This midget gem dropped through my letter box yesterday, along with a dozen or so more old vintage postcards (is there a word for people who are addicted to buying useless ephemera on eBay?) I have never come across a “Midget Post Card” before, but they appear to have been popular for a short period during the height of the postcard craze of the early twentieth century, They weigh-in (so to speak) at a featherweight three and a half inch by two and three quarters, and the reverse side already appears overcrowded once a stamp and an address have been added.
There is, however, something about the shape which is quite satisfying – especially when it provides a frame for one of the great beauties of the Edwardian era, Lily Brayton. Lily was born in Lancashire in 1876, the daughter of a local doctor. Acting must have been in the family somewhere, because both her and her sister went on this stage, and in 1898 she married the Australian actor, director and writer, Oscar Asche. They became the celebrity couple of their era: if it had been a century later, Lily and Oscar would have TV programmes made about their lives and millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Because it was the start of the twentieth century, Lily had her image on hundreds of picture postcards.
This particular tiny postcard was sent to Mrs Hailes of the Royal Marine Barracks in Stonehouse, Plymouth in July 1904. The message is short and to the point (they had to be on midget postcards – a little like Twitter you were restricted in the number of characters you could use! “Train leaves Millbay at 2.20pm. We shall be delighted to have the children for the night, EH.”
You can make of that what you will. Alternatively, you can look into the eyes of the midget gem that is Lily Brayton.
My interest in vintage postcards started sixty or more years ago when, as a child, I would be taken to visit my mother’s Uncle Fowler. Whilst the grown-ups talked, I would look through the album of old picture postcards he had. When he died, the album came to my mother, who – knowing my interest in it – passed it on to me. Those old postcards, collected by Fowler in the early 1900s, became the core of what became a larger collection, as I added postcards I would find in second-hand shops over the years. It is time, I think, to try and bring the collection back together in digital form. Fowler is pictured above – a photograph that was stuck in the back of the album. The postcards were in no particular order in the album, nor will they be in this digital collection.
For much of the time that Fowler Beanland was collecting old postcards – the first decade of the twentieth century – he was living in Longtown, Cumbria. He had moved there following the failure of the short-lived business he had established with his father and elder brother in his home town of Keighley. He was a spindle-maker and iron-turner by trade, and he may well have been employed in that capacity in the Longtown area.
The card had been sent to Fowler at his address in Longtown (48 Swan Street) and it came from someone else in the same town. The message – even when turned around by 180 degrees – is curious in the extreme. “You was doing it fine on Sunday thought no one ___ you, A Looker On”What the missing word is, I have no idea!
Back in the days when picture postcards were all the rage and the demand for colour photographs outstripped the technological ability to be able to deliver them, monochrome photographs were hand coloured. Most were done with skill and care, but occasionally short cuts were taken. It was nearly going-home time and the weekend was just around the corner. It was just a photograph of a “modern business block” in Ravenna, Ohio. Surely nobody would ever notice the walking man with the blue spots.
I found this postcard amongst a job lot I bought on eBay, all of which were supposed to be of West Yorkshire. I am not complaining, however, the beauty of job lots is the surprises they throw up and the serendipity that brings them to your door. The building which is featured on this old postcard – the Cliff House, San Francisco – is a very familiar one indeed. Six years ago we stayed for a couple of weeks in San Francisco in an apartment that was within walking distance of Cliff House. Of an evening we would walk up the hill to the bar and restaurant there, order a selection of excellent craft beers, listen to some good live jazz, and watch the waves on the Pacific Ocean. The postcard was, for me, dripping with memories of one of the best holidays I have ever had.
The message on the reverse of the card is not without interest itself. Although the stamp has been removed from the card, enough of the postmark is left to know it was sent in 1921. It was addressed to George Pink of The Limes, Newark on Trent, England and it was sent by the evocatively named, Lulu Cooper. The message appears to be as follows:- “… feeling the coal strike, our language on the subject is unprintable. It doesn’t seem possible that your boys are grown up and doing University courses – how time flies. I hope you and Auntie are keeping well. With love from Lulu Cooper”
It is possible that this is the second part of a message that was started on an earlier postcard: it would explain the somewhat abrupt opening line. I assume the “coal strike” in question was the long-running strike by the miners of West Virginia which led to the “Battle of Blair Mountain”, where some 10,000 miners were opposed by 3,000 police and strikebreakers. By the time the battle was over, one million rounds of ammunition had been fired and up to 100 people were dead. Such were the difficult times, it may have been that Lulu Cooper had been referring to the miners’ strike in the UK, although why that should have brought about an outburst of unprintable language in San Francisco is unclear.
I will leave the coal strike alone, and concentrate on the happy memories of those wonderful evenings back in the summer of 2013 – good music, good beer, good company and views to remember for a very long time.
Often, with an old image, it doesn’t matter that you don’t know the who, or the where or even the when. There is something about the image itself: a pleasure in simply looking at it – the shapes, the movement, the balance. This is one such photograph It occupies the front of a picture postcard, and dates from the era where you could easily have your photographs printed with a postcard back (This approach has become popular once again with the advent of on-line services that can convert a digital photograph into a postcard).
We do know a little about the where and the when – and perhaps even a clue as to the who – from the message on the reverse of the card. It was posted from Margate in Kent during May 1926 and addressed to Mrs Dwerick of the Dial in Kemsing , Kent. The message is the kind of simple report of family events of the kind that these days would be consigned to Facebook for all the world to read.
Many thanks for the P.C. Am so glad you have had such a nice week. I took the boys out yesterday – they both look splendid and thoroughly enjoyed themselves paddling etc. I said thew should go for a row, but we could not find a “boat man”. They had an enormous tea. Much love, Helen.
One interesting little historic sidelight is that the postcard was sent either during or just after the General Strike of 1926 (the exact date on the postmark is unclear). Perhaps this is why the children were not able to find a “boat man”. The man striding confidently in the main photograph does not have the look of a striking worker. Perhaps for Helen and her friends and family, the poverty and misery of the Great Depression passed them by. Perhaps they walked confidently through the twenties.
That’s it! I’ve had enough of the grey skies and drizzle-caked streets of West Yorkshire for a while. It’s time for a break: time for the sun, time for the sea, time for something different. So if nothing emerges from my various blogs and social media streams over the next couple of weeks, worry not. I’ve exited Brexit. I’ve packed my case and gone in search of exotic new places and equally exotic old relatives. Possibly Mablethorpe promenade, possibly not.
This old vintage postcard has never been used, so there is no postmark to provide a clue as to the date. From the style of the card, it must date from the first decade of the twentieth century – when picture postcards were the social media of their age. Kirkgate Market was built in 1872 and was one of the most notable buildings of the city for a full century; before being demolished in 1973 to make way for an Arndale Centre. I can still remember the old market with its rows of stalls selling just about everything imagineable.