In the days before memes and instant messaging, postcards were a popular way to stay in contact. We still use them today, collecting them as souvenirs of places we’ve visited or things we’ve seen, and sending them to friends and family to make them jealous of our travels.
Postcards have been in use since the mid-1800s.They were designed as small letter cards, just big enough to carry a message without requiring an envelope, which reduced the postal fee. They became popular due to their convenience and cost effectiveness, and once they were able to be printed with a wide variety of images their popularity increased.
Postcards hit their height of popularity in the Edwardian era. In a time without telephones, urgency of contact was a priority and in Britain the post was delivered up to six times a day. Postcards were used to send messages between friends, order deliveries to home or business, ask a favour, and even assist in courtships. You could write a postcard to a friend in the morning inviting them to dinner, and rest safe in the knowledge they would attend or send a return postcard with an apology before the table was set. It could be considered the equivalent of texting today.
Postcards started out as bland rectangular cards, with nothing permitted on the front except the address of the recipient. There was some concern that putting the address on the same side as the message would encourage mail sorters to read them. The rules gradually relaxed and the strict official cards evolved into the pictorial postcards mail items we know today – the front emblazoned with an image, poem, or witty comic, and the reverse split with the message on one side and the address on the other.
But it is not just the sending of the postcard that is important, but the receiving. And it was quite common for postcards to be collected and sorted into albums for posterity. Series of cards were created and the collector aimed to complete the set; different countries, different subjects, even celebrities. At one stage it was fashionable to print news stories on the cards; and some would be printed and ready for sale within hours of a news event occurring.
Postcards were often sent for the sole purpose of collecting, and many a collection would feature a card with the message “for your collection” or similar on the reverse, or even blank as it had been bought for the collection specifically, rather than the post box.
The Whanganui Regional Museum holds several postcard albums, one of which came from the Freeman Estate. The postcards were collected and put into the album by Miss Mona Gladys Freeman, originally of Marton, then of Niblett Street in Whanganui. Mona was born on 22 January 1899 to parents John James and Zillah Ann Freeman and was quite young when she collected the cards, which were sent in the early 1900s. The album holds 313 postcards, some of which are visible here.