The Picture Postcard Show 2009, or BIPEX (British International Postcard Exhibition) takes place in London later this week, and includes a special exhibition of Seaside postcards.
Holidays at the seaside became affordable and popular during the Victorian era thanks to the expanding railway network. For the first time resort towns such as Brighton and Blackpool were within reach of ordinary families, and alongside the obligatory purchase of a stick of rock, many postcards were bought and sent to family and friends back home.
Postcards were invented in Austria in 1869 and quickly became popular. A year later they were issued in Britain by the Post Office, but many people were opposed to the use of postcards. They felt that it would be too easy to read other people’s correspondence, that the art of letter writing would decrease, and that it promoted loose morals. However, postcards were an extremely easy and fast method of communication and were taken up by businesses. In the first year of use the number of postcards sent was 75 million.
Although early postcards sometimes had little black and white designs on them, the full picture postcard arrived in 1889 for the Paris Exhibition, where a souvenir card was on sale of the Eiffel Tower. The idea developed quickly on the continent, but not in Britain where strict regulations meant that privately printed postcards were not allowed.
Many felt that the Post Office was creating a monopoly by including the price of the stamp in the price of the card and in 1894 the printing of private cards was allowed. This meant that picture postcards of a standard size were now available to be sold throughout the British Isles.
Many novelty cards were developed, such as the pull-out. These usually had a concertina of mini photographic views of towns or places hidden inside a postman’s mail bag or in a pillar box. The example from our collection on the left and was sent on 3rd August 1921 from the seaside town of Cromer.
The village Post Office was a common sight on postcards. Perhaps the popularity of depicting the Post Office on a postcard was to show where the postcard itself had been posted, especially if it was a quaint little Post Office like that in the Cornish seaside village of Tintagel.
Postcards were also an excellent way to share a joke. Humourous or comic postcards became very popular after the Great War, partly because they were so colourful. The jokes on the cards could often be quite risqué, with partial nudity and double entendres commonplace. These are now very collectable.
Postcards, particularly those of the saucy variety, are intrinsically linked with the British seaside holiday and so it is perhaps no surprise that five seaside postcard cartoons were used on Royal Mail’s 1994 stamps celebrating 100 years of the picture postcard.