Less Than Perfect Harmony: Man and Machine In Postcard History

Bad news has always sold well and disasters often feature on early postcards like this one from New York in 1905.  Ironically, it occurred on September 11th when a high-level train jumped the tracks killing eleven passengers and one passer by.  The driver was held responsible immediately went on the run being arrested two years later in San Francisco.

Accidents involving all kinds of transport are a particularly prevalent theme from postcards in the early part of the twentieth century. The lack of safety features and an arrogant belief in our superiority over mere machinery would provide no shortage of subjects.  Any number of picture postcards feature the aftermath of car, plane and shipwrecks, a bemused public gawking at a tangle of metal and scattered debris. Yet some of the more sought-after postcards actually show the ‘before’ picture of notable disasters. Cards featuring the Hindenburg or the Titanic in their pomp have particular appeal.

The Instagram of Yesteryear


Easy, effective, instant global communication is something we now take for granted thanks to email, WhatsApp and all the other platforms available to us. It was different just thirty years ago and it was unimagineable during the Great War. At a time of national crisis with hundreds of thousands of people displaced because of military commitments, the postal service played a vital role in keeping families in touch and maintaining morale among servicemen and women. Receiving a postcard nowadays is always welcome but its receipt was generally greeted with far more joy a hundred years ago.

This series of cards was sent by John Moorcroft to his wife in Epsom. The fronts show a variety of aircraft used by the RFC in whose service he was employed at Aldershot. On the back he writes to tell her of impending leave and the train he plans to take. Happily, he survived the war but for some families a simple postcard was the last message they ever had from a loved one.

Deltiology, as postcard collecting is known, is now the third most popular collecting hobby in the world (after stamps and money). 1989-1919 is regarded as the Golden Age when picture postcards were extremely popular but collections can be centred on any period, theme or location.

Whether you’re wondering if it’s for you or you’re a seasoned deltiologist, there’s sure to be something interesting to discover at Charing Cross Collectors Market this Saturday.

Wish you were there?

The Edwardian splendour of classic rail travel is recalled in this rare mint condition promotional postcard for the Great Central Railway (1897-1922). The company would later form part of the much larger London and North Eastern Railway. Today it survives as the UK’s only main line heritage railway (http://www.gcrailway.co.uk/)

Postcards, coins, stamps, militaria and ephemera of all sorts attract interested amateurs and discerning collectors alike every Saturday at Charing Cross Market. See you there.