Reading List

Thursday 29 September 2011

Lost in admiration

At a fair, most collectors will come and go from a dealer in a matter of minutes. “Any new churches today, Brian?” “Don’t think so, but you’re welcome to have a look."

They know what they want. And a dealer's cards will be ordered by popular collecting categories to make searching easy. It might be a certain place or artist that a collector is after, or pictures of a famous Edwardian actor or politician.

I'll typically stay hunched over one or two stalls the entire time, until my eyes tire.

A good message could be in any box.

While staying in one position can be exhausting, the advantage is you get to eavesdrop on passing trade...

Dealer 1 (holding his friend’s card): I’ve never seen such a good gypsy card. I mean the expressions on their faces…

Dealer 2: I found another one as well which was pretty amazing. And that was £80. How many times have I ever had great photos of gypsies like that in the last 40 years?

Dealer 1: Who does get them?

Dealer 2: Jeremy, not very often.

Dealer 1: Who does get them? They’re just not there. No, no.

Dealer 2: I won’t see another card like that for 20 years. And I won’t be around in another 20 years. I only got them because I would pay whatever people ask for them which means you’re not making money. That’s the problem….

Dealer 1: A card like that will always appreciate in value…. I am lost in admiration for that one.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Before the 'back' was divided

I hope people enjoyed the documentary last week.

A few people have asked since seeing the programme what postcards looked like before the back was 'divided'.

You'll remember the modern card only arrived in 1902 after a German publisher (one F. Hartman) persuaded the Post Office to let him put a picture on the 'front' and then split the other side between message and address.

Well, here's an official card sent in 1875. That's 5 years after the postcard was introduced in the UK. It's much smaller than later cards and is printed in mauve. Only the address could be written on the side shown above, with the message restricted to the other.

You'll also see the stamp comes with the card. No need to buy one.

These cards were all made by De La Rue, the money printers. And incredibly, they were the only cards that could take advantage of the half penny rate for postcards.

De La Rue's monopoly was finally relaxed in 1894 after a campaign by the MP Henniker Heaton. After this, privately-published cards could be sent at the postcard rate. Go Henniker!

When something becomes so familiar, like the form of the postcard, it's easy to forget the people behind it. Yet how the card looks today was not inevitable. It needed people to change things. And in a curious way, the anonymity of Hartman and Heaton today is testament  to the totality of their triumphs.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

The Picture Postcard World of Nigel Walmsley

Edwardian postcards make it onto the small screen on Thursday with The Picture Postcard World of Nigel Walmsley.

Jake Hayes and the rest of the BBC4 team did a great job unpacking their history. Messrs Tuck, Hartmann, Gladstone and all the other postcard heroes would be very proud. And I really enjoyed getting the chance to tell the stories of Dorothy and Miss Emerson.

As well as helping out on the documentary, I've been busy finishing my dissertation on the mysteries of old cards. Thanks for everyone's support. Now that it's handed in (phew!) I'll be writing up bits on Postcardese. Really looking forward to hearing what people think.

As I wrote it I realised the importance of this card from Meg to M. That word on the second line, "tonight", has had an impact on how I see all pre-WW1 cards.

Franked in Putney at 10.45am, Meg was so sure of the Edwardian postal service she was able to plan a trip to the theatre that very evening:

"H and I are going to see the "Girl on the Stage" tonight, would you care to join us..."

With one word the card reveals how postcards were not like they are now. As the documentary explains, rather than being a sign of not caring about the timeliness of a message, they could be sent and received within hours.

And because of this, they become such curious objects. On the one hand foreign, signifying a way of life that has disappeared. But on the other, eerily prescient of our instant means of communication today.

Anyway, I really hope you enjoy the programme. It will be on BBC iPlayer for a few weeks if you miss it on Thursday.

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