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Letter: A few lines on postcards

From Mr Michael Goldsmith

Sir: Ellie Hughes' article on postcards was remarkable - if only for the misinformation it contained (Section Two; "How to send a postcard", 29 August).

Postcards were invented in Austria in 1869 and were plain on one side with just a printed stamp on the other. They were called correspondence cards. The British authorities were quick to see the commercial possibilities and issued their own versions on 1 October 1870.

However, for months before the launch date, the Post Office sold packs containing 10,080 cards each to businesses up and down the country (at a cost of pounds 21 a time), to enable them to put their own advertisements on the non-address side, in time for the launch date. The success of the venture can be ascertained by the fact that 75 million cards were posted in Britain in the first year.

Understandably the British authorities were reluctant to surrender such a lucrative monopoly - and it was only in 1894, therefore, that they finally bowed to public pressure and officially permitted the existence of privately published picture cards. The first such card is generally reckoned to be one of Scarborough, published by E. T. W. Dennis in September 1894, a copy of which recently sold at auction for pounds 286.

The world's most valuable postcard to date, incidentally, isn't a card of the Titanic but an art nouveau advert for Waverley Cycles (a bicycle firm) by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. This sold for $13,500 (pounds 9,000) at auction in the United States in 1991.

Finally, seaside postcards - rude or otherwise - are of very little interest to serious collectors. The 6,500 visitors expected at the Royal Horticultural Hall in London for the 1995 Picture Postcard show can find rude seaside postcards if they wish - and very cheaply too - but they'll only be a minor corner in the stocks of most of the dealers present.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Goldsmith



29 August