Collecting Old Postcards
A History by Andrew Maxam
As we find ourselves in the year 2012, with all the wonderful advances in technology, it's hard to believe that the good old picture postcard is still with us, and still going strong!
Nowadays, our use of the postcard is probably confined to a brief "Weather is fine - wish you were here!" when at the seaside on our summer holidays. But this was not always the case. Nearly one hundred years ago, the humble picture postcard was a major form of communication, used by everyone from Royalty down to peasants, none of whom probably had any idea that their cards would be so avidly collected today!
The Early Years of Postcards
The first plain postcards were produced in Austria in 1869. One year later, Britain followed, and in the mid 1870s the first picture postcards began to appear all over the world. Britain's first picture postcard is thought to be one of Scarborough, dated 15 September 1894. Until 1902, the Post Office decreed that all cards had to carry the message on the front, and the address only on the back, thus restricting the design of the card to that of a small picture or "vignette", with the rest of the card free for a message. These cards, which were usually smaller in size, were known as “undivided backs".
Then, from 1902, Britain became the first country to divide the postcard back, thus permitting both the message and address on this side leaving the front of the card free for a picture. This move saw the adoption of a universal standard size of 5⅟2 by 3⅟2 inches, and heralded the real beginning of picture postcards as a major collecting past-time. Other countries swiftly followed, and this led to an explosion in picture postcard production.
The Golden Age of Postcards (1902-1914)
This period has been given the title the "golden age" for it was in those years that the hobby reached a height of popularity that it has never exceeded. In those days, everyone sent postcards! Very few people had telephones, and postcards presented a cheap and efficient form of communication. Mail was frequently delivered the same day, every day and even on Christmas Day! A message often seen on the back of postcards is: "Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at 12 o’ Clock." The post was trusted to arrive in time. Could you say the same 100 years on?
As for the pictures that appeared on postcards, well what an incredible variety! Almost any subject under the sun could be found on picture postcards as publishers competed with each other to produce the most attractive designs. Also photographers, both national and local, went round the streets recording all the towns, villages and cities for posterity. We owe much of our knowledge of how Edwardian Britain was like due to those enterprising men and women. As a result of all this activity, postcard collecting became a national past-time, and In 1905 a "craze" where almost everyone, young or old, had their own albums into which went cards showing Father Christmas and fire engines, pigs, pretty ladies and political figures, the landscape artist A R Quinton or our own village of Quinton (then a small village in Worcestershire until its incorporation into Birmingham in 1909). The postcard collecting hobby was not confined to Britain, for now just about every country in the world was producing postcards, resulting in countless millions being issued world-wide throughout this period.
Typical of the fine photographic views used in this period, is this view of High Street, Harborne, postally used in 1910.
The grocers Barrow & Sons is now the site of Safeway
World War One – Postcards from the Front
For reasons of price and quality, the majority of British postcards had been printed in Germany. This quickly came to an end in 1914. Many great Military and Patriotic designs were published, but maybe a national mood was destroyed.
Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Most evocative of this period were the beautiful silk embroidered postcards sent from the soldiers in France to their loved ones back home.
The above is a grayscale image of a postcard that belongs to your chairman. Unfortunately it doesn’t create it’s true glory because the card is beautifully embroidered with a blue and pink flower in the centre, vivid green leaves and side flowers of violet with the inscription “To My Dear Mother” in blue. The postcard is lace on a card back and the actual card although almost 100 years old is still in immaculate condition. (If you would like to see Bernard’s collection please ask he will no doubt bring them to a meeting).
It was sent from Alf Taylor to his Mum and Dad on 29/10/1917. The postcard reads:-
“Dear Ma and Pa-Just a little note hoping you are in the best of health as it leaves me quite well and hope that you are having good weather, it’s much better here now and hope it will soon be over and we are all at home again and I hope Annie and baby are quite well. I had letter from Nell today and I was beginning to think I was a lonely soldier but I am glad to hear that everybody is alright, hoping you will soon hear from Earnest and he will be home again for good. With best love to all, Your son Alf xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Between the War Years (1918-1939)
Postcards were still being produced of course, but in smaller quantities. The saucy seaside comic cards were apparent and local views were still being produced, while other firms reflected the Art Deco craze, but effectively, the "Golden Age" had passed.
The sombre mood at the end of the war the doubling of the inland postage rate to 1d for postcards and, of course, increased use of the telephone were all contributory factors to the postcard's decline.
