Reading List

Sunday 19 October 2014

Past and Present

Arnside, on the Kent Estuary

"As part of every school holiday, my family would make a trip to a village on the Cumbrian coast called Arnside.

Positioned where Morecambe Bay begins to become the River Kent, the village has two daily tides: one of water which sweeps across the sands behind a tidal bore, and a second of daytrippers which by mid-morning has filled the thirty or so car parking places on the promenade.  

I can remember being part of that second tide and how our day would always follow a set routine: arrive early to grab a slot with a bay view, take a clingfilm-wrapped picnic up Arnside Knott and then, if the sun shone, eat an ice-cream on the stone jetty. 

If all went to plan, and it typically did, we would be on our way home in time to miss Preston rush hour."

This month, I've written an article in Picture Postcard Monthly. Ahead of my book coming out in a few weeks, it's an account of how I came across the first Edwardian postcard I bought for its message.

As I've mentioned here before, I found it ten years ago in 'Past and Present', a small bric-a-brac shop in Cumbria. To some extent, I suspect,  all the other cards I've bought since have been attempts to replay, to repeat, to remember the 'hit' of finding that initial card. 

Past and Present, on the Promenade at Arnside

Looking out from Past and Present

It's not just the possibility of finding other interesting cards that has proved so alluring, however. Understanding the nature of collecting has been equally compelling. 

I admit collecting has been a refuge at times, an escape from reality. But also - indeed simultaneously - it's been a welcome spur for re-imagining, for changing the way I see the Past and Present (and Future). 

The adventure continues to connect histories, and times. And most enjoyably, it necessitates reaching out to others.

" well as being drawn into life in Edwardian Britain, it’s been just as fascinating being drawn into postcard collecting itself, both then and now. 

Discovering the stories of collectors and dealers who’ve helped me along the way has been wonderful...  

like Pauline Harrison who recently found a picture of her grandfather on a postcard at her local fair;

Peter Cove and his tactical brilliance in tracking down a copy of every card by artist AR Quinton;

and Mavis McHugh who once sold a card which carried a 1,000-word message. "

Saturday 23 August 2014

Best market find ever?

Paul Gaywood and Pauline Harrison

Postcards tire me out. Whenever I think that's it, there's no more, I get them, time to move on, a story comes out of the blue that starts the fascination all over again.

In July, I was invited to speak at the Red Rose Postcard Club in Preston. Having grown up in Preston, I was keen to make the trip.

On the night, after reading out a few of my articles - Preston deltiologists are an obliging sort - I asked if anyone had found any interesting cards recently.

Pretty much in unison the club shouted back at me "Pauline has!"

And indeed Pauline Harrison - longtime member of the club and pictured above with chairman Paul - had come across a very special card.

She'd found it at one of the club's postcard fairs, one of the fairs at which she sits by the front desk taking people's entrance money.

A collector of postcards of King's Lynn in Norfolk, that day Pauline had not been in the mood for looking through cards. (Reader, it happens.) In fact, with no more people arriving, she was ready to go home.

Then, at the last minute she decided to look at the cards of a dealer she didn't recognise. The dealer wasn't a regular at the fair. And there, at the stall, much to her delight, she found a photo postcard of King's Lynn.

So what?

Well, her grandfather was on it.


Each year the club runs a competition where members show off cards from their collections.

Needless to say, this year Pauline won it, with a single card.

Brilliantly, here is her competition board....

P.S. A story for another day: for many years Pauline was a Tiller Girl at the London Palladium.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Front to back to front

Rubber Stamp - by Daniel Eatock

I'm a big fan of Daniel Eatock's postcard art. You might remember he was one of the artists featured in the show THE POSTCARD IS A PUBLIC WORK OF ART in London earlier in the year.

Above are both sides of Daniel's brilliant 'Rubber Stamp' postcard. The front is a picture of a rubber ink stamp, which prints stamps. On the back, in the top right-hand corner, is a stamp stamped by the stamp.

I wrote to Daniel to find out more about the design.

He replied as follows...

the object is the work

the postcard displays a picture of the object and an impression from the object

the postcard becomes an infinite loop as the impression on the reverse depicts a stamp but references a frank mark, the cancellation process for stamps

the title Rubber Stamp is funny

A stamp for stamps

Thanks Daniel!

More of Daniel's postcards can be found on his website at

Sunday 15 June 2014

A postcard of a cup of tea... and another of a cat being mended

Day 17 -  Dear Dye, Thanks for the tea...

Every couple of weeks, I have a cup of tea in Dye's Pie and Mash on Munster Road in Fulham. I've been going there for several years. No fuss. There's chat if you want it. Silence if you'd prefer.

Last year, you might remember Raam Thakrar challenged me to send a postcard a day from my mobile phone for 80 days. For one of the cards, I took the photo above of a cup of tea which Dye had served me. I then sent the postcard to Dye, not telling her it was from me.

