Postcards in The National Library of Wales

The National Library has some 15,000 postcards of Welsh interest in the National Collection of Welsh Photographs. Most of these are topographical and are arranged by county. Other categories include art-drawn cards, humour, politics and modern cards.

History of the postcard

The picture postcard came to widespread use after 1902, with a change in rules that allowed both message and address on the same side of the card. This freed up the reverse of the card for an illustration. Suddenly postcards and postcard collecting became all the rage. By 1909 over 800 million postcards were being posted annually in Britain. More were bought just to be kept as souvenirs.

The period from 1902-1919 became known as the “Golden Age of Postcards.” Nearly every professional photographer working at this time was involved in producing postcards.

Amongst these were:

  • P B Abery of Builth Wells
  • William Harwood of Cricieth 
  • Arthur Lewis of Aberystwyth

Large collections of negatives by these photographers can be found in The National Library of Wales.

In addition there are many fine postcards by a variety of local photographers who are known to us by their name alone.

Postcard popularity

Such was the popularity of postcards that cards on all aspects of life (and sometimes death) are to be found.

On a wider scale, national companies such as Francis Frith, Valentines and E T W Dennis produced numerous postcards of Wales. These larger companies chose to portray aspects of a locality most likely to appeal to tourists.

Amongst their favoured topics were:

  • mountain scenery
  • castles
  • promenades
  • seaside piers

The popularity of postcards also coincided with the rise to power of David Lloyd George. Many hundreds of cards were published depicting David Lloyd George. Not all were complimentary!

Due to the expenses involved photographs were a rarity in newspapers. Consequently many national and local events were photographed by enterprising photographers and sold as postcards. These genres are examples of early photo-journalism. One such series is that of the Senghennydd Pit Disaster in 1913. Although the idea of producing postcards of such an event is abhorrent to many people, these are exactly the type of images people would expect to see on television or in newspapers if such an event were to occur today.

The postcard today

The last 20 years have seen a renaissance in the fortunes of the picture postcard. Many contemporary photographers such as Jeremy Moore, Martin Turtle and Patricia Aithie all choose to publish their work as postcards. All are represented in The National Library of Wales collection.