Pre-War Postcards

About This Exhibit

Here are postcards from the pre-war era. Go to the Pre-War Gallery to comment on these postcards.

First Cards


The earliest cards either carried no image at all, or were used as a form of commercial advertisement.

New Options





The addition of graphic and photographic images to cards at the Paris Exposition in 1889, and legalization of the private manufacture of cards for the mails in the 1890s, led to an explosion of themes shown on the cards. By the eve of the Great War, cards were being produced and exchanged domestically and internationally that conveyed everything from religious, patriotic, or holiday messages, to cartoon art, to pictures of exotic locales and people, to pornography.

New Interests




Educational Reforms had created a new mass literacy while political reforms across Western Europe had empowered many people with the voting franchise for the first time. These developments coupled with new spirits of nationalism and patriotism were often reflected in turn-of-the-century postcards. Figures 3 & 4 (lower left and right) demonstrate a father’s efforts to capture various aspects of the coronation of King George V in 1911 for his daughter. Note the sense of personal connection with the royal family that is assumed in the message. It reads: “My dear wee one: The coronation is over a great success it would have been fearful in this heat. I am resting in one of England’s beauty spots while the poor King & Queen are still working hard in Wales. Fortunately after this month they will send the children back to school. We have a very wise King & Queen.”



This card, sent 14 October 1913 from Vienna to Bloomington, Indiana, reads: “Best dressed women here I ever saw. Their furs & tailored suits are peaches. Go to Budapest on Friday then to Prague, Dresden, & finally Berlin. Be sure to wiret me all about the (unclear) 13 Winterfeldt Str care of Frau Hermes. Am having such a grand trip. I like Vienna immensely, its buildings are so fine. Going to the famous opera Wed. night. Have been travelling thru the Tyrolean Alps – beautiful scenery & quaint costumes. Algiers was perfectly great. Stopped at Naples, Patras Greece & a little island of the coast of Dalmatia. Had two good days in Venice. The Viennese women in this pension (sic) smoke cigarettes. Lots of love, Grace.”

Interest in Royalty


Kaiser’s Grandsons


A Military Prince?


Note the international nature of the correspondence. This was a German writing to a fellow German resident in London.

Images of War Foretold?


War memorials after 1918 would often include the phrase ‘Lest We Forget’. Ironically, as this card shows, the phrase was often being used to recall absent friends prior to the war.

Text of message reads: “Dear Maria. Was pleased to hear you are enjoying yourself. You can bet we are doing the same. Raining awful this morning this morning (sic) Best love (illegible).

Marking the Anglo-Japanese Naval Accord of 1902


In 1902 Great Britain and Japan formalized a naval alliance that had been maturing for nearly a decade. Japan’s navy had been modeled on Great Britain’s right down to its uniforms and signaling systems.

In 1910 a massive public exhibition known as the “Japan-British Exhibition” was staged in London to mark the success of the alliance.

The text of this card reads: “Dear Mabel I hope you will like this postcard I am sending you and hope that when you get a man that he will be a handy man SA from a friend”

Regimental Traditions


The message on this card is somewhat difficult to interpret. It reads: “This is almost the last of the fair auld H.L.I., Hope to see you at the station on Wednesday. Charlie”

The regiment in question, the 1st and 2nd Highland Light Infantry had only been formed in 1881 when reforms in the British Army saw the combining of older regiments into new forces. In this case the H.L.I was formed from the 71st and 74th foot regiments. Far from being at its end, the H.L.I would serve with distinction in both the First and Second World Wars.

Separation Foreshadowed


When war came it would occasion many painful forms of separation. These cards foreshadow this by demonstrating the love and fear of separation military personnel experienced as a component of their professions. “Tommy Atkins” was an idealized figure representing common soldiers in the British Army. The name had been popularly adopted during the nineteenth century.


Text reads: “Real ones some day I hope. Dear Jack. Just a card to say I am getting Better I will write you a long letter I am very thankful for the present you send to me But if I had you hold when you were doing it I don’t no what I say to you I would written Be fro But I wasn’t able good Bye I remain as ever …. XXXXXXX

The card was printed in the German kingdom of Saxony. In the early twentieth century Germany possessed superior chemical and printing facilities and supplied many of Europe’s postcards.

Victorian Sensibilities


Although notions of Victorian reserve and decorum are common this card demonstrates a show of raw emotion on view for all to see. From the message and image on the front to the expression of love on the back, Miss Wing’s correspondent was unabashed in letting her, but also anyone who handled the card prior to final delivery, know how he felt. A postcard had occasioned something very novel – the capacity to express emotions across distances.

Loneliness and Distance


The card recalls the importance souvenirs of home and family held for sailors who were far away from loved ones. This card was used by a woman, presumably writing to a woman friend or relative, recalling past times. It reads ”Just another card to bring back the memory of days gone Bye. But What Oh; when we come back from Bombay.”



During the war images of camaraderie would become very common. That message is foreshadowed in this card depicting a policeman, an soldier, and a sailor, playing cards.

The message reads: “Dear Annie, I was not able to get off from the work until Friday night as we are busy. If I send you a post card from Sheffield you would not get it untill Sunday so ask young Cardwell to get it for you. I hope to have such a good time. Love to all your first brother Ward.”

Public Perceptions of the Naval Arms Race


The message reads: “Dear Charlie: I received your p.c. last night and I will get you the views you want and send them on in a day or two. I have been all round that ship that you sent a photo of. This is the Dreadnought (bow view). Write again as soon as you can. With best, love Jack.”

Naval Pride


The Message Reads: “Have been today to see some of our fleet in the Thames.”

Hobbies from a Simpler Time

The next four cards are evidently part of a set that a British correspondent was sending to a friend in Canada. The exchange was taking place in 1909, five years before the beginning of the Great War. Something has happened that will prevent the British collector from continuing the exchange.


‘Now dear friend I very much regret to have to tell you these are the last cards I cand send you as I am giving up collecting (for a long time anyway) If I ever do restart”


“so I am now sending you 18 cards relating to the navy. Except one which is a view of the River Thames resort Quarry Woods at Marlow. I hope you will be pleased with them all.”


“live in hopes of being able to continue it at some future date. I have always been pleased with your cards & trust you in your turn, have been satisified with the ones I have sent to you.”


“cards which you have contributed to my collection (which now amounts to nearly 16000. I shall often go through them & think of all my kind far away correspondents.”