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Changing Times | Postcards are an invaluable window to the past

It’s difficult for us today to imagine the excitement once created by the arrival of small pieces of card, at a time when communication was so much harder than today.


No television, no holiday programmes, no regular newspaper, no glossy magazines from which to choose your holiday destination. Just small pictorial cards from which to glean information about other areas.


Today, those little pieces of cardboard are in decline. And it is our fault. Two of the major postcard producers have closed down.


How often do you take a photo on your phone and email that image to those at home, or even more so, your selfies with the message, ‘wish you were here’?


Today, this message is immediate and doesn’t arrive ages after you arrive home.


We see people around the town with their mobile phones, either speaking, or sending text messages to friends and family.


Taking a look online we are able to find out how long the postcard will take to arrive, what size should the card be and even instructions on ‘how to write a postcard.’


How different from the past when the only way of communicating with those left behind was the humble postcard sent to friends, traders or even for shop owners to advise customers of their order status.


Nationally, the first postcard was produced in October, 1869, and it’s hard to imagine the numbers that have been sent since.


Originall, the cards only allowed for the address on one side and the message on the reverse. Prior to 1894, many of the British postcards were very plain.


They were known as postal stationery cards, and usually had a view depicting exhibitions or advertising.


From September, 1872, the private picture postcard was officially permitted and in 1882 the first reply paid postcard was introduced.


In a 1900 issue of Girls Realm magazine, there was an article on their perception of the postcard, which began: “I can imagine a future generation building up by their help (the postcard) all the life of today, our children, our pets, our adventuress youth etc. all are to be found thereon.”


The report continued: “The postcard belongs to a period peopled by a hurried generation which has not many minutes to spare for writing to friends, what with the express trainings, telegrams and telephones the world has become a small place.”


The Victorians said: “How absurd it is to write private information on an open piece of cardboard,” and they believed they would never catch on.


How wrong they were. Sadly, future generations won’t have this ability.


Before the First World War, approximately 2 million postcards were posted daily.


In 1902, Edward V’s coronation and the introduction of the postcards with divided backs, allowing not only the address but also a message, encouraged the use of the postcard.


It was a regular occurrence to send a postcard home to say “I shall be home on the 5pm train tonight.”


I have also read of where a wife saw her husband off on the train and sent a postcard to the butcher requesting her afternoon meat delivery. Another favourite remark was, “Here is another one for your collection”.


In 1902, in a Picture Postcard magazine, there was a competition for the largest postcard collection and the prize offered by Raphael Tuck was £1,000, the equivalent to £120,000 today. The winner had collected 20,354 in an 18 month period.


Bognor had its fair share of postcard photographers and publishers, covering a range of scenes and events.


The range of postcard producers in the 20th century included R. Briant Burgess, Cleeves, King and Wilson, Lawrence Wood, W.P. Marsh, Donald Massey, Webster and Webb and more who produced just a few cards.


We should be careful when viewing postcards. One clearly shows a very early view of Bognor dated 1815 – that is the view of course, not when the postcard was produced.


Some are titled incorrectly, and I have a number that show areas of the town such as The Royal Hotel, named as Blake’s Road, Felpham, or another showing London Road purporting it to be Station Road, so local historians beware.


A large number of cards were produced to commemorate the visit of King George V during his convalescence in Bognor, produced to enable the visitor to report home that they had been to see the King, or at least the house in which he stayed.


Many of these cards were produced to raise funds. One by Kodak was to devote all the profits to the King Edward Hospital Fund of which King George was a patron.


Postcard producers have always dreamed of being in a position to link views and national events to increase their sales and those in Bognor really took the opportunity to do so at this time.


Advertising cards also had their place, and E & O Carter, whose shop was situated in the High Street, produced such a card.


The one I have in my collection was typed and sent to a customer with the message:“We are not sure if it is white or light cream No. 3 Star Sylko you require, we have just received light cream 739.” Service from a bygone age!


We have also had our share of disasters, with the shipwreck at Aldwick to the numerous high seas and flooding that were recorded onto locally produced cards.


Air views of any place are always interesting, and a view of the centre of Bognor clearly shows St John’s church, the Pavilion and Waterloo Square, before the bowling green arrived.


This type of card is invaluable today to the local historian, providing a snapshot of the area at a particular time.


The comic postcards were also well sought out by the holidaymaker, from the point of view of humour, but also because many cards invariably had a small lift up flap from where 10 to 12 fold-up views of their chosen holiday destination would emerge.


These provided more views of their holiday destination and were eagerly awaited by those at home.

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