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Sunday 17 November 2013

The final Bloomsbury Sunday

Next Sunday (24 November) London's main postcard market will be held in Bloomsbury for the last time.

Due to the rising cost of space in the city centre, the market is having to move to a venue in Clerkenwell.

If you're in London, see if you can make it on Sunday. It's at the Royal National hotel on Bedford Way, from 10.30am. If you do go, you'll discover two extraordinary cultures, both of which offer much for the soul.

First, the fair's a great way to explore the Postcard Age from before World War One, when the British alone sent close to a billion cards a year. Back then, postcards were more than just the stuff of holidays, carrying every sort of message from birthday greetings to poetry.

We might not be in the year 2900 yet, but I think the market already proves right a prediction made by journalist James Douglas in 1909:

“When archaelogists of the thirtieth century begin to excavate the ruins of London they will fasten upon the Picture Postcard as the best guide to the spirit of the Edwardian Era. 
They will collect and collate thousands of these pieces of pasteboard, and they will reconstruct our age from the strange hieroglyphs and pictures that time has spared. For the Picture Postcard is a candid revelation of our pursuits and pastimes, our customs and costumes, our morals and manners."

With hundreds of thousands of postcards in a single room, revelations are everywhere at the market.

Then there's the second culture: today's postcard community. Whenever I go to the fair, as well as buying more cards than I intended to, I invariably learn of incredible social histories from fellow collectors.

Last time,  I spoke at length to dealer Mavis McHugh from Southampton. After hearing my interest in curious postcard messages, Mavis told me about an amazing card she'd sold a few years ago. Sent in 1916, by a soldier billeted in Buxton, the card had 941 words on it. So striking was the minute handwriting, and so gripping the soldier's account of life in the Royal Engineers, Mavis said she couldn't help transcribing it.

Below is a scan of the first part of the message. Mavis needed six pieces of notepaper to copy it out in full.

eBay may well offer up objects of interest but it doesn't provide a chance to share stories like this.

By chance, before the switch to Clerkenwell was announced, I wrote an article for Picture Postcard Monthly on the market's history. It's quite a story. Hope you enjoy it, and that it encourages you to make it on Sunday if you can.

Thanks to Katja Medic for the photos above from a visit to the market earlier in the year. The black-and-white shots below are from the archive of Dave Smith, one of the 'Smith boys' who organise the fair.


The fourth Sunday of the month

For the last seven or eight years, I’ve been a regular at the Bloomsbury postcard market in London. To get there I take the Tube, typically, as the hotel where the market is held lies round the corner from Russell Square station. Organized for the fourth Sunday of the month, little ever seems to change there.

At the front desk, the entry process is always the same: empty your pockets for the admission fee, hand it over, and receive a programme and a postcard in return. 

Inside, you’re greeted by the sight of 50 or 60 dealers: most of whom are in the same position each month. 

And then there is the smell. 

With thousands and thousands of cards on sale - even if just for a moment - you can’t help being taken over by the intense smell of postcards en masse.

Bloomsbury market in full flow at the Royal National hotel

Bloomsbury market at the Ivanhoe hotel in the late 1970s

Such aspects of the market are shared by everyone who attends. They (and others) act to create a very communal space. Yet - just as postcard collecting allows collectors to find their own specific niches -  there are also hundreds of very personal rituals alongside the common moments of the fair.

On entering I always go on a lap of the room. I scout for a place to settle, for somewhere I might find a stash of cards I’ve not come across before.

Monday 4 November 2013

A bright and beautiful thing

Thank you to artist-wonder-friend Kate Wiggs for this postcard. Received, in an envelope, last week.

More on Mathilde ter Heijne's 'Woman To Go' can be found here.