Postcards from the Past

My father died earlier this year and I inherited a huge pile of Edwardian postcards which had been handed down the generations. Most of the cards were published by Raphael Tuck and Sons. I decided to find out a bit more about the company.

Raphael Tuck was a Prussian immigrant who, together with his wife, started up a business in London in 1866 publishing and selling pictures and greeting cards. the business grew steadily over the years but the master stroke came when they introduced coloured art postcards into their catalogue. At that time the format of postcards was strictly controlled by the Universal Postal Union and only allowed a brief message on the picture side which limited the size of the picture. After lengthy negotiations, Tuck was able to convince the British Postmaster General to accept both the name and address coupled with the message on one side and a full size picture on the other. This revolutionary agreement in 1898, opened up great opportunities for the company to sell postcards featuring the artwork of many contemporary artists. They created a hugely successful collectibles market by selling themed cards in packs of 6. As well as more conventional views of beauty spots and iconic buildings across the world they developed cards featuring occupational and military subjects. For we genealogists, these are of much more interest. Their Scottish subjects for example included ‘A Scottish Washing’ and ‘Scottish Fisher Life’ in their Oilette range. The range was introduced in 1903 and designed to look like oil paintings. Two of the Scottish Washing theme are illustrated here and provide an interesting impression about how a wash day might have been conducted in different settings.

It makes an interesting contrast to the rather straight-laced posed family photographs which dominated the later Victorian period.

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