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Vintage, new postcards connect the past and present

Though it might seem like society has changed completely during the past century, we still have at least one thing in common with the people of the past - postcards.

Even in the age of instant messages, e-mails and constant cell phone calls, we're still buying and sending these scenes from vacation spots around the world.

Of course, 100 years ago, postcards were a more important form of communication for people. "They didn't have telephones. They would use [postcards] just to say hello," said postcard collector Pat Sabin of Lilburn.

She's seen some messages on postcards written long ago from friends arranging lunch dates and others from traveling businessmen to their children at home. Three of her favorite cards were sent from the same man to a woman he had feeling for.

"You could tell that he really liked this girl," Sabin said. "I always wondered if they got together."

Historic scenes

In addition to providing a glimpse of social exchanges, postcards also document the past. The Gwinnett Historical Society has several postcards in its collection. One of them is a black-and-white scene of the square in downtown Lawrenceville, long before the roads there were paved. Another shows swimmers relaxing at a pool that was once located at Rhodes Jordan Park in Lawrenceville.

Books featuring old postcards from towns around Georgia are part of the society's library, which is located at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse in downtown Lawrenceville. From Atlanta hotels to Savannah sites, many scenes from Georgia have been immortalized on postcards.

Today, visitors throughout the state are still picking up postcards. At Stone Mountain Park, postcards are a top seller.

"We sell tens of thousands a year," said Lance Rohman, merchandise supervisor at Stone Mountain Park.

The park's postcards are popular partly because they're inexpensive souvenirs, he said. The cards are priced at 39 cents each or three for $1.

Postcards depicting the carving on the mountain are the most in demand among visitors to the park. The carving shows three Confederate figures:

Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

People have been sending postcards from Stone Mountain for years. A vintage scene from Stone Mountain is part of Sabin's collection. But this card, which is from the 1920s, depicts a carving that's different from what is actually on the mountain. The postcard depicts additional soldiers behind the three main figures on horseback. Those soldiers, however, are not part of the actual carving, which was started in the 1920s and completed in 1970.

This postcard, as well as other from around metro Atlanta, can be seen on Sabin's Web site (www.patsabin.com/atlanta/postcards/).

Postcard collection

In general, antique postcards from in and around Gwinnett are fairly rare, Sabin said. Across the United States, fewer postcards were produced in rural areas than in urban ones. Sabin would like to collect Gwinnett cards, but the prices for them are just too high, she said.

Though she occasionally picks up cards from Georgia, Sabin concentrates primarily on those from Illinois, where some of her relatives are from. An interest in genealogy and history led to her passion for postcards. She has been collecting for eight years.

Today, Sabin looks for cards that illustrate the architectural history of Chicago. "I collect certain architects and buildings," she said.

Interestingly, she's never been to Chicago, but maintains a Web site featuring postcards of the city's buildings www.patsabin.com/illinois/). The Chicago Architectural Foundation uses her Web site to train its docents, she said.

Most of the cards in her collection were printed between 1906 and 1910. "I don't buy anything that's not really old," Sabin said.

She typically pays around $3 to $4 a card but has paid as much as $47 for one card. Sabin buys cards primarily from online auction sites such as eBay. She also attends an annual postcard show held in Norcross. Finding the right postcards is still a challenge for Sabin, but that's part of what she enjoys about collecting.

"If they're easy to find, it's no fun," Sabin said.

Postcard facts

•In 1873, the first postal cards were issued by the United States Postal Service.

•Until 1898, the postal service was the only organization allowed to print postcards.

•On early cards, a blank space was left on the front to write messages. Writing wasn't allowed on the backs of the cards.

•In 1907, writing was permitted on the backs of cards. The left side was for the message, while the address was written on the right.

•Between 1915 and 1930, printers saved ink by leaving a white border around the scenes on the cards.

•The first postcard stamps cost 1 cent. Today, postcard stamps are 24 cents.

Source: The Smithsonian Institution, United States Postal Service