Souvenir: Postcards


1.  a thing that is kept that recalls a certain place, occasion, or person; memento; token; keepsake; trophy; a relic

remembrance, nostalgia

C18: from French, from (se) souvenir to remember, from Latin subvenīre to come to mind, from sub- up to + venīre to come

‘Without the owner’s input, the symbolic meaning is invisible and cannot be articulated.’

Souvenirs as objects include mass-produced T-shirts, collectables, fridge magnets, mugs, bowls, ashtrays, fudge and of course, my favourite, the one you share with others, the postcard.

Riso trial pc front

Riso trail pc back

Sent from Portobello August 1907


The first postcard was sent in the 1840s to the writer Theodore Hook in Fulham, London. It was a satirical poke at the Post office and it has been suggested that he sent it to himself. 

Postcards evolved from an existing tradition of envelopes with pictures printed upon them. Innovations in the fledgling postal system (such as the uniform penny postage stamps and the idea to charge by weight, not distance) quickly became popular allowing the sender to post these ‘postcard letters’ for a very small fee.

Austria became the first country to publish a postcard and the idea quickly spread across Europe. Images (before photography) came via the lithographic print and as the technology for mass printing of artwork advanced publishers experimented with special edition postcard sets.

The Post Office started selling postcards (without images but with stamp printed and included in the price) in 1870. Picture postcards featuring the holiday destination became increasingly popular across Europe. This led to the Royal Mail giving permission for publishers to produce and distribute postcards that could be sent through the post in 1894.

Picture postcards became very popular with the tourist market. Views of the sites were a great way of sharing your destination with those back home with a ‘wish you were here’. J. Valentine & Co. of Dundee became internationally famous as producers of Picture Postcards. James Valentine started his business in 1851 and by 1860 was selling topographical views. They gained huge success when they aimed their views to the middle and upper-class tourist markets.

‘The workforce grew from 14 in 1851 to one hundred by 1886 but this expanded tenfold consequent on William’s decision in 1898 to enter the picture postcard market. The effect on the business was to increase the few hundred new negatives added to stock annually to many thousand new views being recorded.’*

Aspects that could be associated with the leisure market were popular along with ‘stately homes, historic ruins, great open spaces, beaches, the grandeur and curiosity of nature and great engineering feats.’* Valentine’s often sourced their images from local photographers.


Bathing Pool and Amusement Park, Portobello (with Paper Mill). Postcard by Valentine’s of Dundee


Divided Back Postcard. Image courtesy of Portobello Heritage Trust

The early postcards saw people add their message to the front but from 1902 the Post Office allowed the introduction of the ‘divided back’. On the left the message could be written and the right for the address. This left the front free for the picture only.

Postcards were an ideal way of sending short messages. They became incredibly popular as they were cheap, reliable and with multi-deliveries throughout the day, a very quick and effective way of communicating.

With the advent of social media their popularity was declining but as with vinyl, they appear to be making a comeback… as with vinyl, for some they never went away…




Papermaking: doing it myself

With the absence of my own personal Fourdrinier papermaking machine and celebrating the autonomy of the ‘do it yourself’, I decided to refresh my papermaking skills. I have done this in the past for projects and workshops with a ‘recycle, reuse, re-love’ remit. There is something satisfying (and therapeutic) in shredding old work administration ‘nonsense’, soaking it in water, blending it to a pulp and then making it into some new and beautiful.

The problem I have had with it is that the fibres are cut very short so that the ‘knit’ is not very strong so it can disintegrate quite quickly. This means that it lacks a bit a structure and is not robust enough when I have printed on it or tried to make more intricate folded books forms.

dick lucas

In the new future, Dick Lucas’ cast-off t-shirt sleeves will be beaten to a pulp for me to make into paper (and I will be happy).

I was recommended to try Khadi dried paper pulp. It is made from recycled cotton rag pulp and is acid-free. It appealed to me because it is made from t-shirt cuttings and I have a fantasy that this could be where all the sleeves cut from t-shirts worn by punks end up…

It arrives as dry unprocessed pulp and you have to tear it and soak in water. It takes a while (and I did get frustrated and blitz with a blender to get rid of the final lumps second time around) for it to become the individual fibres that get added to the vat of water to make ‘paper soup’.

