postcard

Portable Desks

When we travel these days, we pack a myriad of electronic devices to enable us to always be in touch with friends and family, store photos of places we have been and short videos of our travels. Phones, laptops and tablets are the way we communicate and share now.

For Victorians travelling abroad, things were not quite that easy. Writing letters, sending postcards and drawings by post were the only ways to share their travelling experiences. To facilitate this, they would travel with wooden writing boxes, generally known as portable desks, but also called lap desks or writing slopes. These boxes held all the accoutrements needed for writing.

3. Campaign box

Campaign Box with a secret drawer. WRM Ref: 1948.20

While there are records of writing boxes being used by travelling monks, the most well-known were used by officers in the British Army in the eighteenth century. These were known as campaign boxes. They had to be sturdy to withstand travelling over rough roads for long distances. They were banded with brass corners for extra protection and had steel screws to strengthen the joints. The boxes would open to reveal a leather or baize-covered double section on which to lay out all that was needed to write. Smaller compartments would hold quill pens, ink bottles, sand (for drying ink), sealing wax and a larger section for a pen rest.

Some also featured a secret drawer hidden in the bottom of the box. This was opened by removing a small discrete rod sunk into the side panel, which normally held the drawer closed. Other more elaborate hidden drawers were accessed by removing certain sections and releasing a hidden spring. These drawers were used for private or illicit correspondence, eyeglasses, snuff boxes, medicines or valuables.

1. Porcupine desk

A portable desk covered with porcupine quills. WRM Ref: 1962.178.4

As the British ventured to Europe on their Grand Tour journeys, the writing box became more widely used. Wealthy travellers would commission bespoke designs, inlaid with marquetry or ivory, and personalised with initials or monograms. Less commonly, dual purpose boxes were made, incorporating the writing function with perhaps a sewing box or a gentleman’s shaving tools.

The Whanganui Regional Museum has a collection of portable desks made from different species of wood. One of the more unusual has porcupine quills covering its outer surface and edges of inlaid ivory dots. Inside the lid is a hexagonal motif with twelve triangular sections of different wood species and an ivory circle with an elephant motif. The rest of the inside is elaborately decorated with swirls and flowers of inlaid ivory dots.

2. Interior porcupine desk

The interior of the porcupine quill portable desk. WRM Ref: 1962.178.4

There is also a heavy wooden campaign box which has interior compartments and a pull-out drawer at one end held shut by a brass rod sunk into a side panel. One side has a hinge which, when raised, holds the lid open at different angles. This was once the property of Mr E Hardcastle, Resident Magistrate in Whanganui, 1879.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the centuries is that we still wish to keep in touch and share our experiences with friends and family. Although we can now communicate in the blink of an eye, the beauty and the practicality of portable desks make us think about a return to the gentle art of sending letters and postcards. Are we missing the tactile satisfaction of opening and reading a letter, of selecting just the right postcard to send to a friend, of using our imagination to describe our experiences when we travel; or will pen and paper eventually become a thing of the past?

 

Kathy Greensides is collection assistant at Whanganui Regional Museum

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Dear Santa…

Christmas has been and gone but many children will already be planning their wish list for later this year.  Reaching for a tablet or smartphone they could sneakily message Saint Nick another gift for their wish list, while a frustrated parent threatens to email Father Christmas and tell him to cancel the toys because of too many tantrums.

2. Santa Claus's visit

 Postcard of a child waiting for Santa Claus to fulfil her wish list, while her father offers advice about not being too greedy, presumably. WRM ref: 1978.77.5 73c

In today’s world of digital communication, it is quick and easy to get an instant message to Santa through any of the websites the Google elves offer. But what about the hand-written and illustrated letters that used to be sent by post?

The following report appeared in the Wanganui Chronicle on Wednesday 24 December 1952:

 “Father Christmas, No.1 Cloud, Iceland”, so the address proclaimed. The blue envelope with its tuppence-ha’penny stamp rested in the trained hand of the postal sorter. All round him stretched the pigeon-holed sorting bays of the overseas mail floor at London’s General Post Office.

“Well, well,” said the sorter, turning to his companion, “Christmas must be closer than I thought. Here’s the first of the Father Christmas mail. A good one, too.” He put it aside and returned to his stack of letters with a shake of his head, a smile and a thought of Christmas and the children.

That was way back in September. But as the mail sorter said, it meant that Christmas was on the way.

