There are about 100,000 American deltiologists—and maybe you’re one of them and don’t know it. This tongue twister comes from the Greek word deltion (small writing tablet) and it means someone who collects postcards as a hobby.

Postcards printed before 1915 are called antiques by collectors, and some are worth a great deal of money. Cards printed on leather, silk, birch bark, and materials other than paper are especially interesting and desirable to collectors. It is believed that the most expensive postcard ever made was one carved from a piece of ivory for an East Indian prince.

People have not always had postcards to send to friends or to use for business. The first one was printed on October 1, 1869, in Austria, where a professor of economics, Dr. Emanuel Hermann, started the custom. He thought it was a shame for people who wanted to send a few words or a short note to someone to have to put the note in an envelope and then pay five Austrian kreuzers (about a penny) to send it. So he fashioned a light piece of cardboard with space for the address on one side and a message on the other, and no envelope was necessary. It was called a Correspondenz Karte and the Austrian postal service permitted its use for the price of a two-Kreuzer stamp.

Postcards became very popular, and soon Germany, England, and other European countries were printing them. In 1873 the United States began printing plain undecorated cards with a one-cent liberty head stamped on them.

By the 1890s, fancy cards with colored borders, landscapes, or people were being printed. Holiday cards for Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day were decorated with pictures and a great variety of fanciful designs.

People liked the pretty postcards. Soon many homes had thick postcard albums bulging with cards that were especially enjoyed by young and old. A few of these old albums are still treasured by their proud owners.

Being a deltiologist is fun. So if you are looking for a hobby, postcard collecting may be just right for you. Look carefully at cards in shops, at the homes of your friends, and at those that come into your own home. Watch especially for funny or beautiful ones from far away. Before you know it, you may have started a pleasurable hobby that could last a lifetime.