They are as much a part of the traditional seaside holiday as a stick of rock or a kiss-me-quick hat. But the practice of sending a postcard home - and getting back before them - looks to have finally had its day. Brian Ellis investigates.
Don’t tell Granny, but the humble seaside postcard has finally had its day.
The last post will come at the end of the year when Britain’s oldest publisher stops printing, killed off by social media.
Sales of holiday postcards have nose-dived by 75 per cent in the past 25 years. What was once a quintessential part of the British seaside holiday has been replaced by the new fangled selfie, with the smart phone generation turning their backs on “snail mail” in favour of a more instant way of saying “wish you were here.”
Postcard producers since 1880, J Salmon, of Sevenoaks in Kent, say the writing was on the wall once technology made it easier to send a holiday snap over the internet than to stick a stamp on it and pop it in the postbox. Now, after 137 years, the presses will grind to a halt in December, leaving seaside shops hard pressed to source supplies for the dwindling band of traditionalists who still like to holiday the old fashioned way and get home before their postcards arrive.
“This is absolutely tragic,” said postcard expert Jeffrey Richards, Emeritus Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University.
“Postcards are the fingerprint of the lives of ordinary people. They give us insights into what really went on, not just where they went, but what they did, wore, and the shops they went to.”
Statistics illustrate the dramatic decline in what was once an integral part of taking a holiday. Back in 1903 a staggering 600 million postcards were posted in the British Isles. This year the figure was a mere five to six million. Shopkeepers in the UK’s favourite seaside resort Blackpool say demand is still there from visitors wanting to send a card featuring iconic landmarks like the town’s world famous tower or its three piers.
Gift shop owner John Yates says tourists visiting his shop on South Promenade still want to buy a postcard of the resort. However he is now struggling to find a supplier.
“Every day people come in asking for a Blackpool postcard, but we just can’t get them,” said John who has been running his store since 1971.
“People still want a view of the Tower or the trams. Older people still send postcards while some just want one as a souvenir.
“They haven’t died a death, it’s just we can’t get them. You can still buy postcards of scenes in London and the Lake District, so why not Blackpool? We get millions of visitors a year so there is still scope for it.
“We used to sell thousands every year. Now we just have the Bamforths funny seaside ones. It’s the same with calendars. No-one is producing those anymore either, but people still want them.”
Bamforths, based in Yorkshire, have been the world leader in comic postcards and were producing 20 millions cards a year after the First World War. The staple characters were large ladies, hen-pcked husbands and red-nosed drunks.
While they remain popular, scenic postcards have seemingly had their day. Yet collectors are still as active and enthusiastic as they have always been.
Preston is home to the Red Rose Postcard Club - the largest in the North of England. It was set up in 1984 and is still going strong today.
Former official Mike Humphries said: “I think the postcard as a means of communication is dying, but the postcard collecting scene is still quite healthy. Not as strong as it used to be, but there are still plenty of people, mainly the older end, who collect them. Some can be quite valuable items.”
J. Salmon says the popularity of social media had had a huge impact on the business.
In a letter to suppliers and newsagents, the brothers wrote: “Increasingly challenging trading conditions and changes to the nature and size of the market for its publications have resulted in uncertainty over the viability of its trade.”
The earliest known postcard was a hand-painted design mailed in Fulham in 1840 by writer Theodore Hook and sent to himself.
Postcards without images were issued by the Post Office in 1870, but the ‘golden age’ of the postcard was in the late 1890s. Early cards often showed nude women and were known as French cards because most were produced across the Channel.
By 1903 as many as 600 million were posted in Britain. This year it is estimated only five to six million will be sent.