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Many of us will be aware of the holiday postcards labelled with ‘wish you were here’ showing sunny scenes from the Spanish coast, but less of us will know about how and when this tradition of sending postcards began. The Research Collections has a vast collection of postcards from different donators so I wanted to learn a little bit more about the hobby of collecting postcards, known as deltiology, and the history behind their use. A collection is preserved for research purposes but the history behind the objects is equally as significant in telling the story and providing some context.

In order to understand a little more about the introduction of postcards and why they became so popular I thought I would look at newspapers from the period as a means of obtaining public attitudes. Postcards were a cheaper medium of communication costing a halfpenny per card making their use more economical and available to more members of society. Secondly, they were a quick alternative to letter writing and provided a space for images to share with friends and family. The postcard was created in 1869 in Austria.[1] In Britain, the earliest postcards did not contain images and had designated sides for the address and message. It was not until 1894 that images were permitted to appear on postcards by the Royal Mail.[2] Then, in 1902, the popularity of the postcard further increased with a new design that included one whole side designated to an image with the rear of the card being split for the address and message.[3]

Research Collections, Worcester University
An example of the rear of a postcard with designated sides for the message and the address

By 1872, more than 75 million postcards had been through the postal system.[4] The introduction of postcards, despite becoming a popular and cheap mode of communication, was not accepted without concern. The Manchester Weekly Times from the 4th June 1870 said that this ‘new vehicle of correspondence’ would make personal information more accessible to strangers as the postcard would be ‘liable to be read by others than the person addressed’.[5] Privacy would be threatened if the sender did not adhere to a set of guidelines which protected the addressee and the addresser from personal information being intercepted. These concerns were also apparent in The Pall Mall Gazette in which a reader spoke of the ‘responsibility of indiscreet and economical correspondents’ [6] who disregard the sensitive nature of information that was usually passed on within a sealed envelope.

The term ‘postcards’ became part of accepted vernacular and was seen in newspaper advertisements from the turn of the twentieth century. This is an example of how businesses showed that postcards were a recognised form of contact between themselves and their customers.

Research Collections
Advert taken from The Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, Saturday 2nd August, 1902

According to The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times from the 5th December 1903, postcards being sent in place of Christmas cards were to be a ‘feature’ of the season.[7] These Christmas themed postcards are a prominent factor in the Ronchetti Collection that we hold. This collection contains over 900 postcards with depictions of dolls and imagery of childhood. These items were gathered by the late Barbara Ronchetti, formerly the Special Collections Librarian at Birmingham University. She had a scholarly interest in dolls and was a prominent member of the Worcester Doll Society. Seeing as Christmas is only a few days away I thought I’d show you some of our festive postcards from this collection (click on images to enlarge).

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Thank you for reading and have a very Merry Christmas!

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Want to know a bit more about our postcards or view our collection? Please email d.joyce@worc.ac.uk


[1] Julia Gillen, Writing Edwardian Postcards, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Vol. 17, No. 4 (2013) p.489

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Royal Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Packet, and General Advertiser, Saturday 21st September 1872, Issue 3609

[5] The Manchester Weekly Times, Saturday 4th June 1870, Issue 653

[6] The Pall Mall Gazette, Monday 27th June 1870, Issue 1675

[7] The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, Saturday 5th December 1903, Issue 2219