I didn’t know what it meant until I added to the library postcard collection after a recent visit to a local antique shop and then decided to write this article. Deltiology, the study and collection of postcards. According to Wikipedia the world’s third most popular hobby. Can you guess the first two? (Clue – they involve small items!) I didn’t regard myself as a collector until I realised two albums full of small but beautiful rose art, mostly picked up inexpensively at antique fairs or in antique shops, probably meant just that. As with the rose books and paintings I can’t help myself when I see a rose work of art.
Of course, I have only ever collected the rose postcards I like and realise many of these are by the artist Catharina Klein so I have dedicated a separate album to her. This is not full so there is a good reason to hunt! I have written about Catharina before as there is a copy of one of her paintings in the gallery. Her art work is unique, largely dedicated to flowers, specifically roses. Fortunately her signature remains on the postcards. Many other artists’ works are unattributed sadly but I do have one or two that are signed e.g. R.W. Bates, Madeleine Renaud and T. Corbella.
Some rose postcards feature reproductions of the great painters such as Manet and Fantin-Latour. I would like to find more of these, especially from the early 20th century but they seem to have been published later. One or two precious cards do not feature roses at all but are early photographs of rose related subjects. My most prized postcard is one featuring the inside of the now non existent rose museum at La Roseraie de l’Hay which, although it bears no date must be from the early 1900s. Another shows a view of the rose fields of Bulgaria in the early 20th century.
As well as rose paintings rose photographs became available from the end of the 19th century.. First there were the black and white photos which have often been tinted or painted and gradually coloured photographs appeared as the 20th century progressed. The popularity of postcards declined, however after the first war as the telephone became more widespread. The years between 1902 and 1914 are known as the golden age for postcards with thousands being issued bearing a huge array of messages. Next day delivery was guaranteed! The number and range of cards to be found is still huge and occasionally it is possible to see the same rose with a different background or even a different colouring. Who knows what antics were played by the printers and publishing houses!
Apparently some collectors confine themselves to one publisher of which there were many. The two most notable publishing the older cards I have found to be Meissner and Buch and Raphael Tuck. Meissner and Buch was founded in Leipzig in 1861 but then opened offices in other European cities including London. They seem to have had the monopoly on publishing the Catharina Klein postcards I like so much. Raphael Tuck and Sons started in 1866 with a little shop in Union Street London selling graphic art printing which included chromo and black and white lithography. Sales included the Victorian greeting cards available at this time.
Dating postcards can be a tricky business because few of them have a date printed. Perhaps the best guide is by the stamps on them but not all cards have been used or the stamps have been lost. It was not until 1894 that British Publishers were given permission by the Royal Mail to manufacture and distribute picture postcards which could be sent through the post. These first cards were mostly of landmarks and scenic views. Cards with messages had been sporadically created by individuals since the beginning of the postal service in Britain (16th century) and the Post Office since 1870 had issued postcards without images which had a stamp as part of their design. The card recognised as the worlds oldest surviving postcard was sent in 1840 by the writer Theodore Hook to himself in Fulham London. It was a hand-painted design bearing a penny black stamp. In 2002 this card sold for £31, 750.00.
My aim is to find a postcard depicting roses which has the head of Queen Victoria on the postage stamp, which could date it between 1894 and 1901. At this time cards had only space for the address on the back and no other writing was allowed so messages were written over the pictures. The divided back, space for the address and message, did not happen in Britain until 1902. Other countries soon followed suit. The cost of sending a postcard for some years was one half penny. I have compiled a list of dates, stamps and prices for my own interest but will not bore you with that here.
I have not collected many of these as I have not found them of much interest but that will change now as I have become fascinated by the early printing and publishing of rose books and other material. When looking for cards I have seen some great black and white photos of rose gardens from the early 20th century. It would be interesting to collect these and see if the gardens still survive today.
There is so much more to be said about old postcards, especially their contribution to our social history. The true deltiologist will be ashamed of me as I have only touched the surface when referring to my postcards of roses. So my apologies to them.