“Wish you were here” – celebrating the postcard, 1869-2019

The idea of a post card, one side of which could be used for the address and stamp and the other for a short message, originated 150 years ago with the first plain post cards going on sale in post offices throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire on 1st October 1869. The picture postcard was a natural development of the plain one and from the 1880s it became common in continental Europe. Holiday cards from the seaside remained popular in the 1920s and 30s and in John Hinde the Irish tourist industry found in the 1960s a man who had a genius for portraying a land where the sky was always blue, the people innocent and the scenery stunning. Today technology, for better or worse, has rendered largely obsolete a form of written communication that was once so dominant.

The hobby of postcard collecting, however, is still alive and people turn now to the cards of yesterday for understanding of a vanished world. Above all, we find in the postcard proof of the vital role played by the Post Office in bringing people together and evidence of our own unchanging need, as human beings, to communicate with each other. 

A few cards from the An Post Museum & Archive are currently on display beside the cafe in the Witness History visitor center in Dublin’s GPO, including this one from Patrick Pearse to his brother William. Written in Irish, the address caused some confusion amongst postal staff in 1915, hence the two postmarks.

Sent by Pearse from Maam Cross to Marlborough Road in Donnybrook but redirected via Phibsborough

St. Patrick’s Day cards

Feargal Quinn, Chairman of An Post, and Jim Mitchell, Minister for Communications, post their St. Patrick’s Day cards in the GPO in February 1984.

The idea of sending special cards to mark Ireland’s saint’s day goes back to the nineteenth century and by the early twentieth century there were many commercial firms involved in their production, both in Britain and Ireland and in the United States. Much of the now traditional imagery associated with Ireland and the Irish dates from that time.

Irish Coleen with Shamrock

The Post Office & Rural Life

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Delighted to be co-operating with the wonderful North Mayo Heritage Centre on this exhibition which was opened on Saturday last. A great collection of fascinating artifacts on display, wonderful stories to explore and a lovely café for coffee and a bite to eat!

Tea and stamps anyone?

Twinings 1959 series Inverted Swan

In 1959, the famous tea merchant, Twining’s of London, printed a series of 30 small cards measuring 1½ inches by 2¾ inches featuring illustrations of some of the world’s rarest stamps. Cigarette cards, showing actresses, sportsmen and other well-known figures, first appeared here in the late nineteenth century, issued by firms like Wills and John Player & Sons. They were used both as a form of advertising and as a means of strengthening the cigarette packet. The idea proved popular and all kinds of subjects featured on the cards over the following decades.

After the Second World War and the rationing of tea that was continued in its aftermath, the big British tea companies introduced tea cards as a way of marketing and re-introducing tea to the public in the early 1950s. Their market, of course, extended to Ireland where drinking tea was, until very recent years, much more popular than coffee. Considerable care was taken in the design and printing of the cards which were produced to a very high standard. The combination of colour and interesting snippets of information was a winning formula and the public collected cards to such an extent that the tea companies had to take on extra staff to deal with queries from those who wanted to buy missing cards to complete their collections!

Twining’s was set up in the early eighteenth century and its premises on London’s Strand is not far from the headquarters of the famous stamp dealer, Stanley Gibbons, which is also located on the Strand. Perhaps there was some co-operation between the two businesses for these tea cards encouraged stamp collecting. Instructions on the back of the cards read:

“Collect all 30 cards of the set. Cut off the bottom portions and return to above address with stamped addressed envelope for a free packet of selected foreign stamps.”

The series was devised by leading English stamp experts of the time, the Williams brothers, Norman and Maurice, whose knowledge of philately, especially its quirkier aspects, was immense. This particular series highlights some of the bizarre stories behind early stamp issues. Take a look at card No. 7, for instance. It shows Charles Connell, postmaster of New Brunswick in Canada, who decided to put his own portrait instead of Queen Victoria’s, on a 5 cent stamp in 1860. Such was the outrage generated that he had to resign and almost all of the stamps were destroyed.  The “Double Geneva” of 1843 is an interesting stamp because it was printed in two parts, half could be used for local Geneva post at 5 centimes or the whole, at 10 centimes, could be used for letters between Swiss cantons.

Finally, there is card No. 8 which has an Irish connection even though it is an 1854 stamp of Western Australia. The stamp shows a swan within a frame. During printing the frame was inverted and a few stamps were issued before the mistake was discovered. Known as the “inverted swan”, one of the very few known is in the National Museum’s collection in Dublin. It was discovered by a school boy in The High School Dublin and ended up being bought by the Duke of Leinster who left his wonderful stamp collection to the museum.

Curator

 

 

 

Ireland’s first Christmas stamps

Christmas 1971 stampsNow that’s it’s the 1st December, I suppose some discussion of Christmas is allowed! The Department of Posts & Telegraphs issued the country’s first special stamps for Christmas in 1971. Based on a design featuring a statue of the Madonna and Child in Lougrea cathedral, county Galway,  they can be judged successful I think.

 

National Lottery

Lottery ticket Royal Exchange 1777Until quite recently An Post managed the Irish National Lottery for which it received payment from the Government. The Company was also part owner. Its extensive network of post offices allowed it to sell lottery tickets economically and conveniently throughout the country. The Lottery is now run by another business.

Post Office involvement in gambling was somewhat at odds with its traditional role as a prudent home for your money and the advocate of a savings habit to be inculcated from an early age with six penny savings stamps! Lotteries were not new of course when An Post became involved in the mid-1980s as this 1777 ticket, from the Museum & Archive, demonstrates. The object here was the building of the new Royal Exchange, now the City Hall.

 

 

Travelling Post Office carriage

37452353660_6eec4331be_oThe Travelling Post Office or TPO, as it was known within the Post Office, was a vital part of postal infrastructure in Ireland from 1855 until the last ones were taken out of service in 1994. Clerks would sort letters en route so that they would be ready, close to delivery order, by the time the train arrived at its destination. Bags of mail, moreover, would be taken on and offloaded by means of a special net and pole apparatus at points on the journey without the train having to stop. The system was remarkably efficient and the men who worked on the TPOs were experts in their knowledge of the postal system and Irish geography.

Having been in storage for many years, the last of our TPO carriages was moved last weekend to Downpatrick’s railway museum where it will be on loan from the Post Office to form, in due course, part of a display in the Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s exhibition. The ties between the Post Office and the railways in Ireland have been very strong over the last 150 years or so and it is nice to find an appreciative and fitting home for the last of these purpose-built Post Office carriages.