This work is a result of my residency at Bristol Archives working with the Vaughan postcard collection during March-Sept 2015. The Vaughan collection contains over 9,000 postcards of Bristol and surrounding areas, the majority of which date from early 20th Century. The cards were collected by the late Mr Roy Vaughan and were donated to Bristol Archives. I spent time at Bristol Archives, looking at various categories from the Vaughan collection and also met a group of community volunteers who have been researching the cards. More information about the project and how my work developed during the residency can be found in the ‘About’ section and previous posts.
The Vaughan collection is a vast pictorial history of Bristol, but what I also became fascinated by were the many messages on the cards. The development of my work during the residency focused on several key ideas. I was interested in the layers of history imbued in the postcards regarding their production and ownership, and in relation to the reverse of the cards and their many messages and marks. In addition to the message, the reverse of the postcard contains other elements and marks that have left their traces: publisher names, instructions regarding communication and address, the postmark, the stamp, annotations by Vaughan and Bristol Archives cataloguing numbers. These layers of marks made me reflect on the spectral quality of the cards and the many people who have interacted with them and continue to do so. Past and present relationships between the publisher, the sender of the card and its recipient, postcard dealers, Vaughan, Bristol Archives and the volunteers are all bound up in the card. The text and marks that have been inscribed over the years visually echo the journey the postcard has taken in terms of its ownership.
The journey the postcard has physically taken from its initial production, to postcard shop, to being purchased and sent, to being acquired by Vaughan and to its current home at Bristol Archives inevitably creates a set of networks within Bristol and beyond. The status, value and purpose of the postcards have shifted along this journey. Their original intention was to be a form of correspondence and with several postal deliveries a day they were a speedy way to communicate – the text message of the early 20th Century! They were also items of commerce and collectable objects, as many of the messages make reference to this. Most recently, the postcards have shifted from the private collection of Vaughan to the public realm, where their current purpose is for research and preservation and they are accessible for all to view.
For this work, I selected a number of messages from the Vaughan collection and reproduced and printed these as new postcards. The reverse side of the postcard is the less visible facet of the Vaughan collection and it was my interest to reveal and unearth the hidden aspect of this archive. I was also keen to create something tangible, something that could be released and in turn continue a kind of journey. Perhaps these new cards will be posted to new destinations and/or become part of another collection.
When selecting the messages, certain themes did appear, ranging from the banal, quirky and humorous to the poignant. Messages about lost items, detailed commentaries on journeys, pointing oneself out in the image, making reference to events of the time and sites in Bristol, and wonderings about the whereabouts of the recipient of the card were all common themes. It was a joy to read and select these small individual fragments of historical memory. Part of the appeal of working with the reverse side of the card, was studying the handwriting, the type, the layout, the design and colour of the cards in the Vaughan collection. I considered the time-consuming process of drafting the message but also the necessary labour of the body involved in the production of the postcards themselves.
The industrial processes and labour involved in postcard production invited me to make use of older printing technologies for the reverse side of the new cards. I chose to use Letterpress, which is a technique of relief printing using a printing press, to produce copies through repeated direct impression of an inked, raised surface. Part of the charm of Letterpress is its tactile nature and the direct relationship one has with the technology in producing the object.
At the Know your Bristol on the Move celebration event at M Shed on 18th September, I displayed my cards alongside an Albion Press from M Shed’s collection. Visitors had the opportunity to print a postcard using the press. The reproductions of the messages were printed by Taylor Brothers, one of Bristol’s oldest printing companies, family run since the 1830’s. They also donated type to M Shed’s collection. I printed the reverse side of the cards at The Letterpress Collective, a studio that teaches both type composition and printing skills and who acquired some of their equipment from M Shed. The type used on my postcards comes from M Shed’s collection. By working with all these organisations in order to produce the postcards, a particular kind of relationship was highlighted with regards to the different objects held in this city’s archives and to draw attention to Bristol’s industrial printing heritage.
Below are some of the postcards;
Thank you to the following people, who assisted me during this project: Professor Robert Bickers (Principal Investigator on the Know Your Bristol on the Move project, Angela Piccini, (Co-Investigator on the Know Your Bristol on the Move project), Julian Warren and all the archive assistants at Bristol Archives, Nick Hand and Ellen Bills at The Letterpress Collective, Nigel Millen at Taylor Brothers, Andy King at M Shed and Nick Nourse (Research Assistant on the Know Your Bristol on the Move project). Thanks also to the Vaughan postcard volunteers; Andrew Hill, Mike Pinnell, Roger Ford, Brian Vincent, Becky Miller and special thanks to Christine Smart who assisted in selecting the messages.