David Cook has collected 45,000 postcards.
Story By David Cook
Having a good time, wish you were here.
Weather terrible. Trip down here worse.
Meet me under the clock tower tonight.
Such messages, scrawled across the back of five-and-a-half by three-and-a-half inch rectangles of cardboard more than a century ago, barely reflect the historic and social joy on the other side. Postcards, today largely relegated to gaudy or crude images of holiday resorts or as giveaway promotions, were once regularly used and collected. Between the 1880s and 1920, they reflected and recorded all facets of life.
Collector David Cook considers them to be the mobile phones of their era. Over the past 45 years, he has amassed 45,000 postcards from the turn of the 20th century and has written the only Australian reference work on the subject. “At that time they became an immensely popular medium for communication,” he says. “Many hundreds of millions were produced around the world every year, and they were widely collected and stored in special albums, which became a sort of coffee-table book of images displaying you and your family’s tastes in fashion, the latest technology, humour, politics, patriotism, holiday destinations and every other facet of life at the time.” Postcards were particularly important for those living on outback properties, providing a link to the rest of the world that was timely, bright and fashionable. “Among many other things, these cards beautifully document the way of life in regional Australia, from the days when Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson and The Bulletin were in their prime,” David says.
As cameras were not widely available, postcards served as a record of places visited, often in vivid colours not seen elsewhere in the recipient’s life. The popularity of postcards soared as the Victorian era reached its zenith. “Growing levels of literacy, the advent of superb chromolithography printing processes that vie with the best available today and a rising middle class with time for holidays and spare cash to spend produced an insatiable demand,” David says. “Postcards blossomed as a medium for communication, art and historical record until the end of World War I, when the fad simply died.
“Today there are many people who collect these records of a world long gone, seeking those fragile documents that have survived a century of fires, insects, indifference, mould and accident.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #89
Outback Magazine: June/July 2013