Can you remember the last time you sent a postcard to anyone? Or maybe it’s something you’ve never done and are never likely to?
When I was a youngster and still going on family holidays, I always made a list of the people that I wanted (or in some cases felt I had) to send postcards to, and it was usually quite a lengthy one. There were my schoolfriends, my grandparents and sometimes even nextdoor neighbours. If an hour or two wasn’t spent in souvenir shops hunting for the best postcards, then my holiday really wouldn’t have felt complete.
The older I got, the type of postcards I would buy changed, and it became a standing joke to send naughty postcards to schoolmates (you know the ones, topless ladies frolicking on the beach or naked hunks reclining casually on rocks) with ridiculous messages scribbled on the back that you hoped the postman, or more importantly your friends’ parents, wouldn’t read. Some of my schoolfriends sent postcards that were clearly designed to make others envious; depicting tropical images from far flung, exotic destinations that families like mine could never have afforded to visit. Sometimes, it was more about the actual image on the card, and who was privileged enough to receive one, than it ever was about what was actually written on them. Quite frankly, I couldn’t have cared less whether my second best friend was enjoying the glorious weather on her holidays and was off to swim with dolphins later that day, but I liked the feeling of receiving a card and I liked that I must have been in favour that week as I received one — and her supposed bestest best friend didn’t!
Of course nowadays I don’t indulge in such childish pursuits, but I am rather sorry to hear that we are apparently sending fewer postcards with each year that passes. Recent surveys have shown that we are favouring social networking sites as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family while we’re away, and updating others on our whereabouts. Of course, the fact that postcards very often don’t arrive at their destination until after you yourself have returned has doubtless encouraged many of us to wonder why we bothered sending them.
The picture postcard has actually been around since the mid 1800s, with images of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower in the years following 1889 giving rise to their popularity and leading to what many referred to as the ‘golden age’ of the picture postcard.
In 1894, British publishers were permitted by the Royal Mail to manufacture and distribute picture postcards which could then be sent through the post. The very first ones were of well known landmarks, scenery and photographs or drawings of famous people. When steam locomotives gave the ordinary British public the opportunity to visit the seaside, this generated a whole new souvenir industry that quickly grew in popularity, and to this day our seaside resorts boast countless gift shops, each selling a wide variety of postcards.
So the picture postcard is part of our heritage and even our culture, but can it still play a part in the technology-filled world that we live in today? I’m not so sure. I readily admit to not having sent one for a good many years, and usually because it just seems like too much effort when you can text or email from anywhere in the world these days. That said, I often buy a postcard or two from wherever I happen to be, to keep as a reminder, and if I particularly like the image, I have been known to frame them and hang them up on the wall. Sadly, I think this may be the future for the picture postcard: many of us still like the idea of them, some of us even like to collect them, but I think most of us just can’t be bothered to send them anymore.