Philobiblon: Postcard history

Monday, March 14, 2005

Postcard history

I've recently been venturing into a new area of Ebay, "collectables, postcards". What sent me there was a brainwave for a present, so I won't mention the front of the cards I'm buying, but what I have found interesting is the back. Seemingly the majority of cards on sale are, as the jargon goes, "postally unused", but it is the used ones I find most interesting.

There's a sense of pathos, but also fascination, in a tiny insight into a moment in the lives of people of which you otherwise know, and probably can know, nothing.

I've got one postmarked Pocklington, 6PM, April 28, 1911. It reads:
Dear Floiry,
Sorry I cannot meet you at Pock tomorrow as Baby is poorly it is a bad cold and his teeth I will see Maud (?) and then I will meet you next Sat as she will get you it done hope you are well we are all well at home except Baby.
Love to you from all at home from Mother AR.

It is addressed to Miss ? Robinson c/o Mr E Pearson Manor Farm Mellonily (?) Pocklington.

Pocklington describes itself today as: "a classic English market town situated at the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds, about 15 miles from the city of York, in the East Riding of Yorkshire".

The writing to me seems reasonably educated, and the spelling correct, despite the entire absence of punctuation, and I'm imagining maybe a local family of perhaps the yeoman class in which the oldest daughter, perhaps in her late teens, is working as a governess or companion with the local gentry family, and having perhaps her monthly day off, when she would normally meet her mother in the market town ...
Sound feasible?

I'm also curious whether much academic work has been done on postcards. I was musing that you could do some fascinating stuff say from the Seventies when the British (I gather) started going to Spain in large numbers on package holidays. Analysis of the postcards home, if you could assemble a collection of them, might be very revealing.


Blogger Badaunt said...

I've managed to find some wonderful old postcards at flea markets here in Japan, but the problem is I can't read them, and often my Japanese friends can't either. The language has changed quite a lot in such a relatively short time.

I found a series that I really like, about 80-90 years old, apparently made especially for some fan group of a guy who liked to travel to exotic places and meet the local 'savages.' In some of the photo/postcards of him with said savages (Malaysians, Egyptians, etc) he looks EXACTLY like my partner, and several friends thought I'd Photoshopped them when I showed them. (I told them no, but he's very sprightly for his age.)

3/14/2005 03:30:00 pm  
Blogger melinama said...

Some of these would be appreciated by relatives... speaking as a genealogist ... somebody found me online recently and offered me a copy of a letter written in Zanesville Ohio about the drowning of my ancestors in the famous "Wreck of the Belle Zane" - that was pretty cool.

3/15/2005 12:00:00 pm  
Blogger Susoz said...

I have my grandmother's postcard album, from the first decade of the 1900s, I think (she was born 1894.) I guess in those days people kept postcard albums like we (try to) keep photo albums. In it there are postcards she sent to her family from boarding school (she was at boarding school in Sydney, only about five miles from home - I don't know how often she went home). The content is very much like the content of a telephone call eg imparting information about when to meet.
In this era of email, my friends rarely send letters, but they do still send postcards. Maybe I should have kept a postcard album too.

3/16/2005 04:24:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Yes Susoz I was thinking the same thing about the postcards as basic
communication, and as a pre-camera-ownership form of souvenir.

I've got another one saying: "I've sent you some medicine, take it a couple of times a week."

And I guess the net is a great way for relatives to find things like this, if a bit of a needle in a haystack - you don't want to be looking for "John Smith" or similar.

As for the language, it is interesting that English appears to have changed very little, although the handwriting can be a challenge. (Then again people have to get me to decipher my postcards when I get home, so I really
can't talk.)

I wonder why Japanese changed so much? Because of industrialisation, social
change etc? Japan's century was probably much more turbulent in those senses than those of Western states.

3/17/2005 02:18:00 am  
Anonymous eb said...

The journal Rethinking History ran an interesting short essay on postcards a few years ago. The citation:

Rethinking History; Nov2001, Vol. 5 Issue 3, p451, 4p

Abstract: Postcards are symbolic depictions of vistas and views, that is, pictures of the way tourists are persuaded to look at landscapes. Their history closely parallels that of tourism. This is no coincidence. Tourism in the modern world serves as a main way to act out fantasies. Postcards are frozen tourist dreams. Postcards help in creating sights and guide tourist perception. They are an important tool for communicating tourist success and perpetuating the dream. This might be a key to their unparalleled success.

4/04/2005 06:15:00 am  

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