I made my deckle and mould from a couple of old Ikea photograph frames and also procured a slightly bigger one from a good friend (thanks Rachel!). The homemade mould was covered with a discarded fishing net I found abandoned on the seashore in Portobello. I stapled this onto one of the frames.


I am interested in watermarks and it seemed apposite to consider them in my thinking as Portobello’s success comes from the water that is the sea and the Figgate Burn.  Originally they were used as quality marks or security devices. I like the fact that these could be the ‘hidden’ treasure in a bigger piece of work. It could be a subliminal way to subvert, add layers of extra meaning. If you engage with something in a different way you find a different meaning… ‘take the gesture and hold it up to the light’.



Foolscap Watermark: I heard a story (one that I hope is true) that a certain papermaker was fed up with the legal profession (for which he made most of his paper) being such erratic payers. To subliminally ‘snub’ them and provide some quiet subversion he introduced a ‘fools cap’ as a watermark on the size of paper they so regularly demanded (and forgot to pay for). Image:


To emulate a watermark I tried sewing into the mesh. This would have worked better, I think… if I was better at sewing… (sorry Great Grandmother… those genes have skipped this generation). It worked in principle though and other experiments have given me ideas for future exploration. I wonder now if there is scope to produce a form of ‘dandy roll’ that will emboss the paper rather than include it on the mould… further thinking/experimenting to be made… watch this space…

This summer has provided perfect papermaking weather. Utilising the garden and the washing line, production began. The pulp behaved really well, and even the thinner ones  (as the pulp was running out) remained strong when dry. The first batch was quite rough but had a good homemade texture.

It folded well, was good for sewing and was robust enough to go through the proofing press to print wooden and metal type. The typewritten text (possibly due to scale and pressure) was not as successful.

I addressed this with the second batch by blitzing the initial pulp very quickly to remove stubborn large lumps of pulp then  ‘super-calendared’ (by ironing) the paper after making and whilst still slightly damp. This produced much smoother results!



Paper made with inclusions… in, on and under

As well as watermarks I experimented with inclusions. Either sandwiched between two thin sheets, added below (to read through) or on top of the wet paper before pressing and drying. Ideas are forming…




Handmade paper, inclusions, letterpress and typewritten text… a work in progress


The advantage of this pulp is that it was robust enough to dry, print on and then build and fuse with new sheets of wet paper… it can be added to, overlaid, built… in a brick-like structure. That has great potential and this is a good starting point for the future work I am planning.






Porty Art Walk Playbill Poster

The design for this Pleasure Ground poster has its roots in Playbill poster tradition. I have always liked the longer and thinner format of these prints. It echoes the early proclamation scrolls used by the Town Criers to disseminate information. I also wonder if the format was retained because as it met the need to fit on the protruding narrow pillars outside of theatres and playhouses.

It evokes an earlier time, links to when Portobello was a popular ‘Pleasure Ground’ and the posters that would have been there advertising the events and performances on the pier.

The style is for the text to be fully justified and so the type must be chosen or somehow made to fit. Being limited in the range of sizes and amount of each letter I could not set and print the whole thing letterpress. Like the Victorian letterpress printers (not necessarily bad designers but reliant on what was available… hence a different typeface on every line)… I utilised what I had. I have a wonderful, but small collection, of wooden type from Edinburgh’s Bishop & Sons. This was kindly gifted to me by the amazing Eric Deane under the premise that I use it… and use it I do!

I took proof prints on my trusty Farley of the main titles. Like the old jobbing printers, I had to improvise. To make it work I had to embrace the new technology. During my MA I have become increasingly interested in the journeys through analogue via digital and back to analogue. I have grown to like the digital reading of analogue marks. I am interested in provenance and the (conscious and mechanical) edit of history by what gets added and what remains.

By scanning the proofs and image tracing them in Illustrator a new form emerges from the old. This vectoring process is so useful as it allows the type to be re-scaled whilst preserving some of the integrity of the original. The other joy… (okay, I admit it, as a neo-Luddite, that these computers may have something about them after all… ) is that you have control over the kerning and spacing to make the balance and fit much better on a justified line. A boon to the anal typographer, but the challenge is not to take it too far, make it too perfect by channelling too much of Beatrice Warde’s ‘crystal goblet’. 