Immediately after sending it, I felt a bit embarrassed. It was a stretch to imagine Dye and I had established a friendship, one that would be comfortable with the play involved in sending and receiving this daft card.

It took me months to bring up the card with her, to risk rejection of the offer of play. But then I noticed something that suggested Dye had enjoyed receiving the postcard: she'd pinned it to the board behind her counter. A year on, brilliantly, it's still there.

Another cup of tea

As to the other cards, for some I'll never know how they were received.

For sure, I know the location of many: my friends have theirs, my grandfather still has his, my parents theirs. They all really enjoyed the extra post.

And the one I sent to myself of a toppled post box on Regent Street is in front of me, on my desk.

Day 34 - To me

But what happened to those sent as protests - like that to the Mayor of London on the redevelopment of London's South Bank? In an office somewhere? In landfill?

Day 26 - Dear Mayor... Less shopping, more skating

And did my joke on Day 37 (below) go down well with my cat-loving friends? I've still not got round to asking.

Day 37 : Just in case you ever need Mr Rowntree fixing,
I came across this place today...

Finally, what of those I offered to strangers to create and send? 

Did George (banana, below right) ever explain to his mum why he was at Peckham Rye railway station dressed as a banana? (Day 7) I really hope not.

Day 7: Dear Mum...from George

Thanks again to Raam for giving me the postcard credits, and for devising the challenge in the first place.

A year on, the cards have become my diary of sorts from the summer of 2013. Or at least the images have. The majority of the cards, of course, are miles away...

(If you're interested, you can see the rest of the cards here. And in the interests of transparency, Raam gave me 100 credits to use Touchnote's postcard service for free last summer. Views above, however, are my very own. Other postcard apps are available.) 

Thursday 15 May 2014

Lives of the First World War

This week the Imperial War Museum in the UK launched its Lives of the First World War project - an online archive through which it hopes "people will document the stories of over 8 million men and women who served in uniform and worked on the home front".

Seeing news coverage of the launch reminded me of Dave Smith's First World War postcards. 

Below is the 'On the March' card we discuss in the video.

No 34. On the March.

The photo was enough: no written message on back of card to Miss W. Hampden.

Thursday 17 April 2014

The Solar Stamp

10c stamp takes the place of the sun

I've very few postcards on show at home. The vast majority are filed away in albums and shoeboxes. Deliberately, they lie out of the reach of sunlight, and beyond the chance of accidents. 

There is the odd exception, however.

I keep this card - sent in 1908 from the French port of La Rochelle - in a clear perspex block on the top shelf of a bookcase.

Like many postcard collectors, I’ve a soft spot for cards published by Léon & Lévy (or "LL"). Their format is reliably appealing: a standard framing of image and title, a shadowy photograph, and the familiar LL font.

But here, what makes the postcard is how the sender has enhanced the publisher’s efforts.

During the Golden Age of postcards before World War One, it was forbidden in Britain to put a stamp on the front of a card. In France, it was common practice. 

Above, the stamp completes the picture. On its side, an inch above the horizon, it takes the place of the sun. 

Saturday 8 March 2014

Interpreter of postcards

Dr Annebella Pollen... and some postcards

“The small talk of postcards may be likened to the sighs and gasps of pillow talk…”

A couple of years back, I came across a journal article about Brighton Museum's postcard collection. Dr. Annebella Pollen, Lecturer in History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, had used the museum’s 10,000 cards to establish whether people in Edwardian Brighton used the open form of the postcard to conduct their love lives.

Or, as Annebella put it when we met, she was asked by the museum to locate some "sauce”.

Part of the museum’s 'Rules of Attraction' project, Annebella was one of six “Researcher-Interpreters” tasked with finding stories of courtship hidden in objects at the museum.

As a photography expert, she was initially drawn to the holdings of old photos: snapshots taken of Brighton since the mid-nineteenth century.

On discovering the postcards, Annebella changed her mind. Among the index files and shoeboxes of cards in the museum’s stores, she found all the “sauce” she could have wished for...

"Thinking of you at Brighton" - one of the Brighton Museum's postcards

"[Beatie] breathlessly refers to meetings with several different men in Brighton, including photographer Fred – “the sweet creature” – whom she confesses that she has not seen recently “as, you see, I have other fishes to fry”...”

 “Am sending you [a] photo of the boy I told you about," wrote Lou to Old Ede on the back of a photographic card showing a group of men of whom one is marked with a cross. "What do you think of him?” she asks.

On another the message reads,“isha amena is ertba an eha isha wfullya icena” [Annebella suggests his name was "bert", and he was "awfully nice"]

Annebella recognises it's easy to read innuendo into the most innocent of messages. But such was the volume of obviously romantic messages, she was able to show the postcard was a medium through which many people in Edwardian Brighton conducted their love lives.

