It was in 1894 that the Post Office first allowed postcards to be produced without official pre-printed stamps, and this change set in motion the development of the picture postcard.
The earliest picture postcards, known as “court-size cards”, were 4.5” x 3.5”, and thus an inch less wide than the size that was the standard for most of the 20th century.
The art-work on court-size cards was primitive, although – as in the example reproduced here – it was often in colour.
The message had to be written on the front, the back being reserved for the address, as was also to be the case for the first couple of years of standard-size cards.
The court-size card, top left, posted on August 15, 1899, was published by the Pictorial Stationery Company of 11, Poultry, in the City of London – one of the most prolific publishers of early postcards.
When the new 5.5” x 3.5” standard size was introduced at the end of 1899, the Pictorial Stationery Company quickly adopted the new format; and the six standard-size cards reproduced on these two pages were all published by the firm, although, oddly, no publisher credit appears anywhere on the cards.
The reason we can be sure that these cards were indeed produced by the Pictorial Stationery Company is that they have exactly the same caption-font and numbering-system as the early cards in the well-known “Peacock” series, which was the company’s next – and longest-running – series.
My guess is that, although some have later postmarks, all the company’s cards in this style were printed in 1899–1901 – for the Peacock series was certainly in existence by the spring of 1901, since I have a Peacock series postcard of Stratford-on-Avon with a May 6, 1901, postmark.
Three of these cards are examples of the practice of making scenes photographed during the day look like night-time scenes.
This practice remained quite common among postcard publishers until the 1930s or later, and various methods were used to produce the desired effect.
In this case, the effect is achieved by the simple expedient of printing the postcards on blue card and then adding a rather unconvincing full moon.
The four standard-size cards on these pages with the earliest postmarks – from 1900, 1901, or early 1902 – are four of the five earliest standard-size cards in my extensive collection of postcards of Worthing.
The fifth very early postcard I have is an extremely basic card – much less attractive than those seen here – with three small and indistinct black-and-white views of Worthing across the top half. It has no publisher credit, and is postmarked October 23, 1900.
My own ‘sample’ is obviously very small. However, there is nothing in Geoffrey Godden’s Worthing-focused book Collecting Picture Postcards – and Findon’s distinguished gentleman has a much larger Worthing postcard collection than mine – to contradict my view that in 1900 and 1901 there were few firms producing postcards of Worthing; and that the Pictorial Stationery Company had stolen a march on most of the competition.
It would certainly be wrong to assume that, as the sending of picture postcards became popular, every firm was rapidly able to produce cards of any town in Britain.
Most of the national firms would initially have concentrated on major or famous locations, and then gradually worked their way down to lesser places, such as Worthing.
A good example of this is that, as we saw in Looking Back on March 13, the firm started by Evelyn Wrench in late 1900 does not – even though it grew very quickly – seem to have produced any cards of Worthing until 1904.
Although divided-back cards were allowed from the start of 1902, many postcard manufacturers continued to produce cards with blank space on the front for several years, because cards sent abroad initially still required the back to be occupied only by the recipient’s address.
Because of the empty space left on the front for the message, early cards such as those seen here always look a little naked when no message is present.
There is only one message-less example here, the card captioned “The Parade looking West”. However, although there is no message, the card was sent through the post, on July 26, 1901, to Miss Simonds of 12 Streatham Hill, London SW.
Probably the sender thought that Miss Simonds would prefer a card with a “virgin” front for her collection.
The messages on the other cards are fairly functional – with the possible exception of the seven lines of text on the front of the card of East Parade, which may include something of note to those that can decipher the handwriting and understand German.
The card with the caption “Worthing, looking West” does, however, have an interesting reference, in that the sender, Nellie McGregor, thanks her correspondent in France for the cards he has sent her “from the Exposition”.
This was the magnificent Exposition Universelle, the famous world’s fair held in Paris from April 15 to November 12, 1900, at which art nouveau style was ubiquitous.
• Antony Edmonds is the author of Worthing: The Postcard Collection (Amberley, 2013).