A History of the British Picture Postcard

Clive Farahar, Antiques Roadshow commentator and books and manuscripts specialist

Clive Baker Postcards

Although imageless postcards were available beforehand, Royal Mail gave publishers permission to sell picture postcards in the UK in 1894. Above is one of the earliest examples.

1890s – 1910

Seaside Towns

Weston-super-Mare, 1895

The introduction of the 1871 Bank Holidays Act saw an influx of day trippers from factories to booming British seaside towns – a major theme of many postcards sent at the time.

Music Halls

Music Halls were hugely popular entertainment venues throughout the 1800s and at the turn of the century, and their likeness was often emblazoned on postcards sent at the time.

1910s

World War One

Postal Museum

The reign of King George V was a period of upheaval including the beginning of World War One on the 28th July 1914. The picture postcards produced at the time reflected this.

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The golden period of silk postcards was at its zenith during World War One, with thousands sent home from the trenches. They were also a widely used propaganda tool during this period.



Women’s Suffrage

London School of Economics Women’s Library

Postcards provided the women’s suffrage movement with a perfect campaigning tool.

1920s

Donald McGill

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Donald McGill’s name and his style became synonymous with the saucy seaside postcard, as his style of bawdy double entendres characterised the 1920s right through to the 1960s.

Silent Films

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Images of the most popular silent film sirens of the era were very often celebrated on cards, and as the ‘talkies’ grew in popularity, so did the appetite for postcards from millions of fans.

1930s

Holiday Camps

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1936 saw the opening of the first ever Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Skegness, prompting countless picture postcard images of these new complexes of camper cottages, luxurious ballrooms and crazy golf courses.

Coronation of King George VI

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Significant Royal events were (and still are) often captured in the picture postcard, including the coronation of King George VI in 1937.

1940s

World War Two

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Paper was in short supply during WW2, so postcards were used as more of an information and morale boosting tool.

1950s

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation

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The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and the end of rationing in 1954 ushered in a new, more positive era, and inspired thousands of uplifting picture postcards.

Britain’s Booming High Streets

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Harold Macmillan’s election slogan “you’ve never had it so good” truly resonated with the boom of the British high street. Stores were using postcards not only to advertise their wares, but also to show how luxurious their shops were.

1960s

Package Holidays

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The boom in inexpensive package holidays (abroad and at home) brought the familiar images of long sandy beaches and luxury hotels to the front of picture postcards everywhere.

Popular Music Concerts

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The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, alongside scores of other popular music acts at the time, were the subject of postcards sold in thousands to adoring fans.

1970s

Beauty Pageants

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The popularity of beauty pageants came to a head in the 1970s. These were widely documented on British postcards over the course of the decade.

1980s

Spanish Holidays

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Spain and the Costa del Sol soared in popularity as holiday destinations towards the end of the 20th century. By the 1980s, the redevelopment of the entire Spanish coast between Gibraltar and Barcelona inspired countless postcards over the decade.

Modern Royal Family

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The marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 left the postcard industry with an insatiable demand for iconography of the pair.

1990s

Centenary Celebrations

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The turn of the century saw scores of ‘Millennium’ retrospective round-ups and celebrations, and the postcard industry was no exception to this rule.

2000s – Present

notonthehighstreet.com

The Internet and social media explosion from 2000 saw a marked demand for personalised cards and postcards, which shows no sign of slowing down.

The Future

As Great Britain, with its seaside towns and beautiful stately homes is a place of interest to the visitor, the humble but glorious postcard will remain as a souvenir and record for the traveller, tourist, entrepreneur, friend and lover. Whether it’s in black and white, full glossy colour, in 3D or covered in stardust, the postcard is a national icon – and collecting them is pretty addictive!

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