“Hi, what are you looking for?”
This is the postcard-club greeting — a little like a secret handshake, only friendlier, and not secret at all. It’s also a valid, practical question, since the average display booth has hundreds of types of postcards and the average visitor is after something specific: “Do you have any with animals wearing clothes?”
“Sorry, go fish,” you always expect to hear, but the answer is usually more like, “Sure, check under ‘Wildlife, Anthropomorphic.’”
Harley Sheets, vice president of the Indianapolis Postcard Club, which held its 30th annual show last weekend at the North Park Masonic Lodge, mostly looks for postcards of old Indiana high schools, especially ones from near his home in Boone County. But he acknowledges that there’s a big world of postcards out there, and maintains that whatever you like, there’s a postcard depicting it — as long as it’s not too current. “We’re not too big on stuff that’s still around,” he explains. “If you want to see that stuff, well, you can just go see it.”
In the world of postcards, it seems, the ephemeral springs eternal.
Take a moment to consider what you would look for, if faced with a Masonic Lodge meeting hall filled with carefully-amassed postcards. Race cars? Hot springs? Cherubs? It’s an image library of boundless depth, and it never fails to surprise you.
In fact, a postcard show seems to be, appropriately enough, a miniature representation of life. You come in clueless, bumbling from one display to the next, periodically glancing out over the room, completely overwhelmed by all the rows and rows of cards to look at. What’s worse, you have no idea what you’re looking for, if anything.
Give it a little time though, and it changes. You notice that at each table you’re finding yourself drawn to certain things, like motorcycles, or Halloween, or Indiana schools. As you make your way around the room, the sprawling patch of miscellaneous junk blooms into an organized, cultivated orchard, as you begin to see how it all might, maybe, fit together. You start believing that you will find what you’re looking for after all, despite the fact that all this other interesting stuff keeps popping up during the search — which is fine.
Stay long enough, and you may notice that there’s somebody beside you, and he’s searching, too, for photos of pioneers maybe, and you hear yourself saying you’ll keep an eye out for pioneer postcards for him, and he promises to let you know if he sees any ones with old motorcycles.
Sheets is especially happy about this year’s event, because he found something he’d been looking for: a fold-out map of the Oregon Trail published by Ezra Meeker, who traveled the trail in a Conestoga wagon during the early part of the last century. It’s for a friend of his, a big Meeker fan, and Sheets can’t wait to tell him about the find.
Sheets will also be happy to tell you all about postcards and the pastime of collecting them — he does presentations at local libraries throughout the year and gives free appraisals of people’s postcards as a way of “giving back to the hobby.”
You can also find out more by visiting one of the club’s regular gatherings, which take place the second Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at 7th & 8th United Christian Church on West 30th Street, a few blocks east of Ritter High School. For more info call 317-745-6788, or send a postcard to 635 S. S.R. 39, Danville, Ind., 46122.