Public Billet Doux: Postcards in Wartime

These four hand coloured postcards sent between two French star crossed lovers express sentiments which were obviously deeply felt. The very fact that these cards are still here today hints at how much they must have been treasured by the couple in question.

Our other example was bought in France by a British soldier and sent home to a sweetheart he rather endearingly calls ‘Peechums’! He’s also pleased to hear about the ‘two Zepps being fetched down’. The date means this relates to the night of 23/24 September 1916 when two newly designed and built Zeppelins were destroyed. One, L32 was shot down by Frederick Sowrey, RFC, aged 23, and crashed near Snails Farm, South Green, Great Burstead, Near Billericay.

Some Things Never Go Out of Fashion…

…And in this case, we mean the desire to show off – not just what we own – but the fact that we can afford it!

‘Conspicuous consumption’ has long been a popular way to assert one’s success in life, if only by the rather tawdry yardstick of money. The child with the new phone, the youth with their flash trainers, yuppies with designer dogs and the middle aged man with the sports car, these cliches have equivalents from every previous era.

While still expensive, wrist watches became were quite common by the time of the Great War. Many were repurposed from old pocket watches so tend to be quite prominent – although that’s no bad thing when you want to show off! These photographic portraits from the time show the sitters in poses which allow them to do just that.

Karl Henning Covers

A market regular and wonderfully informative contributor to this blog, Michael Burroughs, has again turned up trumps with this collection of covers and postcards all addressed to the somewhat controversial German collector, Karl Henning.

An active member of the NSDAP (Nazi) party, he officially began making the covers during the Third Reich. This included the General Government covers. By war’s end, he was Post Master General on the Channel Islands and later produced official post-war commemorative covers including the Berlin airlift – an example of which is pictured here.

Taking all his, admittedly considerable, stock to the Dominican republic, it is believed that he continued trading through another company name, Casa Filatelica Antillana. Even today, members of his family are said to still trade but eyebrows have been raised in stamp collecting forums at the seemingly inexhaustible amount of stock still for sale.

This has not seriously tarnished the allure of the ‘Karl Hennig cover’ per se though. They are still much sought after – although it’s wise to consult an experienced dealer before purchasing.

A Hollow Victory Christmas…

The war might have finished in time for Christmas 1918 but the mood in Europe was sombre. As this postcard of the time shows, even something as simple as putting up a stocking was a stark reminder of just how hard the previous four years had been on people.

Hoping the ‘Ol’ Rotter’ does get round to visit the homes of all our dealers, visitors and friends of the Market! Merry Christmas!

PS Don’t forget we’re closed on Christmas Eve, open New Years Eve!

Majestic Memorabilia

This week we’re featuring some highly topical items sent to us recently by Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria.

Firstly an official pass for a motor vehicle to be in Westminster during the late Queen’s coronation in 1953. It’s impossible to see in the photos but the registration numbers of the vehicles has been pencilled in on the front: JK2204 and RV7074 for ‘Westminster Bank’.

And then there are a couple of much sought after ‘real photograph’ postcards. The one from 1939 shows the King riding in Windsor Great Park alongside the princesses. Princess Margaret has her horse on a training lead held by her father. The other portrait photograph of the Queen was taken by Dorothy Wilding at a time when this would have been really quite unusual!

Straight to the Sauce

The saucy seaside postcard is now well over a hundred years old. While its origins at the end of the nineteenth century might have been very strait laced by modern standards steadily became more daring.

By the 1930s they had become a positive craze and various characters became staples of the trade. The buxom blonde, the overbearing mother-in-law, the fat vicar, the randy old man and the drunk holidaymaker barely changed for decades but the jokes got steadily more outrageous. So much so in fact that premises were raided and hefty fines handed out to artists under the 1857 Obscenity Act. As late as 1954, Donald McGill, the most famous seaside postcard artist received a hefty fine and thousands of his cards were seized in police raids.

