A note from a lover, a check-in from a friend or a reminder of travels. Postcards are a small part of the lives of many. They may remember sending or receiving them or may have saved a few as mementos. But for members of the Southwest Michigan Postcard Club, collecting postcards has become a hobby that has them seeking, buying and selling postcards from years past, places unseen or familiar towns.
The club, which was established in 1976, has 20 members who share their enthusiasm for these mailed missives.
Club member Wally Jung has about 4,000 postcards in his personal collection and 120,000 more in his inventory, which he sells as a professional dealer.
Like many kids, Jung collected baseball cards as a child. He grew up in Battle Creek, where he purchased cards from a shop less than a mile from his house.
“My mom and dad thought I was spending too much money on baseball cards, so they yanked the collection from me and I was in a deep funk,” Jung says.
His mother suggested that, instead, he collect postcards from his Aunt Ruth, who was a schoolteacher in Chicago. When school was out, her friends traveled the world, sending her postcards. Ruth began passing the cards along to Jung, who had a shoebox full by the time he was in high school.
He gave up postcards for a while, but his interest in collecting them came back after he married his wife Christine and earned two degrees, including one in photography. One day he was browsing for photography books at an antiques show in Lansing when a friend suggested they visit a vendor from Ohio who had a lot of photo books.
“He did have a lot of that stuff, but he also had a shoebox full of postcards on a chair,” Jung says. “I’ll never forget this. And it was partially full, so the first card showing up was a real photo postcard of the House of David train.”
Jung was born in Benton Harbor, which was also home to the religious group the House of David, known for its baseball team, amusement park and miniature trains that were on private property but were open to the public.
“I saw this House of David train postcard, and it just hit my hot button because I used to ride that train,” Jung says. “I’d go out and pick fruit from my aunt and uncle — they just lived about a quarter mile away from the House of David, but I would hear that train whistle all day long.”
Jung picked up the card and was shocked that the dealer wanted $10 for it, but that card was enough to reawaken his passion for collecting.
“It wasn’t too long after that that I had a chance to buy an inventory from a postcard dealer who was quite elderly. She was moving to Florida. All of a sudden I own like 15,000 Michigan postcards. I came home and I said, ‘Honey, we’re in the postcard business.’ My wife says, ‘We’ve been in the postcard business for a while.’ I said, ‘No, this is big time.’”
Soon, Jung began doing shows of his own, in Detroit, Toledo, Chicago, Minneapolis. Big shows in the Midwest were followed by big shows on the East Coast.
“You know, like any good addict, you start peddling what you’re addicted to in order to pay for your habit,” Jung says.
Sharing their passion
As he’s gotten older, Jung has given up most of his shows. Now he shares his passion with others through his Facebook page, called Vintage Michigan Postcards, and through the Southwest Michigan Postcard Club.
During normal times, the club meets four times annually at the Oshtemo Branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library and holds an annual show in April at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center, where visitors can browse through millions of postcards. The show was cancelled in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Keith Howard, the club president, got addicted to the hobby when he met his late wife, Leone, nearly 30 years ago.
“When you get a postcard, you’re getting a little piece of history,” he says. “It’s not a copy of something.”
Club members and collectors have different niches and enjoy sharing their interests with one another, says Howard.
“There are lots of people out there that collect a few really, really expensive cards,” Howard says. “And you have people out there that just like cards, so they collect things that are maybe 25 cents or 50 cents or 10 cents or whatever so you don’t have a lot of money invested in it but you have a really great collection.”
The prices of cards depend upon how many of a given type are available, he says. “Some cards are really expensive because they’re really rare. There might only be one or two in existence. Others are super inexpensive, a blast to collect just because they’re out there.”
Howard’s own interests lie in historical postcards.
“I’m fascinated by history — buildings, people and things that were here that maybe aren’t here anymore,” he says.
Howard collects cards of his hometown of Ionia, Michigan, and his wife collected cards of her hometown of Benton Harbor. He’s also passionate about music, which is prevalent in his collection.
“I collect (images of) early Kalamazoo orchestras. Bands and orchestras, dance bands, that kind of stuff. And I’ve got some really cool images of a couple of bands that were really super popular around the area. It’s just cool to see, compared to today’s music, to see the instrumentation and the way people dressed and the way they presented themselves.”
From holiday cards to depictions of small towns to humorous cards, there is a lot out there for potential collectors, no matter their interests, Howard and Jung agree.
“Even if a potential collector is unsure where their interests lie, it doesn’t hurt to explore,” Jung says. “It’s really interesting to just kind of look and see what’s out there.”