Post not-so-Secret
January 2, 2013 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to start a blog featuring my small collection of found (used/sent) postcards. What measures should I take for due ethical diligence?

I have some cool old postcards that I bought at thrift stores. I'm hoping to scan them and post them on a blog. They're all sent from someone to someone else (i.e. not me or anyone I personally know). I'd like to preserve/show as much of the contents as is ethical.



--It stands to reason that generally, if someone's selling a used postcard to a thrift store, the sender (if not the recipient as well) is likely to be unaware of the sale.

--Visible names and addresses.


--The postcards are old. The most recent ones are from the 1960s. The vast majority of people involved are probably dead.

--The text is banal. People don't tend to send postcards confessing their deepest hopes and fears. They tend to write terse sentences about hotels and weather.

--There may not be much of an expectation w/r/t postcards in the first place? Anyone can read them while they're in transit (as opposed to an enveloped letter).

--There might be value in leaving names intact so people doing historical/genealogical searches on their family members could come across these...maybe? I know I'd be thrilled if I randomly came across a postcard sent by my great-grandfather or what have you.

--This is basically what historians do...right? Maybe? No?


So what should I do? Black out part of the name? Part of the address? Can I leave both intact? Is this project too ethically fraught to even embark on? Naturally, whatever I do I'll have a notice saying that if you are somehow party to one of the postcards, I'll take the entry down at your request.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by threeants to Human Relations (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have thousands of postcards I've bought from auction houses. I once that about making some money selling them. I haven't ever gotten around to doing this. But I have done some diligence on this and I can tell you that in many, many cases these items are scanned and posted without regard to any concern of what's on the card. See eBay, for instance.

I would simply post a standard disclaimer on your site/every page along the lines of "if any material posted on this site somehow compromises your privacy or you have other concerns please contact me at xxx@xxxdotcom." And you can deal with the situation accordingly.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:48 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

On this point: There might be value in leaving names intact so people doing historical/genealogical searches on their family members could come across these...maybe? - You'd pretty much have to type out the text in order for it to be searchable on the net, at least with our current tech (OCR is not really great with fancy handwriting), so unless you're planning on doing this that won't be a factor.

You might also want to think about what the purpose of showing the back of the card is. Typically it is the photo on the front, the postage stamp and cancellation stamp, and maybe a bit of text on the back explaining the card that might be of interest to people. The cursive handwriting that people used to use in the good ol' days is cool, too, but if you've seen it on one postcard...

Because of the things you've said - particularly the fact that postcards are not really a private medium of communication - I think that you could probably show both sides ethically without any worries, especially if you include a disclaimer.
posted by k8lin at 2:15 PM on January 2, 2013

It's really really standard practice among dealers of old cards to scan the backside.The back can tell you a lot about the card (photo cards can be dated by the stamp box for instance). I've never heard of anyone getting a complaint about showing the back in fact the usual complain was that the back was only scanned and thus not searchable for people looking for specific person.

I also think that especially for such old addresses the people either don't live there anymore or were probably in the phone book at the time anyway as that used to be much more common. I really like the offer of removing anything private but I wouldn't worry about the practice in general.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 2:29 PM on January 2, 2013

I have a whole book of vintage postcards - think it's called Postcards of the Century - in which the author quotes the text from the back. I think ethically you'll be fine - particularly as on the couple of vintage postcards I own, the turn-of-the-century cursive is incredibly hard to read.
posted by mippy at 3:00 AM on January 3, 2013

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