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