This is a caveat I set myself but the ability to be able to do this liberates in new and exciting ways. There remains some of the limitations and idiosyncrasies of the letterpress (this I would call its ‘humanity’, others may call it ‘charm’), but there I have flexibility and choice. The right type for the right words (form following function), the easier avoidance of overly dominant white space in the unwanted rivers and pig bristles, etc. I know it makes sense.


Digital version of the poster (with added side stripe to fit ‘A’ paper formats)

The digital print out showed the history but the somehow deadens the image. Great for a visual, cheap to reproduce and to communicate that idea. This is where going back to the analogue has an added value. It provides for a more sensory experience. If time and money were no object, cutting and routing into wood and printing letterpress would be the way… but that was not possible (this time). Also, there is a balance to be struck… when does the final print become too ‘precious’ in its production and therefore becomes less ephemeral in its nature?

With this as a consideration screenprinting becomes a viable option. I can do it myself, so have control over most aspects of production again. It is ephemeral but (hopefully) of interest enough that it can become a souvenir or keepsake after the fact for someone, somewhere. 

I like the medium supporting the message and try, where possible, to keep the integrity in. The design and production support this wherever it can. From the use of original Miller and Richard wooden type which would have been in wide use in the classrooms all across Edinburgh and the Lothians during Portobello’s hey-day to the printing on Southbank Smooth, a Fourdrinier produced paper (the same machine that made the paper in the Portobello Paper Mill).

The screenprint is made up of four different colours, green, blue, pink and black. There is a nod to seaside stripes and ice cream flavours in the choice. The scale was the most ambitious I have attempted to date. The image area is 420mm x 840mm. It was a challenge and it is not perfect (mistakes were made, lessons learned) but I think it retains an interest because of that. 

Finished playbill poster is printed and once trimmed will be around Portobello in the next few days!

Pleasure Ground

Sea bathing had begun c. 1790 and coincided with the building of the Georgina Villas on Bath Street. From 1801, the idea of Portobello as a bathing place started to grow. In 1806 a suite of hot and cold salt-water baths was installed at the foot of Regent Street and Bath Street, overlooking the sea.


Portobello Beach Huts

‘Portobello was to Edinburgh what Brighton & Hove were to London, without the Prince Regent and his Pavilion’

In the Victorian era, the population of Portobello doubled. There was a general move in the early 19th century from rural to more the more urban areas. Millions of migrants across the UK moved to towards the towns and cities as industry and commerce developed and transport improved. The industries were originally founded on available natural resources. For Portobello it was the clay which was used for making bricks, tiles and earthenware and the sand, for making glass. Though the industry had attracted a migrant population by 1891 Portobello was already becoming less of a ‘place to work’. It became a place to retire to, a health spa and a bracing seaside resort. The ‘Brighton of Scotland’ became a haven for widows, annuitants and people ‘living on private means’. Increasingly the middle classes built their summer residencies in Portobello.

Portobello’s hey-day was from before WW1 until WW2. There were day-trippers and holiday-makers (the latter predominately from Glasgow). The ‘Glasgow Four Week’ (last two weeks July + first two of August was the highlight of the season when there was an invasion of ‘cloth caps, pipes and net bags’. Before WW1 Portobello boasted the Promenade Pier (from which excursions by steamer could be taken) and the Edinburgh Marine Gardens and Zoological Park (which opened in 1909 and saw 750,000 visitors in the first year). Captain Spence made daily ascents in his hot air balloon, parachuted into the sea and was rescued, W. H. Ewen (the only Scotsman at the time to hold a pilot’s licence) offered flying displays and ‘Daredevil Cormack’ dived from a 70ft tower into a small water tank. The coming of the railway and the increase in leisure time for the working classes added up to Portobello becoming the pre-eminent holiday destination in Scotland.

Every second shop could hardly be seen because of their being heavily decorated with outside wares. They sold every kind of knick-knack, cans of hot water for picnickers and the Italian community brought ice cream and fish and chips.


Portobello Pier, 1904 from ‘Portobello in Old Picture Postcards’ (1985)

Portobello Pier was opened in 1871. It was 381m long promenade pier complete with pavilion and bandstand. It was the only one of its kind in Scotland.