When we met I was keen to understand more about the moment Annebella chose the postcards over the photographs: how she came to see the potential of the cards.

The postcards had been stored as reproductions of images, rather than pieces of correspondence. They were “individually wrapped in plastic bags with only one transparent side, evidencing the message side to be the historically inferior face.”

Annebella told me how she's always been interested in the act of writing. Up until her mid-twenties she kept a daily diary, and this has made her on the look out for different writing cultures.

More importantly, she revealed something else that changed the way I now think about her research: Annebella is a collector of postcards herself.

For years she has “hoarded” examples of Flamenco-style cards associated with Spanish tourist resorts. Typically, they come decorated with folds of colourful, spirited material; dancers’ dresses swish out from the cards' fronts.

Some cards from Annebella's collection

Her collection has reached such proportions that she even exhibited it as part of a show by Brighton collectors in July 2011. (Yes, brilliantly, that is her in the photo above, having seemingly stepped out from one of her cards.)

With this, her role as “Researcher-Interpreter” somehow shifts. On my first reading of her paper, I only clocked the “Researcher” half of the tag given to her by the museum. After meeting her, it seems just as crucial to her research were her instincts as “Interpreter”.

Not for the analysis of the cards. This is as patient and thorough as you would expect a piece of academic research to be. Rather, it seems her experience of collecting allowed her to make the most of access to the museum’s collections.

She was alert to where the treasure might lie.

As Walter Benjamin noted, collectors are at their core “interpreters of fate”. They are people who over time develop skills to speculate about objects’ pasts, to appreciate their worth. And in concluding her paper Annebella couldn't resist showing her appreciation for postcards:

“[They] may be small, cheap, and abundant but as inscribed carriers of emotional meaning [postcards] have the potential to become powerful and tangible material to be treasured, pressed to the lips, or placed under a pillow.”

For more on Annebella’s work, visit her profile on the University of Brighton's website.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

The Postcard is a Public Work of Art

Following on from January's blog, here's a quick interview I did with curator Jeremy Cooper on his exhibition 'The Postcard is a Public Work of Art', and in particular the work of artist Molly Rooke.

The exhibition runs until 1 March 2014 at Bökship on Cambridge Heath Road in London.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Enjoying the Gap

Photo by Richard McKeever

I don't just mind the gap, I love the gap between advertising campaigns on the Tube.

On a platform that's about to be refitted, that's been cleared of last month's hashtags, I really enjoy those moments of unsolicited, visual calm.

There may be just 3 or 4 minutes before the next train arrives. Before its urgent insurance offers. Its dating sites. Its charity appeals.

Yet in the meantime there is respite, respite from London's photographic excess.

Last year, Grayson Perry suggested digital photography has meant photos are now "pouring into the world like sewage." I agree. And since they are underground, it doesn't feel much of a stretch to imagine how Tube lines, so typically clogged up with adverts, are already part of some kind of photo-sewer system.

By contrast, standing on a photo-free platform (admittedly outside of rush hour), you get a glimpse of a possible alternative. With the extra good fortune of poor-to-no WiFi, there's a sense of the peace available to cities brave enough to limit photographic pollution.

Eleanor Vonne Brown, of X Marks the Bökship, recently sent me some images of the postcards to go on show at Jeremy Cooper's upcoming exhibition of postcard art.

Unlike the images thrown at us on our transport systems, these were a delight to receive.

My favourite was this postcard by Molly Rooke, titled 'Realistic Expectation', and it was this card that prompted thoughts of ad-free Tube platforms.

Molly Rooke, Realistic Expectation, 2013

The target of the card's joke seems to be us all: how spoilt we are, able to click and click until we have the perfect shot. This easy supply of images must be one of the main causes of the excess of photography we now have to endure, and of the related appreciation for places where we can escape.

The card also reminded me of this postcard from my collection. Posted in 1906, the card's front speaks directly to Rooke's artwork: the 'error' being a slight blurring of the girl's left hand.

The message explains more, and is reflective of a time of perhaps enviable photographic scarcity:

"Dear R

You asked me to send you an Erith postcard will this one do. Baby moved a book which she held but we thought that her face was pretty fair With love hoping you are well From L& J."

More of the postcards from the show - The Postcard is a Public Work of Art - are below. The exhibition includes work by 60 artists based in Britain, and is curated and catalogued by Jeremy Cooper, author of the excellent Artists' Postcards. Thanks again to Eleanor for the images.

The exhibition opens on 23 January at  X Marks the Bökship, 210 Cambridge Heath Road, London. For more details, here's a link to the show's website.

Jonathan Monk, Cooling Towers, 2013

Peter Kennard and Cat Phillips, Study of Head XI, 2013

Daniel Eatock, Affix Stamp Here, 2013

Ruth Claxton, Postcard (St Cecilia), 2013

Simon Cutts, A Postcard Performance, 2013
Hansjörg Mayer, X for Dieter, 2013