Antiques Expert: A saucy piece of social history

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In the modern world of emails and text messages a lot of traditional forms of communication seem to be falling by the wayside but one thing that still holds people’s attention and retains its charm is receiving a postcard from the seaside.

The very first postcard was sent in 1840 (and sold for over £22,000 in 2002) but it wasn’t until the 1870s and 1880s that postcards were being routinely issued with images on them by the Post Office, and in 1894 the Royal Mail gave publishers permission to manufacture and distribute their own cards which could be sent through the post.

The Bamforths Factory in Holmfirth produced many seaside postcards

The Bamforths Factory in Holmfirth produced many seaside postcards

In the 1930s the famous seaside saucy postcards began to make an appearance and a whole new industry was born with thousands of cards full of innuendos and double entendres and pictures of scantily clad large breasted women. However, in the 1950s the Conservative-led government began to be concerned about the lowering standards of morality in Britain and started to clamp down on the production of these bawdy illustrations and several images were actually banned.

Not surprisingly these are much sought after nowadays by collectors.

One of the most famous designers was Donald McGill and his original creations can fetch high prices at auction. They were produced in Holmfirth by a company called Bamforths, whose frontage can still be seen on the now closed factory which once employed many local people.

Postcards were not just solely sold at the seaside though, and with the outbreak of the Great War came a new use for the postcard as a great method for soldiers to communicate with fellow soldier partners, although with a large number of cards being printed in Germany there was also a general reduction in the number available at that time.

Postcards were produced for many towns and villages throughout the country and not just the coastal ones, and therefore deltiology (posh name for postcard collecting) quickly became the second most popular collecting hobby in the country, stamp collecting being the first, and cards with specific images often fetch better prices at auction, such as local pre 1950 railway stations.

These can be worth up to £50 each and ones showing ships or WW1 silks can also make above the average price.

From 1930-1944 the production of linen card postcards started, this allowed publishers to print on linen type paper stock with very bright and vivid colours, the high rag content gave the impression that the images were printed on cloth or linen.

As with all forms of collecting there are groups of passionate collectors up and down the country, and there are regular postcard fairs too.

Due to the vast number of cards produced in the early part of the 20th Century they are quite a common sight at antique auctions and don’t generally command high prices, but every now and again an album of cards will suddenly make a good price and it is almost always just one particular postcard that the collectors have spotted within the album of sometimes hundreds.

Because they can be picked up for a matter of a few pence each postcards are an excellent example of something to start collecting if you don’t have a fortune to spend and they also are a rich piece of our social history, both on the front and within the personal messages written on them too.