Postcards of Ireland

In today's world of instant communication, with faxes, texting, email and the web it is possible and probable that the postcard as a means of communication is overlooked. But in its inception and its use in the latter part of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth the postcard represented an important step forward in world communication.

The honour of 'inventing' the postcard has been claimed by many people, but social historians agree that the idea of 'postal cards' originated separately and almost simultaneously with two Germans, Heinrich Von Stephen in 1865 and Dr Emanuel Herman in 1869. As a result of their ideas the first postcard was issued by the Austrian postal authorities on 1 October 1869; to be followed one year later by the British government, who introduced through the Post Office its own official postcard, a thin buff coloured piece of cardboard with an imprinted halfpenny stamp, which sold for one halfpenny.

The utility of the postcard was quickly grasped by the business and commercial world, who saw in it a cheaper way than hitherto of advertising, invoicing and acknowledging receipt or payment for goods. Its popularity was boosted by contemporary social and technological advances in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth. The Education Acts of 1870, 1889, 1891, 1902 and 1906 produced a literate population at the same time that printing techniques allowed for high quality representation of famous places, people and events.

These two important developments, allied to a developing social system that embraced, for the first time, the concept of recreational time for the masses brought about conditions which greatly enhanced the popularity of the postcard.

The immediate and widespread response to the postcard resulted, inter alia, in a short but hard fought struggle to have the Post Office's postcard monopoly broken. Strength of opinion was such that from 1872 onwards printers and publishers could now print their own postcards, subject to certain restrictions imposed by De La Rue and Co., official printers to the Post Office. These commercially printed postcards had to resemble in size the official postcard but were to be made of a whiter cardboard and could not bear the royal arms. One side was to be given over completely to the address of the recipient, and no message was to be written on this side. Initially, these cards had to be sent to the Inland Revenue Department to be franked; later, in strict accordance with government regulations, the printer could send batches of postcards to the department to be franked before they were delivered to his customers. Not until 1894 did the privilege of affixing an adhesive stamp to one's own postcard devolve to the general public. By that time the postcard had developed from a plain buff coloured piece of cardboard to a minor art form; for now postcard publishers were beginning to print view cards. The era of the picture postcard had arrived.

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