The introduction of the postcard in Austria on 1st October 1869 set in motion a revolution
in the communication of ordinary messages of no particular importance: the quick
note, the mundane or humorous remark, the 'wish you were here' - indeed any short
note for which no privacy was required. The essential ‘selling point’ of the postcard
was that it was carried through the mails at a reduced rate - often at half the cost
of the cheapest letter.
Great Britain was not tardy in following the Austrian example. The postcard was introduced
here on 1st October 1870, and ‘first day postcards’ are keenly sought.
The first British cards were simple in the extreme. Completely blank on one side,
the ‘business’ side contained a printed stamp-like impression representing the postage
paid, and space for the address. Postage was charged at ½d compared to the regular
rate of 1d for letters of up to half an ounce. The letter writers regained a slight
advantage in October 1871 when their rate was extended to allow letters of up to
one ounce to pass for 1d.
Postcards were supplied pre-paid by the Post Office. From 1872, the public could
supply their own cards to the Post Office for stamping, the maximum size being 5½
inches by 3½ inches, but it wasn’t until 1894 that permission was granted for the
public to use their own cards with postage paid by means of a stamp. Rather oddly,
cut-out pre-paid stamp impressions from postcards had always been valid for use on
To see a much larger version of the images below, please hover your cursor over the
‘Foreign’ postcards, for use to member countries of the Universal Postal Union, were
introduced in 1875, at a rate of 1¼d. By 1879 the Foreign rate had been reduced to
1d. Reply Paid postcards for inland use were issued from 1882, followed in 1883 by
Reply Paid Foreign cards.
Inland rate postcards could be uprated to Foreign rate by the addition of the necessary
adhesives, and this was often done.
Although we, largely through experience, have come to regard postcards as second
class mail, with a ‘who knows when’ delivery schedule, this was not the case in the
early days. The card shown at lower left was posted in London on 10th January 1895
and received in Calcutta on 30th January. Not bad for pre-airmail days!
The first type of Great Britain postcard was introduced on 1st October 1870
The second style of GB Inland postcard introduced in 1878 addressed to Paris and
uprated to 1d by addition of ½d stamp
The 1892 style of GB Foreign postcard, addressed to Calcutta. Posted on 10th January
1895, arrived 30th January!
Those businesses with a large requirement for pre-printed cards could, as an option,
send these to the Post Office to be stamped in advance. They are very similar in
appearance to the official cards - in many cases the distinction is little more than
a variation in the form of words on the address side of the card, or the absence
or configuration of the Royal Arms.
But as with most postal history, the cards themselves tell us of the day to day concerns
of the people of the time. The card illustrated at left is a private card, stamped
by the Post Office, for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Addressed to
the Goods Department of the London and South West Railway, at Bournemouth West, it
is an instruction to deliver two wagon loads of coal to a local hotel, and to charge
the LBSCR accordingly.
London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, East Croydon, to London and South Western
Railway, Bournemouth West, re two wagon loads of coal.
Plain Postcards with added emotion
Many cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries give us an insight into everyday
life, but there is one group which, although conveying very little information to
the casual eye, can, with a bit of research, tell a much more interesting story.
Throughout the first World War, serving members of the Armed Forces were permitted
to send Field Service Post Cards home to their families and sweethearts. The rules
were strict: no words could be added, only pre-printed phrases could be used. The
cards were frequently postmarked with anonymous cancellations to conceal the whereabouts
of the correspondent. But with the accessibility of army records it is now possible
to decode the information which was hidden.
The Field Service Postcard on the left was postmarked on 24th October 1916 at Field
Post Office number 75. With brilliant security, we know that FPO75 was attached to
75 Brigade, serving with 25 Division. In 1916, 75 Bde was involved in the Battle
of the Somme, and on the night of 22nd/23rd October 1916 was relieved from the front
line and was withdrawn to Doullens, having conquered ‘Stuff Redoubt’ and ‘The Mounds’
to the north east of Thiepval.
Our card was sent the following day by P Dungworth to, presumably, his sweetheart
Miss Vere Mallender of Rotherham, telling her that he was quite well, and had received
her letter dated 16th October.
Did all turn out well? The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has no record of any
Tommy of this name, so we can presume that he survived the War. Medal record cards
held at the National Archives show that Percy Dungworth, number 105254, was a driver
with the Royal Engineers; he would have been attached to 75 Bde. The 1911 Census
records show only one male P Dungworth in the entire country: Percy Dungworth of
Doncaster, born in 1900.
The 1911 Census lists Elizabeth V Mallender, also of Doncaster, born in 1897, the
only female Mallender with an initial ‘V.’
So, here we have a card showing a 16 year old writing to his young lady to tell her
that he was fine, the day after he came back from the front line. From a monetary
point of view the card is worth a pound or two, tops. From the point of view of social