Motorcycles on postcards, 100+ years of history

1898-leon-bollee-tricycleMost of us at one time or another have given some thought to our roots and asked the question, where did my family history begin? To those of us who ride motorcycles, at some point we may wonder about the roots of motorcycling. Researching both areas can be fascinating and sometimes in tracing our family roots we may find an ancestor who was brave enough to get his legs around one of history’s earliest means of two wheel transportation. Evidence of that can often be found on the fronts of postcards that were printed in the millions during the first third of the last century.

Often these cherished images were saved and protected in photo albums or by col lectors. Today they have become a much sought after collectible. The nice thing about postcard collecting is that there is probably not any subject of interest that has not been represented on postcards. If your subject of interest is not in particularly high demand, the cost to build a col lection can be very inexpensive. On the other hand if you seek to find material in a subject area that is highly sought after, expect to find less material and items at a much higher cost. Like any other collectible, supply and demand rules.

historyWith motorcycle postcards, the demand is high, but the availability is generally good with the more common images being readily available. For collectors of anything, the Internet auctions and related postcard websites have opened up the world to items that could never be found in a lifetime of browsing antique shops or flea markets.

As a long time collector of these mementoes of motorcycle history I have obtained nearly seven hundred pre1940 postcards. I have a broad interest in the subject matter, not limiting myself to any one marque or subject area. My interests include motorcycles manufactured world wide as viewed on real photo cards, those cards that are actual photographs of the subject matter. Other collecting categories include, advertising, racing, sidecars, military, holidays, and humorous. Everything that I collect related to motorcycles fits into these categories.

It is amazing how an interest can become a passion or sometimes an obsession. Many years ago, I purchased a postcard at a flea market in England that depicted a studio photo of a couple on an early Triumph cycle. That single card began a quest to document the history of motorcycling through the postcard medium. Doing something like this has an offshoot benefit of bringing the collector in contact with a vast number of other collectors, or dealers from around the world.

1908-indian-motorcycleAs my collection grew, I started thinking in terms of how I could share it with others and at the same time offset some of the rising costs of building my collection. Initially, I began photographing each card or scanning it into my computer where I could do any necessary photo editing of the image. Many times cards do not survive 75 to 100 years in pristine condition, but with the wonders of computer editing, an image can be restored to original. Once photo graphed, the negative is preserved and used to create enlargements that are matted and ready for framing. Marketing these enlargements has been done at motorcycle rallys and vintage bike meets as well as on my website, In addition, a large sample of my work is available at the Livingston Antique Outlet on Burkhart Rd. in Howell Michigan. As my collection grew, I began developing a catalog of the images. From this, it wasn’t a stretch to think in terms of publishing a book on my collection.

After being turned down by numerous publishers, I decided to self publish a book, a decision that I believe is going to be much to my benefit since I have total control over the process. Any one with a computer and publishing software can publish a book, given enough time and energy. Many printers now work in totally digital media. This means that a book can be completely published at home and saved to a CD or other storage media and sent to the printer where it will be setup for printing.

I am learning a lot about this whole process and am not naive about the ultimate prospects of seeing a book in print and on shelves at bookstores. Nothing about this process is easy. My goal at this point is to develop a prepublication mailing list of individuals, businesses and museums that have an interest in my book so that I can judge whether I am ready to spend the huge amount for printing costs. It is my hope in using the forum of the Michigan Motorcyclist that I can continue to generate interest in my book and warrant it’s printing. Anyone interested in ultimately having a copy of “Motorcycling Through History, During The Golden Age Of Post cards” should contact the author through his web site.