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PEOPLE : Compact Collectibles : Lee Brown's Sunland emporium, featuring 250,000 modern and vintage postcards, offers a unique glimpse of the history of tourism.

February 05, 1993|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster writes regularly for The Times.

Collecting Depression glass was never a great idea for Lee Brown, a Sunland resident who lives on an earthquake fault line. And hauling crates of the pastel-colored items around was aggravating her arthritis.

A fellow antique dealer offered a solution. Of all the costly items in his shop, postcards, he said, had brought him the greatest enjoyment.

On that tip, Brown began collecting postcards two decades ago. After accumulating enough stock, she opened her Sunland postcard emporium, Adventure in Postcards & Collectibles, two years ago. Arranged by subject matter, the 250,000 vintage and modern cards offer a unique glimpse of the history of tourism in America.

"I've got just about every subject," said Brown, who wasn't exaggerating. Her subject list includes the stock market, gnomes, oil fields, castles, disasters, glaciers, valentines, New Hampshire, cowboys, lovers, swastikas, outhouses and cards with alcohol themes.

"If I can't find it, I'll hunt it down for you," said Brown, seated behind the cluttered desk at her tiny shop. "I've learned so much social history from this hobby. Collecting cards is available to most anyone's purse strings. If you have just a few dollars a month to spare, you can have a lot of fun."

Most of Lee's cards are priced from $2 to $5 and are dated pre-World War I. A few cards signed by such art nouveau illustrators as Alphonse Mucha can sell for around $100, but thousands of others are 20 cents. A postal cancellation date is often desired by collectors to prove a card's authenticity, but holiday cards are sometimes valued more if in original condition.

"Postcards hit their peak in 1909," said Nick Farago, who produces 14 postcard shows each year through his Temple City-based R & N Postcard Productions. "Postcards were the biggest means of communication in the U. S. at that time--comparable to what the telephone is today."

Most large towns had two daily mail deliveries. "If you wanted to visit someone, you would send them a postcard in the morning, they'd receive it in the afternoon and that night, you would visit them on your horse and buggy," said Brown, who has her own collection of postcards from Santa Catalina Island, a favorite vacation spot.

With the advent of World War I, postcards faded in use, partly because many were manufactured in Germany. There was an upsurge in popularity in the 1920s and again in the 1950s with increased air travel.

Farago's "Greater L. A. Postcard & Collectibles Show," held today through Sunday in Pasadena, will feature 2 million cards, most from $2 to $4, as well as old valentines, photos, circus items and other paper collectibles.

Brown attends such shows about once each month and is also president of the Santa Monica Postcard Club, which meets once a month at the Fairview branch library. "We get together and talk postcards," Brown said. "Some of the members bring cards so we can compare styles."

At Brown's shop, which also features some Depression glass and various paper collectibles, a postcard category labeled "superlatives" offered a curious slice of American history. The cards featured such oddities as "The Largest Chair in the World" and "The Smallest Church."

"Dear Irwin," read a Jan. 2, 1912, card that featured a Garden, Mass., photo of the world's largest chair. "What do you think of this chair? Lots of love, Uncle Fred."

Most other messages paralleled Uncle Fred's flat sentiment. Brown remembers discovering 250 cards from 1907 sent by a woman in the Midwest. Each card read, "Dear Grandson, I hope you enjoy this missive for your collection, Love Grandma."

"Postcards seem to follow families around," Brown said. "They always held onto them because they didn't require much space."

Two years ago, Brown discovered a holiday card that stood out among the thousands she was sorting.

"I seldom read the backs of postcards, there's just no time; but I noticed some handwriting that I recognized," Brown said. "Then I spotted my grandmother's name, Mabel Holdefer, on a card dated 1908. She had sent it to a relative.

"My grandmother had raised me, so finding the card was a real treasure. I'll never sell it."

Where and When What: Adventures in Postcards & Collectibles, 8423 Foothill Blvd., Sunland. When: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Call: (818) 352-5663. What: Santa Monica Postcard Club meets at the Fairview library, 2101 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica. When: 6:30 to 9 p.m. the first Thursday of the month. Call: (818) 352-5663. What: The Greater L. A. Postcard and Paper Collectibles Show, Elks Lodge, 400 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. When: 1 to 8 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Cost: $3.50 per day or $6 for three days. Free postcard appraisals available. Call: (818) 287-6066 or (818) 281-3390.

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