For the postcard – the future is yet to be written.
During this chaotic time of pandemic and global uncertainty, I haven’t been abroad. At times I have barely been out of the house. My urge to travel has been curbed and discouraged and my only hope of writing about any experience is to delve into the distant past. In order to collate my memories and create some kind of travel inspired blog pieces, I have unearthed my collection of postcards. Some are from friends and family, some from my younger self to relatives, and now these faded gems are back in my possession. Before I share these ‘postcards from the fledged’ I wanted to look into the history of these keepsakes and share how they have reflected our lives, lifestyles and social situations.
For over 150 years people have been mailing these little cards. The original postcard cost ha’penny, half the price of a standard penny letter. Due to numerous collections and daily distribution, they became a quick, cheap and easy form of communication available to anyone who could write a message on the back and a clear address on the front. Original designs were plain with no pictures, based on Hungarian cards where the idea surfaced in 1868.
In 1871, around 75 million were sent around Britain, this popularity was fuelled by a craze for collections and by 1910 over 800 million were sent each year. By that time the design had evolved to include illustrations on one side and a divided back for the address on the right and a message on the left.
Sweethearts would send hand drawn dedications and even place the stamp at a certain angle to convey secret messages of devotion.
During WWI soldiers were encouraged to write home and granted free postage. This speedy message reassured friends and family of their safety, and cards could be sent and received within two days. Even prisoners of war were granted the freedom to communicate home via a simple postcard.
Most people in Britain will associate postcards with seaside holidays, views of bays and beaches and even the ‘saucy’ cards full of innuendo and sass. They can now be collected at antique fairs and offer a snapshot of history, a souvenir from a bygone era.
In 1968 Royal Mail removed their half price stamp allowance for postcards, instead offering a two-tier first and second class system. This signalled a decline in popularity for the humble card. Expanding technology and the advent of email has eclipsed the land-bound or air mail letter and changed the world of communication.
Postcards are still used, you can digitally send photos in the form of a card via Moonpig or Touchnote and many other digital sites straight from your mobile device. The past few years of the global pandemic have seen a slight resurgence in using this simple form of communication to convey messages of support to loved ones and maintain contact during lockdowns and periods of social distancing.
The postcard has been utilised over the past 150 years to reflect our lives and attitudes, our beliefs and situations. No matter how our civilisation transforms in terms of technology, some individuals will always seek the nostalgia and tangible comfort of a handwritten card.
I am one of them.