Postcard mania

Monday 7 June 2010, 12:07

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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No matter what aspect of Welsh history interests you there is a postcard that relates to it. Topographical cards showing places like Llandrindod Wells, Aberystwyth or Cardiff in the early years of the 20th century; cards about poets and musicians such as Hedd Wyn and Joseph Parry; cards showing great sporting events like Wales playing the All Blacks; they are all out there, waiting to be collected, waiting to provide a fascinating glimpse of the past.

The "Golden Age of Postcards" was between 1900 and 1914 when thousands - probably millions of the things - were bought and posted by virtually everybody in the country.

For those 14 years there was something of a "postcard mania" when everyone collected cards of some description and kept them in albums or boxes.

What that has meant is that those cards are now readily available for today's historians to study and even buy. They tell us what it was like in Llandudno on August Bank Holiday. They give us a vivid and compelling picture of life in the coalmines, toiling in the steel works or working night and day on the railways.

They show us the humour of the ordinary, average Welsh man or woman. They show us our forefathers and are an invaluable aid to the social history of our country.

And, of course, they tell us what life was really like in those days before television and radio, before the ipod and the mobile phone.

"One of the main reasons for postcards coming into fashion in the 'Golden Age'," says Peter Godding in an article in 'Cardtalk', the magazine of the South Wales Postcard Club, "was the efficiency of the postal service.

The collections were regular and sorting of the mail continued at all times. Cards bearing Christmas Day postings are not uncommon and there were several deliveries per day.

Mail addressed locally would often be delivered within a few hours."

Over the last 30 or 40 years postcard collecting has become a hobby to rival stamp collecting.

Postcard Fairs are regularly held, all over the country, offering enthusiasts the chance to buy cards about their chosen areas. Most decent museums and even many libraries now hold collections. But there is nothing to quite rival assembling your own collection.

Whether your interest is in Welsh piers, Norman castles or village churches, you can put together a fascinating archive - how much you choose to spend is up to you. Some cards cost a phenomenal amount, "Titanic" related cards regularly fetching hundreds of pounds. But your local church or town hall is hardly likely to be in that league.

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    Comment number 1.

    Yes, it was certainly true, both in the 'Golden Age' and later, that deliveries were so much speedier than now. My mother went to college in London in 1930, from Haverfordwest, and would always tell us of how a letter posted to her by her father at breakfast time in Pembrokeshire, would reach her in London on the tea time delivery (the day's third).

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    ... and of course, many old postcards still carry their original (often very cryptic) messages. You might see one addressed to someone in Pontyclun, for example, just saying something like "Till Friday then, Geraldine". Of little value to the serious historian maybe, but many a creative writing class has had a field day in inventing the story behind such mysterious writings.

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    Comment number 3.

    It would appear Phil, that the same was happening with postcards on the other side of the Atlantic in the early 1900s as well. I've been in touch with our 'webmaster' who, as you know is from New England. She said this:

    "Americans were into these postcards big time... once a photo was taken, they just had them printed up and sent to everyone. I think my mother still had about 20 of her dad who was a Boston firefighter in 1917 floating around in the 1980s. It's a fascinating one because a puny little fire appliance had just put out a fire in a wood framed house and yet all looks tidy including grampa Marcus...the photographer even got the horses to look at the camera!

    I have one of some of my dad's family and friends on a beach in about 1913 all dressed up down to their ankles are the women! The postcard was sent to my dad's mum asking if the next weekend or something like that.... when she came down to the beach cottage -- would she please bring her board game. Even though they all knew each other, granny was addressed as “Dear Mrs. Wright.” Gosh, in the days when they didn't have phones...this was the next best thing I guess after the plain postcards. Who says early 20th centry folks didn't embrace technology!"

    So I imagine there must be an 'old postcard industry' in the US as we have here!


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