Collecting Postcards

Vol. 7 No. 1 - 1995

Collecting postcards

by Des Quail

I have been collecting postcards for about fifteen years now and during that time it has given me enormous pleasure, friendships, challenges and hard work, like writing articles.

Postcard collectors are referred to on this side of the Atlantic as cartologists, and in America as deltiologists. I have a preference for the latter. The word 'Deltion' in Greek means 'a small writing tablet' and 'logos' 'the study of the postcards one collects'.

Postcard size standardised

Although the first government-sponsored card was issued by Austria on 1st October 1869 it was not until 1899 that the now standard size of postcard was finally permitted in this country. The golden age of the postcard was about to emerge and indeed continued to be popular for nearly two decades from 1900-1918. This popularity can be attributed to many of the following factors.

The Victorian age was coming to an end and the Edwardian age was about to begin. It was considered to be an exciting time for photographers who had events, places and people high on their agenda. The Postcard publisher too, was interested in recording events like Home Rule for Ireland, the Suffragette Movement and Boy Scouts. Other crazes like ping pong, diabolo, roller-skating, cricket, and football were all captured on postcard.

Market Street, Lurgan

There was evidence of change, places were changing and the horse-drawn vehicle on the streets was being replaced by the motor car. Every year brought improvements to aircraft.

Then there was the Great War with its images appearing on postcard. It was a collector's dream world. Postcards were on sale everywhere. The popularity died quite suddenly with the end of the war and also the postage rate doubled from a halfpenny to a penny. The golden age of the postcard came to an end in 1918.

From 1918 onwards cards depicted dull sepia views and cheap seaside comic views. The revival of picture postcard collecting in the early seventies can be attributed to nostalgia, for places, people and times long since gone and never to return. Scenes, places, people depicted on postcards of Edwardian times are almost one hundred years old now and certainly much change has taken place.

Then there is the uncertainty and the discovery attached to the background of the cards that presents a challenge. For the deltiologist, most publishers of postcards have ceased trading and their records have vanished. Many were destroyed in World War II.

One questions whether or not these records can be rebuilt. One possible way to rebuild these records is to form a 'publisher's collection'.

Any postcard that one collects should identify a publisher. When I find one card of a set, it sets my mind wondering how many cards are in that set. It is probably six but could be twelve, twenty-four or perhaps an odd number.

The Church of Christ the Redeemer, Lurgan

Postcards in the "Golden Age" were often sold in a packet of six with a multiview type and five other cards. The price was usually 1/- (5 pence). The Edwardians used the postcard extensively, not only to tell their friends of a visit to the seaside, but just to give messages like "I will call up to visit you tomorrow''. These postcards were often collected and put into an album and those which have survived are a great source for the deltiologist. All too often, however, the story heard is that while the china, clocks, gold, silver and furniture were saved the paper, including postcards, was burned. Quite often the images on these postcards are the only ones in existence and are lost forever. My advice to everyone reading this article is to keep and take care of any postcard albums you find.

Holiday cards

As one can imagine, postcards from seaside towns like Portrush, Bangor, Newcastle and popular places like the Giants Causeway are very common. There are many hundreds more cards from the coastal towns and villages than from the inland towns and villages. Hence postcards from County Armagh and Tyrone are more difficult to find than those from other counties of Northern Ireland. There are probably at least one thousand different postcards published for each of the towns Lurgan and Portadown with many hundreds of the villages around them.

Mrs. McKeown of Lurgan and Jeffers of Portadown, the local publishers, also produced cards of both towns. When looking for cards of these towns go for animated street scenes with plenty of action in them. This may be a fair day, a procession or a special event.

Des Quail is secretary of the Northern Ireland Postcard Club which promotes the hobby of postcard collecting. He is always interested in anyone who would like to become a member. In October 1994 he gave a talk to our Society on postcard collecting which created wide interest.