Penicuik: The Papermaking Town Original welcome road sign

As part of my research for my Porty Art Walk project, I have been investigating the process of paper-making. I had a wonderfully friendly and informative visit to the Penicuik Papermaking Heritage Museum. Thank you to the Edinburgh Soroptimists for kindly allowing me to gatecrash your tour! Here I learnt a lot from the very knowledgeable Roger Hipkin about Southern Scotland’s papermaking history and much about the actual process itself. 

The Paper Mill in Portobello was mechanised. It used a Fourdrinier Paper Machine (invented 1803) but papermaking has been around for centuries before and was a handmade process.

Paper (derived from the Greek ‘pápyros’) production began in China over 2000 years ago. This paper was mainly made of hemp. Paper made from linen or cotton dates from around 751. It was a popular source material as it did not deteriorate over time and with age. This paper was made from rags. This was preferable because they contained only the parts from the plant required for papermaking. 

These could be collected by the ‘rag and bone man’, brought the mill where they would be sorted and boil washed. The boiling cleaned and stripped the rags of colour and was greatly improved by the invention of ‘Donkin’s Rag Boiler’ over 200 years ago. Bryan Donkin, an engineer, was also involved in developing the Fourdrinier machine to make it more effective and involved in the development of the first rotary printing press.

Then the rags were beaten to separate and break them down into the individual fibres. This was achieved by using the water power and originally produced around 7.5kg of pulp every three days. The introduction of ‘Hollander’ or ‘Dutch Beater’ c. 1670 greatly assisted paper production, increasing the output to c.300kg per day. It also had the added benefit of increasing the type of raw materials that could be processed into papermaking fibres. This is included old ropes and fishing nets.

Demand for paper for printing saw the availability of locally sourced rags outstripping supply and so imports from overseas became essential. The Napoleonic Wars in the early 1880s caused a crisis in the paper production when these rags imports were stopped. To ensure this problem did not re-occur alternative (and cheaper) raw materials needed to be found to meet the increasing demand in more disposable and ephemeral forms of printed matter. The Times newspaper (seemingly always at the forefront of print research and development… their introduction of the first steam-powered rotary newspaper press led to adverts calling for others ‘to keep up with ‘The Times’) offered a reward in 1854 to the person who could come up with a viable alternative to cotton and linen.



Paper mills in Europe and North America preferred the solution involving the use of wood pulp (sorry trees!). The possibility of turning trees into sheets of paper was inspired by the wasp and the way it makes its nest. The process of replacing the need for animal digestion was developed in Germany in the mid-1800s. Wood mills set up next to forests and processed the trees into pulp, which was dried and then transported to the paper mills. There has been a long history of using various bark, straw and bamboo that have transited through the digestive tracks of animals. Elephant poo paper is still great to print on today!

Britain’s Paper mills uniquely favoured the use of esparto grass. This made sense as it was widely abundant in Northern Africa and indeed was a perfect solution for the burgeoning Edinburgh and environs print and related trades. Edinburgh and the Lothians were rich in the resource of coal. This was shipped in bulk to Africa and the return journey was made more cost effective for the shipping companies (and therefore more affordable for the Paper Mills) by taking on the grass as deck cargo. The journey on deck allowed the dampened grass to rot en route. This was essential in starting the process of breaking down the cellulose and separating out the fibres. 

This would speed up this process that was further continued at the paper mill. Here, as noted in An Account of Two Visits to the Valleyfield Mills of Alexander Cowand & Sons Penicuik 1872 & 1881, (Ed. Roger Hipkin for the Penicuik Heritage Development Trust, 2009) the grass was ‘boiled with caustic soda and other stronger alkalis to digest resins and other unwanted organic materials’. The downside was that the ‘waste material produced was foul-smelling, highly toxic and in concentration back and tarry’. This waste was often discharged via the local water source. If the Paper Mill at Portobello engaged in this polluting practice that would mean the waste going straight from the Figgate Burn into the sea of the increasingly popular bathing beach.


Profitable paper production was determined by two factors… the access to materials and to power and energy. For the Portobello Paper Mill, the availability of water for washing, beating and steam power came from the Figgate Burn. The easy access to esparto grass came because Granton (less than 6 miles away) was the major port for its delivery in Scotland. This could then be easily transported to Portobello by the horse railway and later by its steam replacement. Portobello and the production of paper made good sense.