Sunday 26 November 2023

In Praise of Postcards

My mother had an extensive collection of 'tourist' postcards stuck on one wall of her kitchen - with five children and eight grandchildren who all travelled it was a worthy collection boasting pictures from numerous countries as well as UK. 

When she left her flat for a residential home many of our postcards were returned to us if we wanted them so I have my cards from Mongolia and Timbuktu among others. 

I always liked receiving postcards from friends and family on holiday and I used many cards of iconic views in my speech therapy work with people with aphasia making interesting naming activities and stimulating conversation. 

I recall a collection of old postcards in the attic of the farmhouse where I grew up mostly addressed to the previous resident before her marriage. The messages weren't from holiday makers but were used as a quick way of sending notes in the pre-telephone era when there were up to four deliveries a day including an evening delivery. A local card could be posted and delivered on the same day.  One of my sisters rescued some of them and the messages are a mixture of banal and intriguing. 

This one dated 15th November 1914, says "This is some of the wounded I saw at Southend, Our Police Court Case came off this week. I am so glad it is over, although it is always in my thoughts. 20 months hard labour for each. Much love, Ida."  One can only wonder.

Another of my postcard collections is my art cards. A regular visitor to art galleries since my teens I always purchase a few of my favorite or particularly interesting pictures and some I have received from friends. One such card of a Waterhouse simply reads, 'We must do this again, J.' To my shame I have no recollection of J or indeed what we did or whether we ever did it again! Perhaps it was a visit to the Tate but I really don't recall visiting with a J. (I do recall visiting with a witty R and a rather tedious R and an M who kept making stupid comments which I was only able to turn off by visiting the cafe like the French and Saunders sketch.)

My travel card collection hasn't grown lately as people don't seem to send cards from their travels any more and many aren't travelling so much nowadays so receiving cards is infrequent - or was until I discovered PostCrossing 

This world-wide organization allows you to sign up with your address and a few details about yourself including languages in which you can communicate. You are assigned a person to whom you send a card. When it is received and registered on the site your name will be assigned to someone so for every card you send, you receive one. Over 74 million cards have been sent through the scheme.

This is a world-wide scheme but you are limited by language – English is of course a world language which is an advantage. Cost is something to bear in mind. Some PostCrossers have sent thousands of cards – perhaps their postage is cheaper or they think of it as a hobby worth the cost.

So far, I’ve sent and or received cards from 33 countries. One to USA, one to Slovakia and one to Thailand have gone astray but sometimes they do turn up eventually. I received one from China that took 84 days and one I sent to China arrived after 111 days. I wonder where the missing cards  are lurking!

On my profile I mentioned liking art cards and several of those sent to me are cards of artworks, some of which I knew while others have added to my education.

Further reading:

Two books detailing postcards dating from around 1911 and the stories behind them.

Posted on the Past & Second Delivery by Helen Bagott. 

A book about the history of postcard published in USA: Postcards The Rise and Fall of the World’s First Social Network by Lydia Pynel