The Postcard Bug

Donald Brown can tell you the exact moment the “postcard bug bit him:” August 20th, 1943, sitting in a room with a collection spread around him on the floor. He also remembers the coining of the term “deltiology” in 1944 to describe the hobby of postcard collecting. This year will mark his 70th anniversary as a deltiologist, with over a million topical and geographical postcards in his collection.

Yesterday, some student assistants had the opportunity to assist Special Collections with a pick-up of postcards from the home of Brown’s Institute of American Deltiology (IAD), founded in 1993. A vast number of postcards and a comprehensive library about postcard history and deltiology fill the rooms of a three-story 19th-century building in Meyerstown. The house is a little lighter today; 42 boxes of postcards from New York and New Jersey came with the van traveling back to UMD’s Hornbake Library, ready for processing, then entry into the IAD finding aid for all to see.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Doughton Park, North Carolina, circa 1952-1957

Access some digitized postcards from the Institute of American Deltiology by visiting and searching “Institute of American Deltiology”

The history of UMD’s relationship with Donald Brown actually started when Brown tried to register his building with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He grew increasingly concerned about the legacy of his postcards, as many institutions lacked the space to hold such a massive collection, but the National Trust for Historic Preservation recommended him to Doug McElrath of the University of Maryland Libraries Special Collections. The collection has been moving to UMD since 2005, and University of Maryland will eventually claim one of the largest and most diverse public postcard collections in the US.

In addition to meeting Donald Brown, Special Collecions students also met IAD volunteers John C. Fralish Jr. and Anthony L. Iezzi. Fralish has dedicated a great deal of time and energy to the organization of geographical postcards into states, counties, and subjects. Iezzi, a photographer, continues American tradition by producing modern postcards; his latest have explored a genre called “exaggerated” or “tall-tale” postcards, in which a portion of the picture is oversized. They both have made invaluable contributions to the organization of the postcard collection. During the visit, Brown stressed that the collection is not about him, but is about the Institute. The collection results from a group effort requiring the knowledge and invaluable contributions of individuals like Fralish and Iezzi, the driving passion of Brown, and the support of postcard collectors around the nation: those who donated their own extensive collections to the IAD, send Brown postcards from far and wide to supplement his existing holdings, or even leave bags of postcards on his door as they pass by the IAD building. Brown believes firmly that his collection has value for all Americans and should be shared. He regularly gives lectures about the potential for research with postcards, and has written books about geneaology and geographical history using postcards.

Postcards are ephemera in the archives world. Yet Brown’s postcards and the images of America they capture will be cherished and preserved for future generations within the holdings of the Special Collections. Hopefully, the postcard bug will have a home in Hornbake Library!

Read some articles about the Institute of American Deltiology, including

Blue Ridge Parkway, Doughton Park, North Carolina, circa 1952-1957


3 thoughts on “The Postcard Bug

  1. I really like the platform you are using to display postcards (both sides). The cataloging work you’ve done so that people can find subjects is fantastic. Congrats on making it public.

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