English

Postcards then and now

The weather’s nice. I wish you were here.” Or some such sentiment is what thousands of people have written on postcards they’ve sent from the seaside. So much to say, so little space. Let the picture tell the story.

Modern technology has replaced paper postcards. In the past, people bought a postcard with a pretty view, wrote a few lines and went to the post office to mail it. Why go to all that trouble today when you can take a snap and Whatsapp it/Instagram it/ tweet it/ you-name-it instantly.

I, for one, am guilty of that. However, I like the idea of a postcard to say hello from afar. Years ago, I got into the habit of sending postcards to my family when my husband and I travelled. My nieces had never received, or even seen, a postcard before.

Most of the Old Guard, i.e. my grandparents and great-uncles and aunts, looked forward to my mementos from abroad. It sounds smug to say this, I know. But that’s what my mother told me. It made them feel remembered. I had no idea what a big impact the simple act of mailing a postcard can have on others.

Grayshott Post Office sign

Rummaging in a box with old photos at my parents’, I found a few picture postcards my grandparents had sent from their travels. Back then, the early to mid-seventies, postcards were the only way for travellers to show where they were, and for the recipients, the only way to see the place. Or wait until the photos were developed.

The messages written on the back provided a little bit of family history as well. For example, when these postcards were sent, my mother was pregnant. I learned that everyone thought it was boy and that they even called him by his name, Diego. My sister María, born soon after, begs to differ.

A few years ago, the first postcard ever sent, at least that we know of, was sold at auction for a staggering £31,000. The card dated from 1840, was hand-painted and had a Penny Black postage stamp. The Penny Black stamp was first issued in May 1840 in the United Kingdom and featured a portrait of Queen Victoria. The stamp was black, cost a penny and was the first adhesive stamp ever used.

My mother -in-law was a keen postcard and card sender. Her local post office was the one in Grayshott, a quintessential English village in Hampshire. A blue plaque on the post office wall commemorates Flora Thompson’s tenure as assistant postmistress between 1898 and 1900.

Flora Thompson wrote the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels about life in the English countryside. The novels were published between 1939 and 1943. During her time in Grayshott, Flora Thompson would have served customers from the literary world, like George Bernard Shaw and Arthur Conan Doyle, both of whom lived nearby.

Incidentally, deltiology is the name given to the hobby of collecting postcards. I don’t collect them, but I do keep a folder with photos of post boxes. The oldest I’ve got is from the Channel Islands and has the royal cypher of Queen Victoria. The cast iron wall post box in the Grayshott post office bears the royal cypher of King George V. The king reigned from 1910 to 1936 and was the current queen’s grandfather.

 Head over to Yeah Write for more interesting reads. 

8 thoughts on “Postcards then and now”

  1. I used to love getting postcards from my grandparents when they traveled. It wasn’t all that often, but it was like I got to be there with them for a time. I do think people would still appreciate a postcard, since it does show that you’re thinking of them when you’re off enjoying life. Lovely look back at a time not long gone!

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  2. “It made them feel remembered.” Well said! I would be delighted to get a postcard even today. Facebook updates seem so impersonal, a blast to the masses. If someone sends you a postcard, they took the time to find your address, write a note specifically to you, stamp it, and mail it, and that’s kind of special.

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  3. I love mail. The kind that’s delivered by the postman and arrives in my mailbox. Serendipitously, I got a postcard from a dear friend shortly before reading this essay! The information on the first postcard and the Penny Black was especially fascinating. I’m so curious to know what the postcard looked like (what was painted on it) and what message was written on it (was there a message?). Thank you for providing this wonderful curiosity to google!

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