In a section called The Messages in Tom Phillips’ book The Postcard Century: 2000 Cards and Their Messages, he states that the postcard was the phone call of the early part of the twentieth century and the main mode of communication. With up to five postal deliveries a day, local cards were fast ways to communicate. It’s use spread quickly, growing in popularity. One reason for this, Phillips points out, was the small demand it placed on the writer, in an era when schooling, for most people, was over at aged fourteen. It was also cheaper than a letter and carried the bonus of a nice picture.
Although the range of Phillips’ collection is much wider than what I am working with, his reflections on considering the postcards messages have been useful. Phillips explains that while being informal, the postcard message developed its own prescription and rules, which contained necessary elements such as the greeting, the weather, the health of the writer, enquiry to the health of the correspondent and signing off.
Although Phillips came across multiple cards from the same writers during his collecting, largely the messages in his book “are isolated and their context of incident and relationship has to be inferred”. He goes on “A whole hinterland of tragedy can be discerned behind a few words or the curtain can briefly rise on a scene of joy and celebration”.
In the book, the messages are transcribed as captions below the postcard image. The messages “disjointedness, eccentric spellings and wayward grammar” are kept intact. He notices that older messages often carry on without any help from commas or full stops. He notes the long time spent staring at impenetrable handwriting. “The pleasure of suddenly being able to read a word that at first sight looked like a string of m’s followed by an unattached loop is almost as great as the moment of suddenly overhearing a real voice or being party to a revealed fragment of someone else’s existence”.
In an ideal world, all the written sides of the cards would have been reproduced, as Phillips states, “much of the flavour of a message lies in its script and layout”. This is something I really agree with, especially after looking at the Vaughan collection so far. The styles of different handwriting, the colour of the inks, and the format of the cards are all unique and fascinating. I believe this is why I am drawn to working with the reverse/message side of the postcards, as much can be gleamed from studying this side of them.