The international craze for collecting picture postcards began in the mid 1890s and reached its peak a few years before the Great War. It’s easy to understand the attraction in an age when privately owned cameras were few and expensive, and foreign (or even local) travel was a luxury. A good postcard collection could provide a “virtual” experience.
As William Main points out in his book ‘Send Me A Postcard’ –
“In some households every member of the family had their own album which they would proudly display to visitors. To justify this pastime, it was argued that postcards added greatly to one’s knowledge of other cultures. Clubs were established and specialised publications appeared which gave stature and a measure of respectability to postcard collectors”.
Craig Potton Publishing, 2007.
Beginners would have been happy to start with this one, the first New Zealand picture postcard.
Published in 1897 by the Post and Telegraph Department and printed in London, it features four tourist-attracting views of Waikite Geyser, Mount Cook, Mount Egmont (now Taranaki) and the Otira Gorge. A government department, no less, had the foresight to recognize the sales potential of postcards and got the ball rolling, hoping that private enterprise would follow. Which it did.
This image ‘Crossing the Mandamus’, published by Ferguson and Taylor, probably dates to around 1902. It would have been among the first cards the local company produced and was posted in 1906. The unsigned message says
“Many thanks for pretty card. Your collection is growing. I have about (260). Do you prefer view cards or actresses?”
Some collectors specialized in themed cards; foreign countries, animals, royalty. Actresses – who had never been seen on a stage by most of their collectors – were very popular.
The Mandamus river, by the way, is in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island. It joins the Hurunui 25km. (16 miles) west of Culverden (population less than 500) and although it is bridged today, it’s still a long way from the main highway. So why these four intrepid ladies and their driver were parked in the middle of it in 1902 is anybody’s guess.
Many vintage postcards carry the auctioneer’s description “message on back (m.o.b.), not postally used” which suggests there were a lot of absent-minded or lazy people around in the early 1900s. Often this can just mean the card has no stamp or postmark and was, in fact, posted in an envelope – sometimes with others. Like an illustrated letter. The Edwardian equivalent of an email with photos attached. Here’s a good exampleThis was the last of a three card set posted on September 27, 1908, by John Quirk from No. 3 Depot Royal Field Artillery, Seaforth, England, to an unknown address, presumably in New Zealand. The message reads
“….before finishing my badly written epistle I must compliment you on the nice description of Auckland you gave me on the card which I have before me and which I shall add to my collection of 2000, have you as many? Trusting you are well and hoping to hear from you again soon”.
With a score of 2,000, John Quirk was on his way to becoming a serious collector, although some heavy hitters could have added a zero to that number.