History of Postcards in the UK (potted version!)



So what's the history of picture postcards?  Here are a few timescales:

1870 - First postcards issued in the UK.

These were plain cards, front and back with a pre-printed stamp and were published by the Post Office. No other companies were permitted at this time to print postcards

1894 - First picture postcards were issued in UK and permission given to others, to publish them.

Between 1895 and 1899 Court Cards were issued - these were smaller than the old size postcards we're used to,  being 4.75 inches by 3.5 inches and these had a small picture on one side, the address to be written on the other.

1899  Standard size postcards were introduced, the size of 5.5 inches x 3.5 inches.   This brought the UK into line with other countries and is the most common size of vintage postcard you will see today.   There was a picture on one side of these cards, usually not leaving much room for any message to be written as it was at that time considered unseemly to allow personal messages on something that was open for all to see!  These cards are called Undivided Backs.... People used to get round it by writing on the front, in the space around the image!  Check out this one of Ryde Esplanade, Isle of Wight.

1902 - The Divided Back postcard was introduced, which allowed people to write messages on one half of the back of the card and an address on the other half.  On the front, would be the picture.  

 Here's an example - note the line down the middle, separating the address and message 

 Postage rates for postcards

Until 1918 - 1/2d (Halfpenny)
June 1918 - increased to 1d
January 1921 - increased to 1 1/2d (three halfpence)
1922 - postage reduced to 1d again following public protests!  (Good tip for today, perhaps?)

 Social History

The period between 1902 and 1914 when the Great War broke out, is known as the Golden Age.  Between those dates hundreds of thousands of postcards were issued - it became a national craze both here and abroad. Hence all the private collections of vintage postcards found in house clearances today... people not only sent them to pass on news or information, they sent them simply to add to someone's collection.

It's amazing when you read the messages on the cards - some of them funny, some sad, some mysterious... quite often you would find someone saying 'meet me off the train tomorrow at 2pm' or something like that.  Before the telephone became popular, the postcard provided a means of near-instant communication - the postal service was reliable and next day delivery was taken for granted... sometimes more than one delivery a day.

Even I can remember two deliveries a day...!


When the Great War started this had far reaching effects on postcards and postcard collecting.  A lot of cards had been printed in Germany prior to 1914; this of course then stopped and with thousands of menfolk going off to war, society changed completely and holiday postcards particularly, became very low down on the list of priorities.  However they did offer a new and eagerly received method of communicating with soldier partners!

Military related postcards enjoyed a boost during the War years and have a collectability all of their own. 



This card below reflected military humour - certainly a way of keeping people's spirits up, not to mention those of the soldiers. 


Although postcard collecting and sending did have a bit of a revival after the war ended in 1918, it never achieved the popularity it had enjoyed during the first 15 years of the 1900s, but the postcards of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s up to the Second World War are keenly collected and provide a running commentary on social history and have their own unique appeal.

During the late 1940s and 1950s there was another revival - and again, these postcards are also sought after particularly those of urban areas, because of course much has changed since then and these postcards offer a glimpse into the past just as much as the early 1900s ones do.

 This brings us bang up to date ..... nowadays the hobby of postcard collecting, (or deltiology, to give it its official title) is acknowledged as the second most popular collecting hobby in the world - the first one being stamp collecting.  People are fascinated by images of how locations have changed over the years (or not, as in some instances!)

This has only been a potted history of the vintage postcard - there is not enough space here to go further.... but there are lots of sites out there on the internet to give you further information if you need it.  Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy our site!