Let's Take a Look: 3 Vintage Postcards & What They Tell us!
Do you love flipping through vintage postcards at antique stores? Are you someone who looks forward to traveling because it means you'll get to browse the postcard racks outside of souvenir shops, hand picking favorites for pals around the world? Then you're in the "write" place!
Today's blog post is an adapted script from a talk I delivered August 26th, 2021 for the wonderful group called "Letters Connect". Letters Connect is a monthly letter writing group which benefits the charity "From Me to You", which donates letters to folks experiencing cancer. Thanks to Alison and Lucy from Letters Connect for inviting me to come along and talk vintage postcards from the Flea Market Love Letters archive for their August Seaside workshop.
To help with a bit of structure, before we look at three vintage postcards from 1910, 1925, and 1977 we’re going to look at three questions to help frame how we think about the Postcard in the past, the present, and the future.
What is a Postcard?
The dictionary defines a Postcard as a “a card for sending a message by post without an envelope, typically having a photograph or other illustration on one side.” Postcards are divided on the back divided into two sections, one for the message, the other for the address. British cards were first divided in 1902 and American cards in 1907. Originally the message would have been written on one side and the address the other but over time the image gained popularity and the message less so!
When did Postcards become popular?
Postcards came into popularity in the 1840s gaining the nickname “the poor man’s telephone” and held that popularity for decades, until a decline which began after World War II and sadly continues today. The 1910s are considered the "Golden Age" of Postcards. In the 20th Century "Photochrom" was introduced meaning that color could be added cheaply and there was no turning back. The highly stylized, colored and now glossy photographic Postcards of the 21st Century are recognizable as cousins to the 19th Century. Further on in this blog, we’ll see an example of three Postcards that fit nicely into these definitions.
Why don’t people send Postcards any more?
We hear all the time that the letter is waning and in decline. Friends from Letters Connect would heartily disagree, I hope! So I did a little cheeky poll on Social Media, asking:
"Why do you think people send less Postcards? Was it “Email” “Effort” or “Other”?"
Out of almost 100 participants on Twitter, 48% of folks voted for “Effort” citing not knowing where to buy international stamps, not knowing where a postoffice was away from home, etc. 27% voted “Email” elaborating that Social Media rather has taken the place of the Postcard. And 25% replied “Other” supplied answers like: cost, availability, speed of delivery, environmental reasons.
So while that left me pondering the future of the Postcard, it also helped me contextualize these three fabulous vintage cards which I pulled from the archive to give us a taste of the rich history of what it seems many consider the "early" Social Media Post!
"Waltham Abbey -- Harold's Bridge"
This photochrom postcard from 1910 -- 111 years old! -- comes from what historians say is the ‘Golden Age’ of the postcard. A photochrom postcard was one which laid inks to color over a black and white image. The subject, "Harold's Bridge" in the U.K. is supposedly the reputedly oldest bridge in Europe built in 1060!
Now on to the reverse. Stamp fans will note the green Halfpenny King Edward VII Stamp. And the Postmark which tells us all almost as much as the written card, allowing us to tell the date, location, and dispatch time. It reads:
“I have been up at Charlie’s since last Saturday + will probably stay till term begins. I may conclude the stay two or three days in London + will let you know what day I will be back. [Signed]”
Great Yarmouth is a resort town on the East Coast of England, known for its relaxing beaches and seaside adventures. This seaside postcard from 1925 is a perfect example of what a staple the Postcard was in the 20th Century souvenir industry.
The more saucy, or "risque" 1930s innuendo laden postcards that followed this more mild one poked a bit at modesty and turned up the humor. One historian reckons that in the 1930s at i’s most popular there were about 16 million “saucy” seaside postcards circulating. The reverse of this postcard reads:
“Dear Dollie in haste. Pen Denni Pershore Rd. 91 Hampton. Tomorrow Tuesday only with love Mrs Falks”
This message is perfect example of what philatelists call “postcardese” or a brief communique. What might today be a text! And for stamp fans, we have the One Penny King George V stamp. There can sometimes be a significance in how a stamp is placed -- here it's upside down -- but also it can sometimes just mean our sender was rushing to the postbox!
This is a photograph souvenir postcard of Somerset in the U.K. is perhaps the most recognizable as a 21st Century postcard. There is a debate which rages today whether a postcard subject (written) has to match the subject (photograph/image). And this writer, "Riz" (as I've interpreted the signature) certainly uses this souvenir as a perhaps an early Social Media post?
"Riz" really packs a lot in to her little space here! Stamp fans will note the brilliant, metallic (1977) Silver Jubilee Stamp for the Queen. It reads:
“Dear Ruth, Rosey + Dorothy. Hope you enjoyed Ireland. We have had super 2 weeks in car with friends to Scotland + Wales. You must go to Scotland + the gardens at Muerew. Fantastic. Lakes District so pretty. Loved Windsor Sharo (SP) houses not as good Aust’tho-ponies (SP) are better than ours. At present at Bath, big 3 days stay _ then to Devon in Cornwall. Missing my little dogs but not Ernesto! We feel for anyone we see in a tour bus. He was unreal. Did I write a ‘Pooey’ letter to Fourwayrs. Love Riz & Douglas”
And a note that when I sent these cards to Letters Connect co-founder Alison and begged for any insight she had, she shared that Wells (centre of the card) has the oldest wholly residential street in Europe so she suggested and I wondered too: Oldest place in Europe post was delivered? A question for another day!
Get in Touch
If you've enjoyed today's "post" about Postcards, I'd love to hear from you. Do you have a favorite vintage Postcard? Tell me about it! I'd love to hear from you via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org