Dodging the girls at Worthing

Published by Valentine's Series, posted August 10, 1907
Published by Valentine's Series, posted August 10, 1907

It is all too easy to mock the sense of humour of earlier generations – and it is worth bearing in mind that they might not think much of ours – but nonetheless it is difficult to raise even a smile at the jokes and light-hearted comments on the cards reproduced on these two pages.

Indeed, in one or two cases it is difficult even to see where the humour is meant to lie.

E. T. W. Dennis & Sons, posted July 2, 1931

E. T. W. Dennis & Sons, posted July 2, 1931

Humorous postcards like these were almost always produced by large national companies.

The cards were sold in resorts all across Britain, customised with the name of the relevant location.

Unlike local-view postcards, these cards are relatively timeless.

Seafront views from the 1900s, 1930s or 1960s will all be very much of their respective eras; the clothes, the traffic and indeed the buildings all fixing the postcard in time.

Joseph Asher & Co, unposted (Artist: Donald McGill)

Joseph Asher & Co, unposted (Artist: Donald McGill)

However – while it is unlikely that humorous cards exactly like these would be sold today – they would not have looked out of place on a seaside postcard-seller’s rotunda 20 or 30 years ago.

Nor is there very much difference in character between the comic cards that date from the Edwardian age, and those that date from decades later.

Most of the examples in this selection were postally used, the earliest postmark being 1907 and the latest 1959; and this gives us some idea of when they were produced.

Postmarks, obviously, do not allow us to deduce the exact date of a postcard’s publication.

Valentine's, posted June 11, 1959

Valentine's, posted June 11, 1959

The card may have been on sale over a period of many years – or it may have been sitting in a drawer for decades before being sent.

Therefore, all we can tell for sure from a postmark is that the card in question had been produced before the postmark date.

Three of these cards are the work of prolific humorous postcard artists, one of whom, Donald McGill (1875-1962), was the most famous British postcard artist of all.

McGill is principally famous for vulgar cards full of sexual innuendo.

E. T. W. Dennis & Sons, posted May 21, 1937

E. T. W. Dennis & Sons, posted May 21, 1937

Some of his cards were too sexually explicit for the moral atmosphere of his time, and in 1954 he was tried in Lincoln for breaking the Obscene Publications Act, and fined £50 with £25 costs.

One of McGill’s postcards – depicting a bespectacled young man and his girlfriend sitting under a tree, and featuring the exchange “Do you like Kipling?” / “I don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never kippled!” – apparently holds the world record for the best-selling postcard, at over six million copies.

Flora White (1878-1953), who at one time taught at Brighton School of Art and lived above the family stationers at 70 West Street, painted hundreds of postcards and greetings cards, and also illustrated nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

It has not been possible to find out anything about Fred Buchanan, beyond the fact that he was another prolific comic postcard artist.

• Antony Edmonds is the author of Worthing: The Postcard Collection (Amberley, 2013).

J. Salmon, posted August 8, 1913

J. Salmon, posted August 8, 1913

J. Salmon, posted August 8, 1913

J. Salmon, posted August 8, 1913

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