Tuesday 26 November 2013

Old Postcards and Photographs.

Collecting postcards, or Deltiology as it is known, is a fascinating hobby. Our recent history has to a point been documented by postcards. It's curious in a way even with all the wonderful advances in technology. It's hard to believe that the good old picture postcard is still with us and still going strong. For years when we went away on holiday it was expected that you would send to family and friends a 'wish you were here' message on a postcard. The saucy seaside comic cards were also a popular item. Then with the improvements in travel, and the reduction in the postal service it was often the case that you would arrive home before the card!

But for many years the humble picture postcard was a form of communication, used by almost everyone. No one at that time had any idea that their cards would be so avidly collected today! Picture postcards capture a place in time that is often lost by later development or a change in circumstances. The old working inland waterways are one such subject.

The first paid-for by sender postal system was developed by Rowland Hill. A standardised postage was paid by the sender, who purchased a stamp to attach to the letter. The first stamp was the Penny Black, issued on 6 May 1840. The stamp showed a side portrait of Queen Victoria at age 15. Britain's first picture postcard is thought to be one of Scarborough, dated 15 September 1894.

Andrew Maxam (postcard historian) said "The pictures that appeared on postcards, were an incredible variety! Almost any subject under the sun could be found on picture postcards as publishers competed with each other to produce the most attractive designs. Also photographers, both national and local, went round the streets recording all the towns, villages and cities for posterity. We owe much of our knowledge of how Edwardian Britain was like due to those enterprising men and women."

I have a small collection of old postcards. Some of them are based on inland waterways subjects. Often it is difficult from the picture to identify a time and place that a photograph was taken. It must be remembered that many years, even decades may pass between the taking of a photograph and when it was published on a postcard. It could also be a long time before the postcard was posted. From time to time, reproductions of old pictures or photographs are repeated some decades later.

Here are a few ideas on dating the time period of a photographic postcard.

The first postcards were mailed in Britain in 1870. But it was 1894 before the first picture postcards were produced within the UK. Prior to this most postcards were produced in Germany. The divided back which permitted the message be on the same side as the address was introduced in 1902. In 1939, the modern colour postcard was introduced. Often with richly coloured photographic images.

Postcards in the United Kingdom.

1870: The first UK postcards introduced by the Post Office. They were plain cards and had a pre-printed stamp. The sender wrote the address on one side of the card and a brief message on the other. There was no picture.

1894: The Post Office allowed postcards published by other than the government to be posted. A halfpenny adhesive stamp was added to these cards before posting. Not having to print a stamp onto the card freed the postcard publishers to use any printing method, this freedom allowing publishers to produce photographic images. By selling postcards without a printed stamp, the price was reduced.

1895: Postcard size adopted to be 4.75 ins x 3.5 ins and were known as Court Cards. The address was written on one side. On the reverse was a small picture with sufficient space for a written message. Don't be surprised to find words written on the front of old picture postcards.

1899: The UK adopted the internationally accepted standard postcard size of 4.75ins x 3.5 ins. The address and stamp were on one side, while the other side held an image and any written image. Because the image often occupied a good deal of the space, the message would be crammed in around the border of the photograph side of the postcard.

1902: The UK Post Office decreed that the image should be on one side, while the back was divided with the message put on the left, and the address and stamp put on the right. Britain was the first country to adopt this format. Manufacturers soon produced postcards with a line on the back to indicate the division between message and address. In those days, everyone sent postcards! Very few people had telephones, and postcards presented a cheap and efficient form of communication.

1926: Postcard sizes were specified with a minimum size: 4 ins x 2.75 ins and a maximum size: 5.875 ins x 4.125 ins.

Using postage stamp values to aid dating postcards.

Where a stamp if franked with a date, then its safe to say that the photograph dates from before the date of the frank. However, some are franking marks are smudged and can't be read with any certainty. Knowing when a particular stamp value was needed can in this case help to pinpoint the date.

For an insight into the post office, look at the length of time between the principal dates that postal charges were increased. Varying in time from 48 years from 1870 to twice in a year in 1975.

1870 - 1918: ½d, one 'half penny'.
1918: 1d.
1921: 1½d.
1922: 1d.
1940: 2d, letter 2½d.
1957: 2½d, letter 3d.
1965: 3d letter 4d.
Postage tariffs change to first and second class. First-class post should arrive the next day, second-class post taking longer. 

1968: First: 5d: second: 4d

After the conversion to decimal currency.

1971 first: 3p, second: 2½p (6d)
1973 first: 3½p, second: 3p
1974 first: 4½p, second: 3½p
1975 first: 7p, second: 5½p
1975 first: 8½p, second: 6½p
1977 first: 9p, second: 7p
1979 first: 10p, second: 8p
1980 first: 12p, second: 10p
1981 first: 14p, second: 11½p
1982 first: 15½p, second: 12½p
1983 first: 16p, second: 12½p
1984 first: 17p, second: 13p
1985 first: 17p, second: 12p
1986 first: 19p, second: 14p
1989 first: 20p, second: 15p
1990 first: 22p, second: 17p
1991 first: 24p, second: 18p
1993 first: 25p, second: 19p
1996 first: 26p, second: 20p
1999 first: 26p, second: 19p
2000 first: 27p, second: 19p
2003 first: 28p, second: 20p
2004 first: 28p, second: 21p
2005 first: 30p, second: 21p

Since 1989, when non-specific price-point stamps were first issued, senders more and more frequently use stamps denoted with 1st or with 2nd, rather than using stamps with a specific price denomination. This will make dating more difficult in the future.

Other methods of identification.

Sometimes the content of a picture can help, often prominent buildings will have a record of their date of construction or even when they were torn down. For unknown buildings certain styles only appeared after a certain date. Road going vehicles are much the same as there will be a period when they were first constructed. The clothing worn by people in pictures can also help to establish a date. Both men and women’s fashions changed, as did uniforms. Street names can help too establish a date - names such as 'Coronation Street' because such street names only appeared after a particular event. Memorials shown in postcards can also help in dating. Where a printed postcard contains a recognisable artist’s signature. Their signature can help date the postcard. If the postcard has been used, then the handwriting, and even the wording of the message may give some historical clues about when that message was written.
With regard to the black and white or coloured images, it is believed that the first multi-coloured card was issued in 1889. Before coloured images were printed, black and white postcards were sometimes coloured by hand. Later, black and white postcards were then produced by adding over printed colours to the card. With later advent of colour photography, this colouring method of adding over printed colours to the card became almost non-existent. 

Responsible dealers use a grading system to help potential buyers determine condition, ours is as follows:

Mint - As new, unused, in a pristine state. Not normally applicable to vintage cards unless found in original printed packets.
Near Mint - Like Mint, but very light ageing or very slight discolouration from being in an album. Not as sharp or crisp as Mint.
Excellent - No obvious flaws. Sharp corners, clean and if used, writing does not detract from appearance.
Very Good - Minor defects such as album marks, signs of age and handling acceptable that do not detract from a visually pleasing card.
Good - Noticeable defects, handing and wear apparent. Slight creasing and minor postal damage not detrimental to image acceptable in this category.
Fair - Obvious creasing, staining, small tears or damp damage evident. Significant edge or corner damage. Just about in a collectible state.
Poor - Incomplete, image seriously affected.

Over the next few weeks I will be publishing some old waterways themed photographic postcards. Some help to identify the exact locations, vessels or dates would be useful.

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