A postcard collector's confession

My translator, N, sent me a link to my interview with local radio. I am now officially a postcard collector.




I suspect that not many collect postcards now. What indeed would one imagine a modern post card collector to do. Most of those younger than me have probably rarely sent a postcard in their lives; they send captioned Instagram and Facebook photos now - the new postcard, ironically not so distant from the early postcards which were often produced by local photographers for private use. What else can you do with postcards; our neighbours have covered their kitchen cabinet doors with a lifetime's worth of postcards. We did that once; rather backfired when so-called peel-on peel-off glue turned out to be stick-fast.


Whatever those a century ago thought about their colourful missives, the fact is that they have survived in their thousands. They were collectable even then; colour was a novelty and a luxury. Competition was fierce amongst printers and elaborate cards using glitter, silk, fold-outs, pressed flowers and a host of other decorations were the norm. The printer Rafael Tuck issued a prize challenge in 1900 for the largest collection of used Tuck brand postcards over eighteen months. 20,365 was the winning number. They ran the competition again; this time it was over 25,000. Edwardian postcard albums attest the extraordinary imagination required of a postcard publisher to keep his customers returning for more. And of course, most of these postcards had to be sent. At the price of a 1/2d stamp this was evidently very affordable and gave ordinary people the chance to keep in touch.


What did they say? Well, as with all postcards up to the present, the messages could be infinitely banal. "How's the weather? We're in the pink! Dear wifey!" on so many British cards. But look abroad and the situation is different. French and German cards I have seen cram on as many words as possible often in the finest of copperplate. And what they were used to saying was in a style far more expressive and description. That is where N, my translator, comes in. She has translated and written notes on most of my French Great War postcards.


French postcards are in a class of their own for imagination and imagery. Yes, there were a lot of nude images in the early days, but the artistic variety soon blossomed and made full use of special photographic effects, super-imposing images to convey longing, romance and humour. There are obvious obsessions with cabbages and fish. French babies appear miraulously from cabbages, not gooseberry bushes, and everyone seems to carry fish around on April 1st.


PS. If anyone can read the German cards I am very happy to post up their translations. They are beyond my German unfortunately.