THE PICTURE POSTCARD – ITS EARLY HISTORY

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While doing research on the Bullard postcard collection held by the Museum I came across the following wonderful piece on the impact of the Picture Postcard as a cultural and technological innovation. It was written by Charles King of ‘Daily Mail’ in 1903 and was so good I thought I should share it …

The picture postcard (writes Charles King, in the “Daily Mail”) threatens to become as indispensable to the Compleat Breakfast Table as Pilgrim Oaks. It is not a food and it won’t wash. But it is soon to become a terrible reality. It has already grown powerful enough to move St. Martin’s-le-Grand. The front of the postcard had borne from time immemorial the legend “The address only to be written on this side.” I can well imagine that there were wild scenes at the General Post Office before St. Martin’s-le-Grand gave up its little bit of front before the triumphant onward march of the pictorial postcard. The line down the middle of the pictorial postcard dividing the address on the one hand from the message on the other was drawn, I should hazard, with a deep official sigh.

ONE OF OUR FOREIGNERS.

The strenuous cult of the picture postcard was a criminal alien two years ago, but it has now been naturalised. Like a good many other aliens, it came from Germany. Unlike many other criminal aliens, it left all its criminal tendencies behind in its Fatherland. Now that it has taken out its papers and become true British born it has ceased to insult monarchs, besmirch nations, and pander to the concealed guiltiness of the village youth. This is well, for even in a short space of time this light-hearted cult has run on in serious England at such a pace that during the past 12 months something like 50,000,000 picture postcards have been sold in this country. Few of us are aware of the colossal possibilities of the pictorial card. It has already become a feature in England. It bids fair to become a craze. What does this mean? It means that we may take what attitude we like with regard to the Budget problems, London’s education; the water board, or the next “little war,’ but we cannot afford to ignore the possibilities of the picture postcard. Why, the German husband, going on a little journey, say from Berlin to Hamburg, behaved in a fearful and wonderful manner when the craze was at its height in the Fatherland. he dashed out at each station, swooped down upon the bookstall. brought a postcard bearing a picture of that particular place (however ugly the place), scribbled it word or two (German scribble!)to his wife at home or to some one else, dropped the breathless message into the station post-box, and flung himself into the train just in the nick of time. So firmly established did this craze become that there was a pad, also a pencil, at the railway bookstall, and a convenient corner from which the pictorial postcard could be loaded and fired.

A GERMAN ALLIANCE.
And so the pictorial postcards landed on the German breakfast tables (of Berlin, not of Kensington) by the million. I am told that the number of cards that passed through the German Post Office during 1890 was 602,000,000, and that in 1900 this colossal figure has been eclipsed by one far larger-730,000,000.The story of the naturalisation of this fascinating alien is the old, old story, and is bound up, not slightly, with the great speech oat the Prince of Wales waking up England. There was: first, the indifference of the British workman; second, the continued triumph of Germany; third, the arousing of the energy of the British workman; fourth, the downfall of Germany. So it has come about that millions of postcards are being turned out in England beautifully finished, correctly printed, pleasingly produced. “It was a hard struggle at first, “I was told by a picture postcard expert as I wandered among mountains of cards at the warehouses of Wrench, Limited, the other day. I must give the name because this is the only firm in England devoting itself to the picture postcard and to nothing else. Some of the well-known playing-card makers are doing “pictorials” as a branch. But Messrs. Wrench, Limited, make the picture postcard the matter of life or death. “When people went into Kensington Palace and other English Royal palaces and bought pictorial postcards there with pictures showing what they had just seen, they were naturally surprised to find in small type at the bottom of the English scene the words ‘Printed in Germany’ or ‘Printed in Saxony.’ They were the more surprised because the cards also bore the inscription ‘The Wrench Series No.” We got special privileges, took the photographs, designed the cards, and gave them to British workmen to do. The results were melancholy. The line in the front denoting the portion marked off for the address was often out of its place, a picture was askew on the card, an illustration was ‘reproduced’ with the best details left out or appearing blurred or smudged. So we had to go back to Germany. The German makers simply took our pictures and instructions, carried out the latter to perfection or nearly so, and delivered the finished article almost to the very day promised. “We kept in view, however, the fact that the real obstacle in the way of the Englishman was his indifference. We set to work to show him that the picture postcard was something worth taking pains over, and at last he took pains. The result was as you see.

AMONG THE PIGEON-HOLES.
He waved his hand, over a sort of War Office of pigeon-holes with three million picture postcards, duly sorted, arranged, and classified, resting in them. Here you travelled, pigeon-hole by pigeon-hole, round the British coasts. There you made the acquaintance of sweet little backwaters on the Thames. Then you wandered among grand old cathedrals Salisbury, Winchester, Durham, and the rest. Then you fell among golf champions you saw how this famous player stood and how another set to work. You sped in a minute to Ireland, and in two contiguous stacks you saw the old Irish low-backed car on the one hand and Sackville-street, Dublin, with its .up-to-date tramway-cars on the other, Rows of pretty children, knots of fluffy kittens, bevies of beautiful actresses (of whom a word soon), a collection of frowning castles, colleges enough to arouse memories in the midst of the flower of English youth – these and many other classes of subjects lurked in their own particular tiers of boxes. You pulled out “a chunk of Eastbourne.” or took “half a dozen Brightons.”You found picture postcards for every place you hail ever visited or dreamed of; picture postcards for all the emotions in all the wide gamut of human feeling. Do you long for the autograph of your favourite actress? Get a pictorial postcard bearing her beautiful portrait, send it, to her together with a postal order and she will gratify your wish. I don’t know the autograph prices of all our leading actresses, but I am informed that Miss Ellen Terry charges half-a-crown. Of course, the whole of the money thus derived goes to the theatrical charities.

SEMI PICTURE POSTCARDERS.

Tabloid correspondence was born when the picture postcard arose. There is no room for much writing on the new medium. The languorous, soft-scented three volume missive of grandmother’s day is an impossibility now, and the picture postcard is a merciful provision in the breach. Now that that weird production the London letter has spread far and wide to the colonies, our friends overseas neither want nor expect long letters from home. But the picture postcard with “All’s well” or “Willie’s married” jotted in the corner can he dropped into every departing mail with a fresh feature of English life every time. Tabloid correspondence has so taken hold of our busy age that there are young ladies, I am told, who are willing to compress all their “letter-writing” into the scribbling off of a few “pics” while finishing breakfast. For such there is only one logical conclusion. It is a stern and rigid society with an official button, such button to have at the back a large white dise bearing the simple, potent pledge, “No pics between meals.”

Geoff Barker, Curatorial

References
Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania, 15 April 1903, page 7

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One response to “THE PICTURE POSTCARD – ITS EARLY HISTORY

  • Interesting comments on The Wrench Co. & the Wrench Series ~ two postcards I have indicate “Printed in Saxony” after Wrench logo. These its believed were produced 1903-04 ~ there is one card without the “printed in Saxony” and its believed this one was produced in or about 1904-05. Its understood that Wrench went out of business in 1906. The cards are of Stratford-on Avon “Grammar School Interior” Series #6456: “Holy Trinity Church” series #6451: “Museum, Shakespeares House” Series #6459.
    It would seem that the Series started with “64–” All are black & white and unused Your comments are appreciated
    Don Hedger ~ Toronto Canada

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