"805" has an antique leather postcard, featuring a 1 cent stamp, postmarked by offices in Palo Alto and Dixon, Ill. The address simply reads "Ms. Sisquella Crosby, Dixon, Ill." If the town was small enough, no street address was necessary in those days.
The postcard, bearing an embossed image of the Stanford Memorial Church, arrived in Dixon on Nov. 25, 1907. Coincidentally, Ronald Reagan lived in Dixon from the time he was 9 to 22; visitors can tour the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home. Today, the city boasts 15,000 residents (2,500 are prisoners in the Dixon Correctional Center); historical notoriety occurred in this small town.
Abe Lincoln joined the Illinois Militia at Fort Dixon in 1832 during the Black Hawk War. In 1873, a group of 45 people went straight to heaven as the bridge over the Rock River collapsed. Heaven? Yes — they were on the bridge to witness a baptism ceremony. In 1880, a farmhand murdered a traveling salesman, whose body was found near a stream at the bottom of a gulch near what is today called Bloody Gulch Road. Quarter horse breeder and Dixon Municipal Comptroller Rita Crundwell embezzled more than $53 million from 1990-2012, the largest theft in U.S. municipal history.
So ... the addressee, Sisquella Crosby, would have remembered (or perhaps anticipated) the glories of her town of Dixon, Ill., as she received this postcard from Stanford, unsigned.
Postcards at that time were only a 60-year-old tradition, invented in England in 1840. Picture postcards were not invented until 1870 to honor the Franco-Prussian War; these depicting French battlegrounds were the first souvenir "image" postcards. Illustration was a French specialty; 19th century French postcards featured nude ladies.
The first U.S. souvenir postcard was printed by the U.S. Post Office as an 1893 token of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The U.S. had invented the pre-stamped postcard in 1873. The Post Office held a monopoly on printing any image on postcards until the Private Mailing Card Act of 1898. Not until 1907 could an American write anything more than an address on a postcard (no personal message was allowed). The year 1907 was a landmark because the "divided back" postcard was legalized for both address and message.
The golden age of American postcards was dominated by women sending cards to other women (1907-10) because of the beauty and popularity of "German postcards." Trade ceased with the onset of World War I, yet the act of girlfriends sending souvenir pictures to girlfriends in the mail lived on.
This postcard owned by "805" is an example of pokerwork or pyrography. The souvenir image was burned or hot-stamped on leather or wood, a handcraft that was popular among ladies from 1904-15. A cottage industry, women made these images using a heat press, then over-painted with color ink. It was a brief but exciting period in postal history — exciting because the images were burnt not just on leather but also small planks of wood and sent through the mail! Pyrography was adopted by noted artists of the Arts and Crafts period.
We can learn much from the postmarks and cancellation. U.S. stamp cancellation in the late 19th century was mechanized. Early and mid-19th century stamp cancellations were done by hand at post offices, but savvy Americans figured out how to wash and re-use hand-canceled postage stamps. By 1907, high-speed cancellation aimed to deface the stamp, which to some collectors is seen as detrimental. "805's" postcard has both an origin postmark and receiving postmark as well as an American flag cancellation mark.
Regarding the clarity of the American colonial flag cancellation: Some philatelists collect legible cancellations and not stamps. "805" can consult Hanmer's Guide to U.S. Machine Postmarks, or get in touch with the U.S. Cancellations Club or The International Machine Cancel Society, to see if the Dixon or Palo Alto postmark is rare (I doubt it) or if the 13 starred American flag cancellation increases value.
All this rich history does not indicate a great value — the card is worth $12. "805" asked me to look into the value of the postcard, but often the value is not in the card type, writer or picture but in the stamp. The 1907 1 cent Franklin stamp could be worth more than $600. "805" should consult philatelists at the Santa Barbara Stamp Club, founded in 1947, which meets once a month at Maravilla Senior Living.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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