1. Christmas toys

 Postcard of a child’s Christmas wish – fruit, biscuits and toys. WRM ref: 1978.77.5 34b

The letter, with its fairy tale address and childish scrawl, was the first of about six thousand of its kind to pass through London General. They came in from overseas as well as from all around Britain. It is a law of the Post Office that a letter must get as near to its destination as possible. And a request to “Santa Claus, Snow Cottage, Iceland”, which might have been posted in Fiji, comes first to London on its way to Iceland.

The Post Office in Iceland, unable to find Santa, who is probably out on his rounds in any case, holds the letter for a time and then it … well, who but Santa is entitled to read the Christmas wish of a child?

There are very few exceptions to this rule of forwarding Father Christmas’ mail. One is when a child’s letter is addressed simply to “Father Christmas” or “Father Christmas, Fairyland”, or “Toyland”, or when the letter is sent to “Santa Claus, the North Pole.” In these cases the letters are held at their office of origin.

3. Tickner envelope

 Hand-decorated envelope with a festive theme, from the Tickner Envelope Collection. WRM ref: 1989.15.3

Father Christmas has many homes, judging by the variety of addresses where children hope to find him. There was one to “Father Christmas, Reindeer Hotel, Iceland” and yet another with the direction “The North Pole, Arctic Ocean, Siberia”. One child tried to reach him through “Fairy Land, Iceland, England”.

Let’s just hope that Santa’s email account has a good spam filter and plenty of storage.

Seaside Scenes: Postcards of Castlecliff Beach

Summer holidays. These two words evoke many happy memories for young and old alike. During January when the sun shines, hundreds of holiday-makers can been seen at beaches all around New Zealand, playing on the sand, frolicking in the waves or relaxing in the shade with a book, a picnic and a friend or two. Whanganui Regional Museum archives reveal that summer excursions to our local beaches have been a very popular summer pastime since the early 1900s. Photographs in the Museum collection show large crowds, with well-dressed men and women strolling along the sand, enjoying a paddle with long skirts lifted up and using umbrellas or parasols and large-brimmed hats to protect their faces from the sun.

A hundred years ago picture postcards were a popular way of keeping in touch with friends and relatives when telephones were expensive and not widely used. Illustrated postcards of people enjoying the beach were very popular. Thousands of different seaside postcard designs, many of them humorous, were produced in Britain, with millions of copies printed, sold and sent.

1. Castlecliff is a most (em)bracing place

Ref: 1802.7714

Two illustrated seaside postcards in the Whanganui Regional Museum collection provide a gently humorous picture of leisure at the local beach around 100 years ago. One captioned “Castlecliff is a most (em)bracing place” shows a man relaxing in the sand-dunes with his arms around two young ladies. The other, captioned “On the sands at Wanganui. It’s a lot better than being at school”, shows a smiling child wearing a frilly white apron and cloth hat with her dress tucked into her underclothes. These images may have been designed as general seaside souvenirs that could be printed with captions to suit a range of locations, rather than specifically depicting Castlecliff or Whanganui scenes.

2. On the sands

Ref: 1802.4634

Another postcard is made from a black and white photographic reproduction of a crowd of people paddling and sitting on the sand and enjoying a stroll at Castlecliff Beach. This early image of the river mouth is by well-known Whanganui photographer Frank Denton. The beach stretches around a natural curve at the river mouth and the sea-swell washes into the river. Ladies lift the hems of their long dresses over the wet sand while children play and paddle in the shallows at the edge of the river. In the far distance a line of surf marks the edge of the sea.

3. Castlecliff River Mouth

Ref: 1802.1016

This summer at Castlecliff Beach we are unlikely to see many fully suited gentlemen and ladies in high heeled shoes relaxing in the sand-dunes. The children playing on Whanganui beaches will be wearing swimming togs or shorts, rather than dresses with frilly aprons over the top, but their enjoyment of the beach will be just the same as it was 100 years ago.

Many of us will be taking holiday snapshots to remember happy times at the beach and these will most likely be shared with family and friends digitally through Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook, rather than as printed photographs or postcards. In 100 years from now I wonder if there will be any physical record of our fun at beach, or will all those digital memories have disappeared?

Margie Beautrais is the educator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Wish you were here: Postcards and Postcard Albums

“Tom Thumb” No inscription or date

“Tom Thumb” No inscription or date

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.

“A Jolly Xmas from Inglewood” Sent to Aunty Gladys from Mona on 2 December 1910

“A Jolly Xmas from Inglewood” Sent to Aunty Gladys from Mona on 2 December 1910

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.

“The Weather Prophet” Sent to ‘Beaver Brad’ from Zillah O’Leary on 19 December 1908

“The Weather Prophet” Sent to ‘Beaver Brad’ from Zillah O’Leary on 19 December 1908

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.