World War Two – A Brief Respite
The Second World War saw a minor postcard revival with a number of interesting military and aviation series being produced, as well as other cards dealing with the issues of the day. But the hobby was now to lie relatively dormant until the late 1950s
The Postcard Revival
In the 1960s, postcard albums could be bought for a few pence from antique shops and other collector's shops. In the 1970s, postcard fairs were set up; a catalogue was compiled of their classification and values, and the first specialised postcard auction house appeared. More and more dealers and collectors were getting involved in the hobby, which then continued to grow rapidly throughout the 1980s and 90s.
However, views of Quinton are relatively rare. This is because in the early 20th century, Quinton was a tiny village with little of note for the photographers to record. There were few side streets or a highly developed high street such as Harborne or Halesowen.
You can, therefore imagine my joy when I do find a Quinton card, especially if I don’t already have that particular view. Last year I found approximately half a dozen such cards, including the Kings Shop front card on the next page.
It is not only the picture side of the card that can be interesting. If the card has been written upon and /or sent through the post, this can give us a unique snapshot about life at that time. I shall give you some examples from my Quinton collection:
Messages on Old Quinton Postcards
On a view of a dormitory of Bourne College, Quinton, dated 29 November 1928, sent to Mrs. Evans of Knighton, Radnorshire:-
"Dear Mam and Dad. ...I had your letter this morning, I don’t want to go to York school, try and get me to tops (?) school. I am writing this because I did not tell you where to find my autograph. ..It is in the study in the new desk in the same drawer as my products, please send it as soon as possjble please... I have done alright so far in exams but now it is coming to my new subjects, I am not doing so well in exams...."
We do not know who the sender is or whether he or she went
to York, but you can't help feeling intrigued, can you? Also that this card was sent just a few weeks before Bourne College closed in December 1928, so presumably the sender was anxious to find another school. Your imagination can easily begin to wander.
Printed on the back of an exterior view of Bourne College, dated July 17, 1909 and sent to Rev G Clement in Birkdale, Southport: -
"Dear Sir, I have much pleasure in sending you a picture postcard of our College at Quinton. As I hope to attend the later Sessions of the Conference, I shall be pleased to give you any information concerning our School Work. With kind regards... T. J. Stewart Hooson" Handwritten at the top of the card is "How would Grace and Bertha like to go to this school. It is one of our (primitive) Methodist schools''
As you all will know, TJ. Stewart Hooson was the headmaster at Bourne College, and this was used as an advertising card for the school.
On the reverse of a now famous postcard of Quinton Rectory after the snowstorm of Winter 1914, sent to Miss M. J. Eadie of Moseley, dated 9 August 1916: -
"Many thanks for letter. I am quite alright again. Took full duty last Sunday and have been out of quarantine over a week. It was unpatriotic, but otherwise nothing very terrible. I lived out in the garden after the first 4 or 5 days... I was only off duty for one Sunday so it was not a long business... Yours, WAR"
When I first found this card I wondered who WAR was. Then I put two and two together and looked up the incumbent of Quinton Vicarage at that time - Rev. W. A. Rowlands, Rector from 1912-23.(His photo can be found on the next page) I wonder what was wrong with him.
W A Rowlands (1912-1923)
On a card of the Quinton Link Road Entrance sent to Mrs. H. H. Turner of Norwich, dated 13 September 1967: -
"Dear Nanna... I am sending this to show what it is like outside our house now. The cross is our house... love Richard"
The sender was pointing out how the view outside his house on Hagley Road West had changed since the building of the entrance to the Quinton Expressway. I don’t know how pleased the locals would have been about the revised view they would now be treated to!
Finally from this selection, one I have used before and that Tony Rosser used in his book, regarding Quinton weather. From a card dated July 11, 1908 sent to Mrs. Weiss of Harborne Park Road, Harborne: -
“Has not been very pleasant today. Too much wind. Have spent time in walking around....”
Does this tell us something about a summer’s day in Quinton?
I hope you have enjoyed this selection of messages on Quinton postcards. It goes to show that when you collect old postcards, you get “two bites of the cherry” – the picture side as well as the message side. Both can be of interest and you never know what’s going to turn up next. There is no definitive listing or catalogue of postcards of Quinton (or any other place) so every weekend when I’m out and about at fairs, there’s always a chance that I may find something of interest. I never get fed up of looking because the thought of what could be out there keeps me going even it means looking through countless views of Shakespeare’s house or the Malvern Hills!
An article from Issue 4 of the Oracle probably not read by many of the current membership and well worth re- printing
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