William Martin

William Martin

William Thomas Napier Martin IX, who with his wife became one of the world's largest collectors and sellers of period vintage postcards, died Wednesday of heart disease at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The Havre de Grace resident was 71.

Mr. Martin, who was known as Bill, was living in Albany, N.Y., in the early 1970s, where he was chief of security for Montgomery Ward, with his wife, the former Mary Louise Walker, whom he had married in 1966.

A lifelong stamp collector, Mr. Martin felt slightly guilty that he spent hours working on his collection while his wife, who had no interest in stamps, had been reduced to being a "stamp widow."

After acquiring a large collection of postcards, he told The Sunday Sun Magazine in a 1975 interview, he wasn't quite sure what he was going to do with them. "Tear the stamps off the backs and throw out the cards?" he said. "Anyway, she looked through them and was hooked."

Mrs. Martin became fascinated with them and began researching the history of postcards and collecting in earnest.

She began trading and selling to fellow collectors in a business she established in the garage of their Glen Burnie home. She eventually was able to give up her job as a secretary and work full time buying, selling and collecting postcards.

They held auctions and packed up boxes and boxes of cards, filling their station wagon, which they drove to postcard shows.

"This is one of the last frontiers of nostalgia," Mr. Martin said of collecting postcards in the 1975 interview.

In 1973, Mr. Martin was able to leave his job to assist his wife in the business, Mary L. Martin Postcards Ltd. It is now owned and operated by a daughter, Mary Louise Martin of Havre de Grace, and several other family members.

Mary L. Martin Postcards Ltd. relocated to Severna Park in the 1980s where it remained until 1990, when the couple moved to a former Nissan automobile dealership in Havre de Grace with their inventory of millions of cards.

The business eventually became international in scope, with customers that included Estee Lauder, Tiffany & Co., Smithsonian and Martha Stewart Living magazine. Such media outlets as the "Today" show, People magazine, USA Today and the National Geographic did features on the business, said his daughter.

Mr. Martin became a leading consultant to auction houses, editors, authors and others interested in postcards, and also published more than 40 books on the subject.

"Someone wrote in an introduction to a history of postcards and said that 'they are windows into the past,' and the Martins had the most extraordinary collection of Maryland images," said Sheldon N. Dobres, a Baltimore attorney and former postcard dealer.

"Their postcard inventory grew to more than 6 million cards and they were able to bring together both European and American collectors and dealers," said Mr. Dobres.

"Postcard collecting was popular at the turn of the last century, and the reason so many are in nice condition is because they were placed in albums and saved in attics and on bookshelves," he said. "They were the greeting card of their day. There were cards for Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays and other holidays."

Mr. Dobres credits Mr. Martin for getting him interested in collecting postcards nearly 40 years ago.

"I was a stamp collector and because he was local, I contacted him," said Mr. Dobres. "He and his wife were really into it, and they were experts. His hobby became an avocation."

He described Mr. Martin as "one of the smartest people I have ever known."