The censors gave up as the sixties dawned but McGill continued working right up to his death. His position as an icon in postcard history was finally cemented in 1994 when the Royal Mail issued a set of stamps featuring his designs.

A Moment’s Peace

Bought at the Market last week is this evocative photograph of two British ‘tommies’ during the Great War. Bought by a fellow dealer, Michael Burroughs of Anything Military, he was also kind enough to give us his informed view of what we can learn from this century old primary source.

The ‘Carte Postale’ on the reverse tells us it was taken in a French studio with standard props of a chair, backdrop and unlit cigarette. It’s possible that the two are related, even brothers, and the fact that their uniform pockets are bulging and that they have uncleaned boots might well mean that the pair were taking advantage of a break from the front line when this was taken. Also significant perhaps: neither of them are smiling.

The characteristic snake belt both men are wearing was part of the 1914 leather pattern equipment issued to early Territorial’s and Kitchener battalions. The standing soldier’s cap bears the badge of the Ulster Rifles along with pioneer collar badges of crossed pick and rifle. It’s therefore most likely that he was a member of the regiment’s 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd County Down) (Pioneers). They landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer as pioneer battalion for the 36th (Ulster) Division in October 1915 for service on the Western Front.

His seated companion is wearing a cap badge of the Finsbury Rifles along with the typical black buttons of a rifle regiment. An educated guess would be that he quite probably belonged to the 2/11th battalion  of that unit which moved to France in February 1917 where they served on the western front for the duration of the war.

Next week, we’ll have a look at a similar photograph from the Great War, also taken in France but featuring two soldiers from the other side of No Mans’ Lead.

Rectangular Window On The Past

A generation is growing up which may possibly never send or receive a single postcard. And yet, in 1910, 800 million were sent in Britain alone. Today this equates to every man, woman and child sending one every month for a year. And why should they? With texts, chat, photo messaging able to do so much more, so much faster and so much more cheaply, the humble postcard seems to be living on borrowed time.

And, in a way, this makes the lure of postcard collecting all the more appealing. They are a finite historical resource which will only become rarer with time – a window on a forgotten world of etiquette, Empire and seaside sauciness. London’s Postal Museum has mounted a wonderfully informative exhibition of postcard history which is well worth a visit, even an online one. Discover how Victorians communicated (relatively!) intimate messages just by the angle at which they affixed their stamps. Or how the army censored postcards home from the trenches to avoid damaging morale at home. The exhibition runs until January.

50 Years of Postcard Collecting

As a child growing up in Derby, Rod Jewell was a keen philatelist until the day he realised that the General Post Office had begun producing stamps specifically for collectors like him. Unwilling to fulfil the role of a consumer, at the age of 22 he turned to postcard collecting instead. Over half a century later, his passion now fills a whole room of his house and it is likely that the 30,000 postcards he owns are worth upwards of half a million pounds.

Although Rod initially specialised in local images of Derby and its environs, his passion has encompassed other unusual niches such as Great War propaganda cards and a very rare same day delivery postcard which was carried by hot air balloon from Manchester at the beginning of the century. A similar card can be seen below.

Pre-digital Picture Messaging

While the advent of email and social media has inevitably displaced picture postcards as most people’s default way of communicating with friends and relatives back home, interest is growing in the medium partly because of its value as a window on the past. While most collectors are primarily interested in a postcard’s rarity or the image it shows, one man is specialising in the personal micro-histories they reveal.

Through his Twitter account, Tom Jackson posts a classic postcard from a half century ago which shows just how much, or how little, we have changed. His book of the same name is a compendium of some of the best and is in some ways as good a social history of who we were as you are likely to read. His website is at

In the same spirit, we’ve sourced a few classics of our own….

“Lovely lunch by the seafront – although the rock buns lived up to the name.”
“Bruce Forsyth was a hoot – Glad nearly wet herself!”
“Funnily enough, we had quite a little drama of our own with a theft overnight.”