X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Books

Wish you were here

23 February 2013

9:00 AM

23 February 2013

9:00 AM

The Postcard Age Lynda Klich and Benjamin Weiss

Thames & Hudson, pp.296, £19.95

It’s just a guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the 60p first-class stamp has finally done for the postcard as a useful or desirable means of communication. Receiving one postal delivery a day instead of two didn’t help, but then postal authorities across the world ceased to treat postcards with respect a long time ago. Sometimes you were off on your next holiday before postcards from your previous holiday had reached their destinations. And when was the last time you sent a postcard when you were on holiday? Were you spending francs or pesetas at the time, and cashing in travellers’ cheques?

Postcards had their day, though. In 1903, more than a billion of them passed through the German postal system. In 1909, our own Post Office sold 833 million stamps for postcards, nearly 20 for every man, woman and child. They represented the very cutting edge of communication technology. ‘By 1903,’ write Klich and Weiss, ‘the international postal system guaranteed the friend in Germany that a card dropped in a Munich postbox would find its way quickly and safely to a house in suburban London.’ According to one publisher, the postcard was ‘part and parcel of the busy, rushing, time-saving age we live in.’

[Alt-Text]


Naturally, some people did not approve. ‘For one thing, the short messages that fit on the cards could hardly convey the erudition of a traditional letter, a longtime sign of refinement.’ And the lack of envelope meant that anyone could read it: not just postal workers, but more worryingly, ‘the servants who brought the mail to its final recipient’. Some commentators suggested that sending an unsolicited postcard actually amounted to an invasion of privacy. And then there was the question of public morals.

For while few overtly pornographic cards passed through the post (without the protection of a brown envelope), designers and printers of postcards frequently approached the outer limits of what was acceptable. In 1901 the Italian printers’ association appealed to the government to stave off an ‘invasion’ of postcards that freely exposed ‘indecent’ figures and so imperilled ‘public morality’. You might as well try to resist the plague. In 1900, a Viennese Railway inspector wrote a piece of doggerel musing on how wonderful it would be to be all alone with one’s love on a desert island. No fashion, no politics, and best of all, no post office and no postcards! The poem was printed on a postcard.

A hundred years later, all this has become the subject of earnest academic study. Lynda Klich is Distinguished Lecturer in the Art and Art History Department at Hunter College, CUNY, while Benjamin Weiss is Leonard A Lauder Curator of Visual Culture at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. (For which, read ‘Head of Postcards’.)

This lavish, highly serious and strangely compelling book is based on the collection of the very same Leonard A Lauder, an art collector and philanthropist who was formerly Chairman of the Estée Lauder Companies Inc., a position he reached through grit and hard work, and not being Estée’s son in any way at all. He has 120,000 postcards, of which there are just 400 in this book. But those 400 are from the golden age before the Great War, and a few years after, before the postcard was superseded as a symbol of speed and modernity by the telephone and radio. Klich and Weiss’s commentary can be a little heavy-going, but the postcards are magnificent. We would send many of these today if we could, and damn the expense.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close