Words By Carmen Macri
Andrew Bachmann had a stroke of genius upon his arrival in Jacksonville in 1993: Why spend the time studying the city’s rich history when he could simply learn from vintage postcards instead?
“I just thought it was a great way to learn about the history of the new city that I had just moved to,” Bachmann explained. He also had a good friend from Miami who had been collecting vintage postcards for years whose passion and collection also swayed him.
Since moving to Jacksonville, he’s collected roughly 7,000 postcards — 3,500 of which are from Jacksonville.
“After only a couple of years, I probably knew more than most locals after exploring and reading up on all the different topics of the cards,” Bachmann said.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Bachmann’s collection is being able to see what the streets we walk today looked like years ago. Bay Street, for example, was once a hub for horse-drawn carriages, while the Jacksonville Beach Pier was replete with shops, restaurants and rides, including a rollercoaster. Looking through his collection truly feels like going back in time.
For the past 30 years, Bachmann has been collecting postcards as a hobby. However, he recently realized his hobby could also be a way to make some extra cash since postcard collecting has gained popularity with individuals and businesses looking for vintage memorabilia of their city or establishment from back in the day.
Bachmann always makes it a point to visit local antique shops while out and about to check out their postcard collections. Even if a particular postcard doesn’t interest him personally, he knows that it might attract someone else’s attention. Bachmann has had the luck of purchasing a postcard for as little as 25 cents and selling it for over $100.
“I went into an antique shop, and here was an antique dealer that had no idea what the value of his postcards was worth,” Bachmann explained. “He had them for a dollar a piece and had about 75. I bought them all and wound up selling the postcards for over a thousand dollars.”
To the average person, a simple postcard might not look like much, but to a seasoned collector with decades of experience under his belt, Bachmann knows exactly what to look for. Much like anything else, there are different eras of postcards. Bachmann explained the different types as well as how to pick them out from a bunch, essentially being able to approximate a postcard’s age without a written date.
The Pioneer Era of postcards lasted from 1893 to 1897, followed by the Private Mailing Card Era from 1898 to 1901. The Undivided Back Era took place from 1901 to 1907, while the Divided Back Era emerged between 1907 and 1914. From 1915 to 1930, the White Boarded Era ruled the postcard world, and the Linen Era followed from 1930 to 1944. Finally, we entered the Chrome Era, also known as the Modern Era, which started in 1945 and continues to this day. Tthe Golden Era of postcards or the “Collecting Era,” Bachmann said, was between 1893-1916.
“I’m basically preserving history that is slowly disappearing,” Bachmann explained. “It’s harder and harder to find the good cards.”
Bachmann doesn’t limit himself to shopping at vintage stores across the country when it comes to sourcing postcards. He also attends postcard conventions in the area, where he can sift through other collectors’ castoffs. The vendors are usually veteran collectors who, due to age or other reasons, are looking to pass on their cherished collections to others who share their passion.
Bachmann’s attention is particularly drawn to the Alligator Border Series, which features city illustrations encircled by three or four alligators. Of the 165 postcards in this series, Bachmann owns the majority, but his collection is particularly noteworthy for the 23 cards depicting Jacksonville. He held onto these special postcards and sold the other 140 for $17,000, including one for $295. Clearly, Bachmann’s sharp eye for postcard treasures has paid off handsomely.
Although the Alligator Border cards may be the most valuable, they are not Bachmann’s top pick. He has a soft spot for postcards that showcase restaurants from the 1900s, whether through photographs or illustrations. For Bachmann, there is something truly intriguing about glimpsing into the everyday life of people back then.
“My favorites are kind of like the restaurants, the interior shots. I like some of the landscape scenes,” Bachmann explained. “If you’re going through a whole box of cards and all of a sudden, one or two stand out and it’s like the wow factor. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?”
Bachmann is currently working on a new project — a photo book that will showcase his most impressive postcards. Back in 2007, he published a postcard history book called “Jacksonville Revisited,” but it was printed in black and white. Now, he’s reviving the book project to create a stunning, full-color gallery book that will feature his best pieces.
With his passion for postcards and his eye for detail, it’s no doubt that this upcoming book will be a visual feast for the eyes.