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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Salvation Army Postcards


I first began collecting postcards in 1986. It began very simply with the realisation that I needed a hobby, something apart from work that I could focus on and received pleasure from. And so I pondered what I might undertake as a hobby.

Realising that “collecting things” was probably the most favourite pastime, I then began to think about what I might collect. While I was thinking I came across a small accumulation of postcards that I gathered over a number of years including some old black and white cards in mint condition, which I had purchased more than 20 years earlier. So the decision was made.

My first big mistake was probably the most common, in that I failed to research the hobby before I embarked on it. Initially, my collection consisted mainly of modern postcard views. Then in 1989 when stationed in Sheffield I decided one bank holiday Monday to jump on a bus near to where I was living south of the city centre just to get out for a few hours. I forget now where I ended up, the bus was going away from Sheffield, into Derbyshire, but I stumbled across a postcard fair, and did a bit of browsing, and was fascinated by the vast array that was on offer. I didn’t buy anything that day, but I was beginning to get hooked. I visited a few more fairs and in the early days I bought just about anything that took my fancy.

A short time later, after I had moved to London, I saw an advert from Harry Hayes in Salvationist regarding Salvation Army postcards. I had a chat with him, and became aware of the Salvation Army Philatelic Circle and its regular postal auctions, and before long I was well and truly hooked! Harry, perhaps without knowing it , had a major influence in my decision to get involved. I will be eternally grateful to Harry.

Background to the postcard

The first plain postcards appeared in Austria in 1869, and one year later Britain followed. The first picture postcards appeared in the mid 1870’s on the continent but it was not until 1894 that they first appeared in Britain. The GPO was for many years reluctant to allow this novel form of sending messages. The rationale behind their reluctance is not clear.
In 1902 Britain became the first country to divide the back of the picture postcard to allow the address and a message to be written on the same side.

The period 1902-1914 has been termed the golden age of the picture postcard. This was a time when almost everybody sent postcards; it was the cheapest and most reliable form of communication.

Soon. almost every conceivable subject could be found on postcards, as can be seen from the copy of Picture Postcard Values on the table.

So in the very early years of the 20th century, picture postcard collecting became a national pastime.

Before 1914 most British picture postcards were printed in Germany, but the outbreak of hostilities put an end to that, and by the time the Armistice was signed in 1918, very few people were collecting postcards and very few were being produced, apart from local views and those of the seaside comic variety.

The hobby began a revival in the late 1950’s and gathered momentum throughout the 60’s, when collectors shops began to carry stocks of old post cards, which had been unearthed from a variety of sources. Today there are more than 500 dealers supported by the Postcard Traders Association, an estimated 20,000 collectors, and the magazine Picture Postcard Monthly has a circulation of around 7,500.

Salvation Army postcards represent one of three disciplines within my postcard collecting profile. What is clear to me is that in the early years of the 20th century, Salvationists at all levels were an enterprising people. The Salvation Army was quick to spot an opportunity which could be exploited, in the very best sense of that word.

It was the golden age of the picture postcard, large numbers of people were collecting them, and kept them in little albums. They could be produced cheaply, and in quantity, and distributed at prices that people could afford; and there was a profit to be made! A band wagon was rolling along, and our enterprising forbears would not allow it to pass them by and we are glad, because they have enabled us to preserve much of our movement’s heritage through the humble picture postcard.

And speaking of band-wagons, bands very quickly became a prominent feature of the Salvation Army postcard boom. A local photographer came to the hall to photograph the band, postcards were produced, and no doubt sold to raise money for the band funds.

Cards from the early years of the 20th century always seem to abound whenever I visit fairs, and many of these carry the date along with the caption, or perhaps with a clear postmark on the reverse.

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