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The Picture Postcard

A new window into Edwardian Ireland


Ann Wilson

The Picture Postcard, a new window into Edwardian Ireland uses the material culture of the picture postcard as a lens through which to examine life on the island of Ireland during the Edwardian period (1902-10). Picture postcards became extremely popular worldwide at the start of the twentieth century, when literally hundreds of billions of them were produced and sold.

This book draws on postcard collections to access the everyday lives of people who rarely make it into conventional historical narratives, and to make connections in an Irish context between their «small histories» and broader, well-studied discourses such as identity, nationalism, empire, modernity, emigration, tourism and the roles of women.


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Chapter 3 Postcards: A medium of private and public communication


Postcards were developed initially as a medium for communication and were widely adopted for this purpose very quickly. In the three months following the launch of the first postcard in Austria in 1869 nearly 3 million postcards were sold, and, according to Ferguson, ‘by the mid-1870s, most of the Western world was using the half-penny or penny postcard’.1 Initially, these were without imagery, thin pieces of card of a mostly standard size and format (this varied in different countries), designed to be easily and cheaply sorted and transported, with space for an address and stamp on one side and a short message on the other. They were quick and easy to write and send, allowing little space for the elaborate and often tedious formalities that had become conventionally associated with letter writing. Various images and motifs were soon added to the cards in some countries, but this was hampered by regulations in others. Greeting cards, tourist views and pictures of hotels and restaurants in postcard form began to appear in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the 1870s and 1880s, and by the early 1890s a wide variety of picture postcards was available in many European countries.2 The picture postcard industry began to grow in Britain and Ireland after 1894, when the Government relinquished its postcard monopoly and allowed production by private manufacturers. The USA’s first official colour postcards were sold at The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and most restrictions against the private printing of picture postcards were...

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