Many of us over a certain age remember when on holiday as youngsters, traipsing around with our parents looking for postcards. We would have to carefully select which had the best local scene or look at funny naughty innuendo cartoon cards. We would then have to write on it in best writing then stick a postage stamp on it then post it in the nearest red Post Office post box. If the post cards were sent to near neighbours and friends we would hope the cards would be delivered before we got home.
we also bought postcards as a holiday memento of where we had been as many had wonderful photos.
Today’s 21 cent technology, we us our smartphones to take ad hoc sometimes ad nauseum photos/snaps including the ubiquitous selfie on holiday and email or text to family and friends.
For millions, it was once as vital a part of a holiday as buying your first beers and dropping ice cream down your favourite T-shirt.
It has been largely replaced with people uploading their holiday snaps to Facebook and Instagram and getting a few ‘likes’ in return.
A recent poll by O2 Travel showed more than half of people under the age of 24 said they would never even consider sending a postcard. ‘When I was younger, I always used to send postcards but it’s a real hassle,’ said Fionn Concannon, co-founder and chief executive of Ps Postcards, an iPhone app that allows you to send postcards via your mobile phone. ‘We don’t have a lot of time any more and when we do have that time off, the last thing we want to do is go traipsing round looking for stamps to go with it and a post box to send it from.’ The app lets users take a photograph or choose from a gallery to send postcards to friends and family.
‘You can be anywhere in the world, take a photograph, enter multiple addresses – as many as you like – as many as you have the patience to fill out I guess,’ said Concannon. ‘Then you can customise it [with text on the photograph and your message]. The user pays for it and off it goes.
‘It gets printed and mailed out to anywhere in the world.’
The history of postcards dates back almost 200 years.
The first known picture postcard with a hand-painted design was in London in 1840 sent to writer as a practical joke on the postal service – the image was of a caricature of post office workers.
Their popularity grew from then on. Postcards that you affix a stamp to were first produced in Austria in 1869 and they spread throughout Europe.
More and more were sent in the 1800s, with images of the newly built Eiffel Tower proving particularly popular. Other en vogue postcards – known as French postcards – showed images of naked women.
Far less sexy, British publishers were given permission by the Royal Mail to distribute picture postcards at the end of the 19th century and by the 1930s, bawdy cartoon postcards became hugely popular, with about 16 million being sent at their peak.
They featured stereotypical characters and were loaded with innuendo. They only declined in the 1970s and 1980s when social attitudes shifted away from their humour.
Only this week was it revealed how the Nazis had used postcards to plan an invasion of Britain.
Described as a ‘Nazi A-Z of Britain’, many of them showing landmarks and key sites to be targeted were sent back to Germany by Joachim von Ribbentrop, who went on to become foreign minister, while he was living in Britain before the war.
Having been a regular feature for millions of holidaymakers, postcards were eclipsed during the early 1990s with, first, the arrival of email and then later through chat messaging and social media.
‘I think a lot of the feedback we get is that the personal touch has been lost and people quite like being able to send something that a bit more thought has gone into,’ said Concannon. Ps Postcards is currently looking to find a way to use handwriting recognition technology, so their postcards are as personal as possible.
Aside from the obvious holiday postcard, Concannon said there were endless uses for this method of communication. Apart from showing a beach at sunset with
‘Algarve’ written across it, their greater function is providing a personal message through a physical means.
‘This is one of the main drivers,’ she said. ‘Obviously, we’re a little more disconnected from the personal touches because a lot of our communication is over email and social media these days.
‘People find it very rewarding to be able to quickly send something that is physical and tangible and much more personal. People love receiving them, because a lot of the time it seems the only things we get through the post is business mail.’
Another added benefit to a postcard, Concannon added, is that they were much more collectable than other cards. Showing that people still have a passion for postcards, the world’s first postcard sold at auction in 2002 for £31,750.
Indeed, cases where postcards make hundreds of pounds at auction are not uncommon. In 2012, a series of historical postcards from Suffolk reached £950, four times their estimate.