Can selfies really replace postcards?
The writing’s on the wall... or rather, it’s on social media as people opt for selfies instead of postcards.
This week, a postcard from Tenerife landed on my doormat.
It was from my brother and sister-in-law who always send postcards... even though they are on Facebook. “It’s 10.15pm and still warm,” writes Anne and I’m envious. I mention this because the inexorable rise of the selfie has in part been blamed for the demise of the traditional postcard.
The country’s oldest surviving postcard company, J Salmon of Sevenoaks, in Kent, which has been in business since 1880, is to close at the end of the year. It will bring to an end 137 years of publishing.
Today’s holidaymakers are more likely to simply take a picture of themselves on the beach or with a local landmark and post it on to social media, apparently.
So much of our heritage, over the last century and a half, has been recorded in postcards. Views of towns in Victorian and Edwardian times tell us so much about social history ? the fashions, the transport, the shops, the pastimes and, above all, the way the past looked, vistas frozen in time.
In the early days, the postcard was the precursor to a telephone call. People would send them to say they had arrived safely at their destinations. They would send them to announce they would be back the following day. Some of us will remember when there were two postal deliveries each day. You could pop it in the pillar box first thing in the morning and it might arrive with the afternoon post.
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More recently, the saucy postcard has been a feature of sea front shops. My late uncle John delighted in finding the most naughty postcard to send to his sister, my mum, who did not approve and would immediately consign them to the bin with a: “Really!”
In the First World War, many of the soldiers would collect postcards from the places where they fought. I believe some newspapers supplied them to troops. In the journals of George Punchard, an Ipswich soldier who kept his diaries throughout the conflict, are many postcards of buildings shelled to rubble. A postcard of the welcome his home town gave to the returning soldiers of the Suffolk Regiment is also pasted into his journals.
A Suffolk victim of the Titanic disaster in 1912, Thomas Mudd, sent home a postcard of the ship which still survives. He told his mother he had arrived in Southampton, where he would board RMS Titanic, safely.
After the world wars postcards became primarily part of the holiday industry.
“Weather is nice, wish you were here,” was the standard phrase. Less usual: “Dear Auntie – you will be surprised to hear I am going to prison tomorrow.”
Seaside towns successfully used postcards to market their resort, enticing the recipients to consider their particular brand of sunshine, beach and fun.
My postcard procedure on holiday (still) is buy a dozen or so cards on day one, get them written on day two, nag my husband to write his on day three, and hope they would reach home before we did. Buying postcards abroad often had the added complication that the stamps had to be purchased at a different shop. These days, of course, a postcard can take a week or more to negotiate the postal systems of more than one country.
Do people honestly prefer to take a photograph of themselves at a Florentine café with the world’s largest cocktail or standing in front of Michelangelo’s David, and bung it on Facebook where everyone can see it rather than sending a postcard with an individual message? It seems that they do. In Pisa a couple of years ago, you couldn’t move for young people taking the compulsory shot of themselves appearing to hold up the Leaning Tower. A good many went on the grass (despite the notice telling them to keep off) to lie down and make it look as if they were holding up the Tower with their feet... a pointless conceit. But, it seems most of us are content with the ephemeral nature of social media. There was a time when fridge doors everywhere featured the season’s postcards. Memories today have the life-span of a mayfly.
Is the traditional holiday missive a thing of the past? Not while there are a few of us who enjoy writing, with a pen, on paper, positioning a stamp on the top right of the card and popping it in a post box. It may be old-fashioned but you can’t beat the personal touch... even if you have been home a week by the time it arrives.
• Author F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920s postcard to himself, stamped but not posted: “Dear Scott, How are you? Have been meaning to come and see you...”
• From author CS Lewis to a friend ? in Anglo Saxon (1953): “giese” it begins and thereafter says something about Beowulf!
• Author Truman Capote to his friend, (1960s): “Dear Boris, I have settled on this beautiful island (Paros, Greece) for the summer. Wish you could spend your holiday with me. So glad you got the dictionaries...”
• Author James Joyce to his publisher (1908): “I should be glad to hear from you, by return if possible with regard to MS of (Dubliners)... as I am anxious to get it off my hands this season.”
• From writer Jack Kerouac to his editor (1956): “Dear Malcolm if you don’t send me a contract with an advance (or some kind of option) on On the Road, I am going to withdraw the manuscript from Viking and sell it elsewhere...”
• The 1982 postcard from Author William S Burroughs to underground artist Clay Wilson features two real bullet holes