Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection by Frank Beattie

Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection 1 A fine example of a postcard just before the introduction of the divided back. The producer wanted to maximise the impact of the picture, leaving little space for a message. (Author's collection)

The influence of postcards on our culture should not be underestimated. They are part of our social history.

The phrase ‘wish you were here’ is a common enough expression that grew out of sending postcards home from holiday.

Most people now associate postcards with holidays, but it wasn’t always like that. Britain’s first postcards were produced in 1870 by the Post Office, not that we would recognise them as postcards today. They were plain card; one side was for the address and the other for a quick message. Britain simply adopted a scheme that had been launched in Austria a year before.

Of course, it could be argued that the Romans invented the postcard as something very similar was used to send messages home from places like Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall.

European countries soon adopted the idea of putting an illustration on them. For some reason Britain was rather slow to come to this way of thinking and did not approve such things being produced by private businesses until 1894.

The popularity of the postcards started to gather pace. Postcards were cheaper to send than a letter and with several deliveries a day in some cities and towns a postcard could be delivered the same day that it was posted.

At the start of the 20th century most postcard illustrations were simply photographs of streets. Some postcards were published commemorating events in the South African war or royal events.

The brake on further development was that the picture and the message had to be on the same side and the bigger the picture, the less space for a message.

Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection 2 Postcard producers wanted to best impact on the postcard rack, so many pictures taken in black and white were painted in colour. The artist did not always get it right, as in this case. Kilmarnock trams were green! (Author's collection)

Then in 1902 the Post Office relaxed the regulations and allowed what became known as the ‘divided back’ postcard. That’s the style of postcard we know today with the message and address on one side and a picture on the other. The UK was again showing initiative and was the first country to adopt this style of postcard.

During the next decade the use of postcards exploded, and they quickly became the standard medium for short messages.

The First World War changed everything, as did the increasing use of the phone. Postcards never quite recovered the high popularity of the first decade of the 20th century. Their use changed from sending informative messages to sending greetings. In the last quarter of 20th century they became more of an advertising or art item.

There is also a lot more to postcards than just the photo. Postal historians take great delight in studying the stamps and the postmarks on postcards. They have just as much validity as the stamps and postmarks on covers (envelopes).

The messages written on postcards can also be interesting, some carry urgent family news such as: ‘Little Mary was born today. She and her mum are doing well.’

The imprint on postcards can tell us about local postcard producers. Whatever way we look at them, postcards are little snapshots of daily life taken over the last 120 years or so from villages, towns and cities across the country.

9781445670348

Frank Beattie's new book Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.