We are always buying postcards and photos from before 1950 - email us at circa1910@tampabay.rr.com.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Antique Shell Postcards

The Victorians loved shells – fanciful shell art was created, shells were made of silver, bronze, and porcelain and real shells were incorporated into salt cellars, spoons and other elegant versions of household items. Sea shells were collected and catalogued, books and prints illustrated shells for the collector, images of shells graced beautiful trade cards, calling cards and postcards. A comprehensive article from the New York Times reviews the uses of shells throughout history and gives us a view of the current shell collectors’ pursuits. To learn more, go to http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/24/arts/antiques-seashells-for-love-and-money.html?pagewanted=all.  

Thirteen states have chosen a state shell. North Carolina has the Scotch Bonnet . You can check and see if your state is among the shell-honoring at http://www.jaxshells.org/listing.htm.

In this post, we show a variety of popular shell postcards and "shell border" designs from before 1915. If you love the beach the way we do, you may already have glass containers of shells you’ve collected or other shell art. Shell postcards frame up nicely, and would make a colorful addition to your shell collecting finds – just don’t expose postcards to bright light or display them (even framed) anywhere that moisture gathers.

Shell postcards were often printed with a space in the center to showcase local attractions, so you may find the same design with a scene of Atlantic City, New Jersey on one card and a scene from Long Beach, California on another. Frequently, the shell card had a special place to add the name of the seaside town. Sometimes these names were printed on, and sometimes the names were hand-written in ink or glitter. Some postcards could be purchased without a place name and the sender could write their own name instead. We include two novelty shell postcards here that have die-cut flaps that open so a message can be added inside.  Shell postcards were popular even far away from the seaside, as our Iowa card illustrates.

Other shell postcards incorporate shell images into fantasies, holidays or greetings, creating attractive postcards that are not from beach resorts to round out your shell collection. 

We show a pretty little blonde girl by well-known postcard artist Ellen Clapsaddle inside a shell with cat-tails, water lilies, more colorful shells and sailboats decorating a birthday greeting, and a shell carriage with little girls being pulled along by a giant fish, with the location Bangor stamped on. 

Here is another novelty shell postcard  enlivened with a pair of Victorian bathing beauties.  The shell they are holding lifts up and a long strip of paper is revealed with scenes of the town...the strip is folded accordion-style to fit inside the shell when closed.  You might find this kind of novelty postcard listed as a "mechanical" postcard because it has a moving part.  Mechanical postcards are their own collecting specialty with lots of intriguing varieties.  We will focus on mechanical postcards in a future post.   

Price estimates: Shell cards are colorful, fanciful and fun, usually embossed, sometimes with bright gold added.  You can collect them from about $8 - $15 each. These prices are    for postcards in EXCELLENT condition, and they are only estimates of current prices.

If you are interested in framing antique or vintage postcards, by the way, we offer our exclusive custom-cut mats in our eBay store. They are the perfect size to display any antique or vintage 3.5X5.5 postcard, fit into any 5X7 inch frame, and can be purchased in white or cream. These mats and their crystal-clear presentation envelopes are just the thing to turn a postcard into a gift. Click on our postcardiva.com link below to be taken to the store.


  1. Dear postcardiva,
    Im writing on behalf of KOES Museum for Art in Public Places, Denmark. We are very interested in printing one of your postcards in our exhibition catalogue. Please email me on: ssr@koes.dk for further information. Thank you. Best regards, Sara Ravn, Exhibition assistant

  2. Hi Sara - we were not able to email you at the address you provided, but we would be glad to help...please contact us at circa1910@tampabay.rr.com. Best wishes, Toni