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WITH no internet and precious few telephones, the picture postcard was both a novel and efficient way of showing what the folks back home were missing and what a good time you are having (unless, of course, you were up to your neck in muck and bullets in the trenches of the Great War - more of which later).

It's all different today. Like everything it touches, the world wide web is disrupting tradition and killing off the art form that's as much a part of holidays as sunburn, fish and chips and lousy exchange rates.

The latest victim is postcard publisher J Salmon Ltd, founded in 1880 and recognised as the oldest in the UK. Thanks to the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, Charles Salmon, 61, and his brother Henry, 56, the firm's joint managing directors, have announced they will close in December.

Sales have fallen from a peak of 20 million 25 years ago to five million today, prompting the Kent firm to withdraw from publishing.

Does this mean that old and collectable postcards will rocket in value? Unlikely, since so many exist, but as pictorial reminders of our past, they are priceless pieces of social history.

Interestingly enough, picture postcards were somewhat late in arriving on the scene. The first Christmas card was printed in 1843 and Valentine cards became popular during the 1850s-60s.

America started sending postcards following their introduction at the Chicago World Fair of 1893 and Britain followed a year later.

However, the home industry blossomed once the Post Office relaxed rules governing the size of postcards.

By the 1890s, more and more people were travelling abroad where tourists invariably found the most attractive postcards, which were printed in Germany and Austria.

In Britain, MP John Henniker Heaton led a campaign to have the postal restrictions scrapped, the weight of public opinion finally winning the day on September 1, 1894.

Publishing companies acted swiftly, producing decorative cards that could be sent with a halfpenny stamp. Even then, certain restrictions were ordered including one requiring private cards to be the same size as official cards, which were considerably smaller than their European counterparts.

The so-called "court cards" remained in use for several years and being a good inch shorter than those used abroad, they did much to hold back the development of the home postcard manufacturing industry.

Slightly larger cards were introduced a few years later as restrictions were relaxed further, and it was only then that messages and addresses were permitted to appear on the same side of the card.

This heralded an explosion in the production of picture postcards, and the appearance of a new hobby - postcard collection, or deltiology. The years from 1980 to 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War, proved to be the golden age of the picture postcard.

Major publishers produced millions covering every possible topic, small, local photographers produced limited editions of postcards showing local scenes and events, all printed photographically rather than with ink on paper. By 1906, it is said that there were 860 million postcards sent in Britain alone.

Some of the most beautiful were produced by the London firm of Raphael Tuck. Known as oilettes, the cards were miniature reproductions of paintings by well known artists of the day and had an embossed, textured surface that was added to simulate the brush strokes. The most sought after these days show country scenes by Henry Payne. A set of six might fetch PS75 or more.

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 thousands by wives and sweethearts to soldiers serving in the trenches in the First World War.

Approximately 2,000 sets were issued and they are still relatively common with the result that prices range from about PS10-PS15 for a set of three.

In return, the troops sent back cards embroidered in silk, woven 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, regimental mottoes 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.

Still found easily enough at collectors' fairs, their average price is between PS5-PS10. The problem is finding clean examples, which are well worth the extra.

British troops, on the other hand, purchased naughty, glamorous and erotic postcards that were something of a speciality in France. Artists such as Leonnec and Rocher now command prices up to PS50 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.

Prices vary from PS40-PS60 apiece for the real thing, but beware of later reproductions.

In a relatively short space of time, you'll build up a fascinating collection that is not just a rewarding record of local social history but also in terms of investment. When old collections come up in the saleroom, they can make staggering sums.

A Louis Wain postcard titled A Cat's Matrimony


One of approximately 35 advertising postcards (PS80-PS120)

A Great War silk postcard with the inscription 'To my Wife'

Home Secretary Winston Churchill watches the Sidney Street siege. From a lot valued at PS300-PS400

Wish you were here? One of the more exotic postcards in the Alan and Joan Tucker collection

Captain Scott's supply ship Terra Nova on the ill-fated 1910-13 Antarctic expedition from an album of winter scenes. Guide price: PS80-PS120
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Nov 13, 2017
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