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Antiques: Picture postcard reminiscences of bygone summers.

IT was pea-green,murky and black, evil-looking water beetles swam in it. But a trip to the open air Freshwater Swimming Pool on the Macclesfield to Leek road on the Cheshire-Staffordshireborder was a summertime highlight.

Of course,it closed years a go. It had diving boards and a slide,but there's no place for such delights in these days of risk managers fixated on health and safety.

Last time we drove past the place,it was a fishery, selling bland -tasting farmed trout at too much a pound.

The old place came to mind this week when a search for something entirely different turned up an old black and white postcard lying largely forgotten in the bottom of a drawer.

It was decorated with a faded picture of Freshwater bathers sitting around the poolside. I have no idea who they are,but that's not the point.

If memory serves, web ought it at some distant flea market for a few shillings because I said it reminded me of my youth.

News that more than 1,000 similar, largely anonymous, vintage picture postcards are about to go on exhibition at no lesser establishment than the National Portrait Gallery caused a rapid re- evaluation of my precious memento.

The NPG exhibition is called ``We are the People'' and the cards -all real photographs printed to be sent home to friends and relations as postcards -come from the extensive collection of the artist Tom Phillips, a postcard addict for a quarter of a century (see panel).

To be honest,I've never fancied collecting old postcards. But for every one like me, there's probably a thousand deltiologists (postcard collectors) who think of nothing else.

When some cards can change hands for up to pounds 200 apiece,it's clearly big business nowadays.

The early history of the picture postcard is obscure but by the 1870s, they were being used on the Continent for advertising and soon afterwards they were adopted for general correspondence.

The first time postcards appeared in anything like a commercial form was in 1869,following a suggestion by German statesman Dr Heinrich von Stephan.

His idea was to use the prepaid cards as a means of military communication,but it was Austria, which seized on the idea first, although the former country was first to introduce colour printing and views.

America started sending postcards following their introduction at the Chicago World Fair of 1893.

The British were slow to follow suit, discouraged by the Post office who eventually lifted their monopolistic restrictions in 1894, the first year in which they allowed cards to be sent through the post with a halfpenny adhesive stamp.

After 1902, when it became legal for the picture to be printed entirely on one side and for messages as well as addresses to be written on the other side of the card,postcard publishers began to think up an astonishing number of novelties and a collecting -as well as a sending -mania swept the country.

The first quarter of the 20th century emerged as the Golden Age of the art form.

Holiday resorts and picture postcards have been linked inextricably for years and comic postcards by such artists as Donald McGill are something truly British.

Old picture postcards can often provide a record of the development of villages, towns andcities,makingthem invaluable to the social historian. They can usually be picked for small change.

Some of the most beautiful cards were produced by the London firm of Raphael Tuck. Known as oilettes, they were miniature reproductions of paintings of well known artists of the day.

The most sought after these days show country scenes by Henry Payne; a set of six might fetch pounds 15 or more.

Not quite so pleasant,but still highly sought after,are the so-called ``fantasy head'' cards that first appeared in about 1910. These often show babies emerging from cabbages or growing on trees, the infants sometimes with skeletons' heads. Prices range from pounds 5 to pounds 20 apiece.

Another favourite among collectors is the range of Bamford Song and Hymn cards,beautifully printed and steeped in sentiment.

They were produced in sets of three or four and were sent in their hundreds by wives and sweethearts to soldiers serving in the trenches in theFirst World War. Approximately 2,000 sets were issued and they are still relatively common with the result that prices range from about pounds 2 to pounds 5for a set of three.

In return, the troops sent back embroidered cards woven in silk by French and Belgian women and children,forced into the work in order to earn enough to buy food while their men were away at the Front.

Delightful and patriotic colours were used with designs incorporating dates, regimentalmottoes and sentimental messages such as: ``To my dear mother/wife/sweetheart''; ``I'm thinking of you''; ``I'm lonely without you''; ``From your soldier boy'' and many more.

Some even had tiny silken pouches inside which was a printed card for a more personal message.

Still found easily enough at collectors' fairs, their average price is between pounds 8 to pounds 10.

British troops were keen buyers of naughty erotic postcards which were something of a specialty in France. Artists such as Leonnec and Rocher now command prices up to pounds 20 for good examples of their work as opposed to the few sous paid for them in 1914-18.

Advertising postcards are another area of strong collector interest,one of the best known being the Shell Motor Spirit ``poster'' cards of 1905-1910.

Most famous shows a boy pouring Shell petrol into a car's radiator and is titled ``Helping Father. The right thing in the wrong place!''

Prices vary from pounds 30-pounds 50 apiece for the real thing,but one word of warning for such expensive knickknacks: theShell cards,for example, were reproduced by the company between 1950-1970 and it has been known for the unscrupulous to pass off a later copy as an original.

It has even been known for rogues to split an old but worthless postcard lengthways in order to paste its reverse on to the back of a reproduction card, thus transferring to the fake the early postmark and stamp.


Britannia sits proudly outside her door,no doubt all dressed up for a pageant. The photograph of a footballer was taken in 1908. Both postcards are from the Tom Phillips Collection
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 6, 2004
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Next Article:Antiques: Images with a tale to tell.

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