Aikenhead’s business, Boulevard Postcards, may be the only one in the area that deals exclusively in old cards—most postcard merchants also trade in magazines or books. The Detroit native and trained photographer has a day job managing rental properties, but postcards consume much of the rest of his time. He specializes in American photo postcards from the turn of the century to the 1930s, and says he just about broke even last year on sales of $30,000 “because I keep buying more postcards.”
Aikenhead currently has about 100 Ann Arbor cards and is always looking for more. Especially coveted are photographs of long-ago U-M football players or coaches. Others feature familiar landmarks like Angell Hall, vanished buildings like the private Peterson hospital (where the downtown Federal Building is now), and some breaking news, like the fire at the First Methodist Church in 1906.
Aikenhead says Ann Arbor cards typically retail for at least $50. Vintage photo postcard prices started “skyrocketing” in the 1980s, he explains—partly because both baby boomers and the Greatest Generation were nostalgic for an earlier, idealized time in America. “People recognize that postcards represent a special window, detailed and compelling, on the early twentieth century,” he says. But they don’t all suggest happy times. One somber scene from Detroit showing African American women and children in front of a house is captioned “Home for unwed mothers.” Another shows an old woman posed next to a Bible; it reads “I am all alone.”
Aikenhead replenishes his inventory buying from other dealers or on eBay. Unlike those dream discoveries on Antiques Roadshow, he says, finding valuable postcards at a garage sale is “almost unheard of.”
[Originally published in January, 2009.]
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