1. Lost buildings
Collecting postcards has given me a new outlook on the town where I live (admittedly it’s quite a bad one, having found out about the number of historic buildings which have been destroyed). I never knew that there was an opera house in Middlesbrough during the Victorian era, which has long since been flattened for a typically city-fied ugly office building, which explains the inability to get a postcard of it for less than £10. Sometimes finding postcards of lost buildings is a pretty depressing hobby, but still, it’s a great marker of how a town or city has changed.
2. Social history
Being as my partner is a crazy historian, it was inevitable that after a while some of that passion would rub off on me – and it has in a bigger way than either of us could have imagined! One of the reasons I’ve always struggled with history is that I don’t have a good imagination, so I can’t just conjure up images of people from the past. Once I have something pictorial, like a film, to show me things like the clothes and hairstyles they would wear, I find it much easier and more enjoyable. Postcards like this of the Shambles in York are so helpful to really help me understand the people of the past.
3. The people
While I’m absolutely not a visually imaginative person, I’m definitely a story writer. I always wonder who the postcards are written from and to – could they be signals of romance or affairs, were they sent from friends to friends, parents to children, grown children to parents? Were they sent from weekend trips, long family holidays, a holiday for spouses to spend time apart? I always try and buy written and sent postcards where I can, because the messages intrigue me and I enjoy them as much as I enjoy the pictures.
4. The language
Another element of the social history is the language and its development. Perhaps most surprising to me is that in the first example below, sent from London in September 1912 (I think), the sender has used the letter X to represent kisses, as we still do today. That definitely isn’t something I’d think of as being an over 100 year old habit! It’s also interesting to note that quite often the abbreviation PC was used to mean postcard; I also didn’t think Victorians were in the habit of abbreviating things!
Secondly, I love the language they used – sometimes it’s very boring and average, but sometimes you get stunning examples such as the one below, a view of some of the bridges over the River Tyne in Newcastle/Gateshead, where the sender hopes ‘ere long’ his addressee ‘will see this view’. I’d love to get a postcard speaking to me like that!
Lastly, another thing I’ve noticed.. the longer postcards often mention the weather, just as we still do today.