By Mackenzie Davis
The name Walley World may ring a bell as a reference to the popular 80’s comedy “National Lampoon’s Vacation” where an obsessed father is determined to get his family to the theme park in Ontario, Canada called Wally World. This theme park is actually real, with roller coasters and a moose for a mascot. What isn’t known is that there is another Wally World in Lansing, Michigan. Instead of roller coasters and overpriced food, Wally’s world is contained in a singular office, full of hundreds of thousands of postcards.
Walter Jung, better known as Wally Jung, 72, of Lansing, has been in the postcard business for 28 years running postcard shows, selling to buyers and preserving history through his work. As Vice President of the International Federation of Postcard Dealers, Jung has gone through millions of postcards all containing messages from people in the past.
Over his career, Wally has learned about the history of his postcards through listening to his customers.
“Postcard people are extremely knowledgeable, very friendly,” Jung said. “I have learned so much from them over the years. I’m just sitting behind the table and they’re talking to their friends and you pick up bits and pieces for 20-some years.”
It was his own personal history that sparked his interest in postcard dealing at the age of 38.
As a child living in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jung would work on his family’s farm which was close to the compound of the religious cult, House of David. Picking fruit during the day he would hear the House of David train going by and at night would go play skee-ball in the amusement area that the compound offered. As he grew up, Jung decided to follow a career in photography which led him to a box of postcards among photography books at a show one day. The postcard resting on the top happened to be a picture of the House of David.
“So when I saw that postcard, it hit my hot button and I picked it up and I looked at it,” Jung said, “I turned it over and it said 10 dollars and I said, ‘oh I’m never going to pay 10 dollars for a postcard.’”
A couple years later, Jung bought his first collection and attended his first postcard show in 1992. “First one I went to I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” Jung said. “So after that it was off to the races and then I had a couple opportunities to buy large collections of postcards cause I thought ‘I want to be apart of this, this is fun, this is what I want to do when I grow up.’”
In his first show dealing, Jung found himself in the back of the room beside 25 other vendors all selling their postcards. He was a part of the Southwest Michigan Postcard Club, having 50 members, which held a show twice a year. It wasn’t until a shift in management a year later that Jung found himself running the show up in the front entrance selling 25-cent postcards and making thousands. Jung isn’t the only one who enjoys his time looking through postcards.
“I got shows’ where people park themselves on my back tables with those boxes of 25 cent cards for two days.” Jung said. “They don’t get up to eat, they don’t get up to go to the bathroom. They just sit”
Now running 30 shows a year all over the midwest, Jung admits his favorite is the national show in York, Pennsylvania, which features about 65 dealers from all over the country, and even Europe, all selling their collections.
The value of these postcards depends not only on condition but on the sentimental connection or wanting of the customers. Even Jung over the years has found postcards of connections with family members from the past. Including one with a picture of the Bath School Disaster of 1927. In this picture it shows the unexploded dynamite that was retrieved from the part of the school that did not blow up. One of the students that survived the incident was the father of Jung’s wife.
“So this is where it gets kind of personal,” Jung said. “And I tell my boys ‘this is how come you’re here because this stuff didn’t go off.’”
Jung also has a postcard of his young mother and her four older step-sisters in the House of David which sold postcards with personalized pictures.
Another common customer Jung finds at his shows are genealogists looking to fill holes in history.
“There’s one gal that comes to the shows and she just sits there with her scanner and she is just scanning postcards for genealogy.” Jung said. “And that’s why these genealogy people go to these shows because you’ve got the name and you’ve got a message and you’ve got a postmark and a lot of times it will identify the place on the front of the card. So you’ve got that history right there.”
One of his most prized postcards happened by accident when Jung had bought a picture of the REO band created by the motor company founded in 1904 in Lansing, Michigan.
“So I turned it over to see the date and it’s 1914 but then I was reading the message and the guy’s name is Milton and it says ‘Dear Milton, when you see this bunch hanging around in Detroit Wednesday look me up.’” Jung read, “‘The REO band will be there for the GAR parade’ signed by Governor Woodbridge Ferris.”
The golden era of postcards spanned from 1907-1920s and mail was the main form of communication and the postcard was a short and fast way to contact someone.
They also recorded the acts of racism in the United States at the time, as well.
“There’s a museum up in Ferris State called the Jim Crow Museum and it’s just devoted to historic Black American images and a lot of them are awful racists.” Jung said. “There are postcards of lynchings, Klu Klux Klan lynchings and thats all part of history and people need to know that that happened. So that it doesn’t happen again.”
For those looking to get into the postcard business Jung shares lessons he learned along the way. “Lesson number one- there will always be postcards and lesson two- this is a wonderful hobby. It’s full of wonderful people. They are my friends and the customers are my friends.”
Jung has also gained knowledge running a small business. After decades spent in the postcards trade, he said he is looking to reduce some of his collection but there are not as many dealers as there used to be.
“Nowadays they are dying off and I’m buying their inventory. Myself and a couple of other dealers because there is nobody else. There’s no young people getting into it.” Jung said.
Jung’s own family members share interest in the business with one of his sons being a collector and the relationships of the business seem to be the most important to him..
“Having the respect of my peers that’s probably the most important thing is that everybody trusts me. All the members of the club say ‘Wally, when I die my wife’s going to talk to you’ cause they trust I’ll be fair with them.” Jung said.
And most importantly he found something he loved.
“I did get to finally do something that I really wanted to do when I grew up. How many people get a chance to do that?”
For more information go to Vintage Michigan Postcards page on Facebook.