“Best Christmas Wishes” Sent to Dear Mona from Mum (Zillah), undated

“Best Christmas Wishes” Sent to Dear Mona from Mum (Zillah), undated

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.

“The Glad Eye” sent to ‘Miss so and so’ from ‘so and so’; undated

“The Glad Eye” sent to ‘Miss so and so’ from ‘so and so’; undated

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.

“The Christian Congregation in Jagadhri” No inscription or date

“The Christian Congregation in Jagadhri” No inscription or date

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.

“To Be Delivered” No inscription or date

“To Be Delivered” No inscription or date

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.

“Greetings From CHRISTCHURCH” Inscribed: Dear Miss Freeman, I have been longing and waiting for an introduction to you for some time now.  How about you meeting me tomorrow evening say about 7.30pm on the second step of W. Post-office. I think we know each other well enough and I see you every morning coming to work. Do come, Your most Ardent Admirer C.G.B. Do come dear darling”. Undated.

“Greetings From CHRISTCHURCH” Inscribed: Dear Miss Freeman, I have been longing and waiting for an introduction to you for some time now. How about you meeting me tomorrow evening say about 7.30pm on the second step of W. Post-office. I think we know each other well enough and I see you every morning coming to work. Do come, Your most Ardent Admirer C.G.B. Do come dear darling”. Undated.

Postcards from World War I

World War I is on a lot of minds at present.  Museum staff have been busy going through the collection and have discovered a range of amazing items from that war, including postcards which have been sent home to loved ones from soldiers at training or on active service.  These offer a great insight into the life of soldiers and into some of the situations they encountered.

Featherston fancy-work

Training was the first step, where recruits were taught the basics of what they would be doing overseas. Soldiers would often take reminders of home with them, like photographs or trinkets, but sometimes a bigger message was required to remind them what they were fighting for. Little is known about the author or recipient of this card but it portrays the artistic side of life in the training camp in Featherston.

1802.3798.2 a

 

Hut 139, Featherston M.C. 1.12.16. This is a photo of a bit of fancy-work in front of our hut on the left-hand side from the door. Archie.

 

 

Camp Life, The Camp Barber

The light-hearted joviality and excitement of a new adventure continued and many postcards of the time made light of several facets of army life. This postcard was written to Mr Glenny of the Ben Nevis Hotel in Turakina, the author is unknown. The message is simple and lets the image speak for itself. Apparently having a trim was a real event.

1802.3775 a

 

Not a bad snapshot is it.

 

 

 

Suez, The Docks

The excitement carried through, and optimism was predominant in the early stages of service. This postcard of the docks of the Suez Canal was sent from Henry Eliot Blennerhassett (known to his family as Boy) to his sister Ada in Wanganui, and talks of some of the positive aspects of being overseas. Henry survived the war and returned to Wanganui to live out his life.

1802.3435.1Cairo 19-2-16.This is about the only PC of Suez I could get. It is not bad but it does not give you much of an idea because you have not got the colours. This is a great show and I would like to be staying longer but you have to be ready for anything at this game. Thank you for the letter.  Love from Boy.

 

 

Main Entrance, Woodcote Park

After a while the realities of war set in and a longing for home became stronger. This postcard was sent to a friend by J C Reid. He was on sick leave at the time, and a common theme for soldiers in this position was a great appreciation of England and time away from the front. Nothing compared to home though.

1802.34388-11-15. Dear Friend, A Merry Xmas & Happy new year to you all. I left my job in Gallipoli on Sept 13th and at present am in Convl’nt [Convalescent] Camp recovering from an attack of Gastritis. The camp is in Lord Rosebury’s estate, and at present is the home of about 3000 men. I have been told that the whole [“experience has been” crossed out] of erecting buildings was bound by Lord R. The people of England are making a great fuss of us and I am sure we would not be treated better in NZ. Still NZ would be good enough for me and I will not be sorry when this present trouble is over. Thanks for your many letters, will write home by next mail. Regards to all, J C Read.

 

2010.52.7aErnest Jack Lloyd as John Bull

And when the War to End All Wars finally ended, the celebration postcards began. This card was a memento of peace celebrations and features a portrait of a young Ernest Jack Lloyd dressed up as John Bull, the personification of Great Britain. The Lloyd family was from Fordell and Ernest had relatives who fought in the war, so the long-awaited celebrations of peace were very important to the family.  Although this card has no message written on the reverse, it illustrates the patriotic sentiment and great celebration at the final completion of the war.