good examples of these pages, and the AAPE has a free critique service for the title and synopsis pages.
Page Design and Layout: Experiment. There are many ways to design an exhibit, to select the material appropriate for moving the story forward, and to present information on the pages. Some exhibitors select the material to be shown and then photocopy or scan the items. This will allow for manipulation of the items as you design each page without subjecting the items to excess handling. Others use stock pages to organize the material with notes for text inserted within pockets. The right way for you will evolve as you progress. It can be slow work at first, but when you get the hang of it you will find it very pleasing and personally satisfying.
Mounting Material: There are many ways to mount and highlight your material on the pages. Some simply place the material on the page using corner mounts; others use the outline or box function of the particular program they are using while others mat each and every item on a separate piece of colored card stock. Although simple is usually better, it is a personal choice for which there is no consensus. One thing for sure, however, is that it must be pleasing to the eye and not distract from the object of the exhibit, namely the cards themselves. Getting too fancy in font selections or paper colors is not a good idea.
Text: Your text should include information about the printer, printing methods, publishers, artists, undivided or divided back, and any other specifics germane to the cards themselves. This is a deltiology exhibit and not a philatelic one. Just as one generally does NOT talk about the picture side of a postcard in a postal history exhibit, the same is true here; philatelic information, unless directly related to the subject of your story, should NOT be discussed.
The headings on the top of your page, taken directly from your outline, should be used to help the viewer navigate through your exhibit and identify the items displayed on the page. If it is about a particular publisher, the card information will be primary. If you are telling a social or thematic story, the subject discussion will be primary, while the card information will be secondary (though necessary). The amount of text should be the minimum necessary to support your story line. Excessive text tends to discourage viewers from reading your exhibit. Remember, they are standing up!
You may choose to use different styles of font depending upon the type of information you are presenting. As with any form of exhibiting, there are few hard and fast rules. Common sense generally dictates what order the text should be in, etc.
USING AND SHARING YOUR COLLECTION
Now your collection is organized, you have begun to exhibit, and you are continuing to learn more and more about postcards and the important role they play in preserving little pieces of history from the past. Through exhibiting you are also making many new friends and contacts. Exhibiting unlike any other aspect of the hobby (be it philately or deltiology) is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying experiences we can have. Not only are you learning more about your material, you are sharing with many other like-minded collectors as well as advertising our hobby to perfect strangers who might be moved to collect a new area for themselves. Organized shows are made up of very outgoing personalities who, like you, are inquisitive and intelligent people. Some of the most interesting people in the world attend these shows and partake in exhibiting. You will soon find out that it isn’t only stamps and postcards that you have in common.
What’s next? You are ready to move into another area of exciting exhibiting. You have prepared your first postcard exhibit and most likely attended some APS stamp shows to put it up. You have also seen some wonderful stamp exhibits. While collecting your postcards over the years, you have probably been collecting other ephemera and very likely some stamps and covers. It is now time to get your feet wet in the pool of stamp exhibits!
The dealers you find at stamp shows have an array of wonderful and interesting material. Once the exhibiting bug has bitten you, there’s nothing to do but give in. Display division is the perfect one for you to try since you can even use some of your picture postcards, your ephemera, all sorts of philatelic material, and even some other collateral material.
Once you attend that first stamp show with your first postcard exhibit, you will be hopelessly hooked! Exhibiting postcards and philatelic material combines the two most interesting hobbies in the world. So don’t be intimidated; you don’t have to be an expert to have a wonderful time pursuing material, interacting with other collectors, discussing your needs with dealers and other collectors, and enjoying the challenge of preparing new exhibits. You will also entertain and enlighten the public, and as a side benefit you may just win some nice medals and awards!
ENJOY! THIS IS A HOBBY, AND IT IS FUN!