When Marilyn Sheffield was born, her father was already 52 years old.
She spent her childhood traveling with an older, retired father. On family trips, he always remembered to buy and send postcards, a novelty that stuck with Sheffield.
“I watched that as I grew up and did the same thing; my children grew up and picked it up as well,” Sheffield said. “It’s really a journal of travel and time.”
Eventually it became more about the historical aspect of the postcards rather than the postcards themselves.
Her most recent fascination? Vintage Gulfport.
The Gulfport Collection
Like so many Gulfportians, Sheffield stumbled upon Gulfport more than five years ago and never left.
She set her sights on finding Gulfport postcards, something that can prove difficult. Most of the postcards of the past were sent from larger cities, like Tampa and St. Petersburg, Sheffield said.
She finds her hyperlocal cards, some dating back to the ‘50s, on eBay or in local antique shops.
In one, there’s a Tiki-style cabana shelter on Boca Ciega Bay that no longer exists. Another shows the now-named William’s Pier – then made of wood.
“It’s just so much fun seeing what was and what is now,” Sheffield said.
She prefers the vintage ones, though her collection has a few recent additions that advertise the Tuesday Fresh Market and the Gecko Ball – “Geckos of the Round Table” – from 2019.
“Postcards are almost extinct,” Sheffield said. “Some shops carry them, but not like they used to.”
The Gulfport History Museum holds a collection of about 40-50 antique postcards.
Joey Vars, the curator of exhibits for the museum, has a large personal collection of postcards, but none from Gulfport proper.
They’re elusive treasures, he says: Gulfport didn’t see as many tourists as, say, St. Pete, but the few postcards created were an attempt to bring in tourists visiting sunny Pinellas.
“A lot of that stems from the history of the city … Gulfport and the earlier Veterans City succumbed to St. Petersburg,” Vars said. “There wasn’t a lot of promotion for Gulfport. But Gulfport wanted a piece of that pie.”
Today, he says, they exist mainly as antiques.
“Largely because that medium of communication has somewhat fallen to the wayside in the digital era,” Vars said. “People stick with digital souvenirs. I personally think the visuals on modern postcards aren’t as attractive as the vintage postcards.”
Vars said he’d love to talk to Sheffield about a vintage Gulfport postcard exhibit.
Remembering Virginia Beach
Gulfport isn’t Sheffield’s first love.
Now a mother of three postcard collectors herself, Sheffield boasts an impressive collection of postcards from her previous home in Virginia Beach.
The Virginia Beach Public Library digitized many of her found items, along with photographs, documents, and newspaper clippings.
Her friends still mail her Virginia Beach postcards they’ve found.
She never sends them. They’re part of the Sheffield family legacy now.
“All my kids ever say is they want me to leave them is the postcard collection,” she said.