Postcards from London is the new book of short stories from Tim Walker, but what are the origins of the picture postcard? Since the advent of the digital age and messaging via e-mail, it is now far more common for pictures to be taken on phones and sent with a message via the internet. The age of the picture postcard posted with a postage stamp affixed, seems consigned to the history books.
Cards with messages had been sporadically created and posted by individuals since the beginning of postal services. The earliest known picture postcard was a hand-painted design on card, posted in Fulham in London by the writer Theodore Hook to himself in 1840, and bearing a penny black stamp.
He probably created and posted the card to himself as a practical joke on the postal service, since the image is a caricature of workers in the post office. In 2002 the postcard sold for a record £31,750.
In Britain, postcards without images were issued by the Post Office in 1870, and were printed with a stamp as part of the design, which was included in the price of purchase. The first known printed picture postcard, with an image on one side, was created in France in 1870 at Camp Conlie by Léon Besnardeau (1829–1914). Conlie was a training camp for soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war. The cards had a lithographed design printed on them containing emblematic images of piles of armaments on either side of a scroll topped by the arms of the Duchy of Brittany and the inscription, ‘War of 1870. Camp Conlie. Souvenir of the National Defence. Army of Brittany’. While these are certainly the first known picture postcards, there was no space for stamps and no evidence that they were ever posted without envelopes.
In the following year the first known picture postcard in which the image functioned as a souvenir was sent from Vienna. The first advertising card appeared in 1872 in Great Britain and the first German card appeared in 1874. Cards showing images increased in number during the 1880s. Images of the newly built Eiffel Tower in 1889 and 1890 gave impetus to the postcard, leading to the so-called “golden age” of the picture postcard in years following the mid-1890s. Early postcards often showcased photography of nude women. These were commonly known as French postcards, due to the large number of them produced in France.