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It is a mere platitude to say that the world has suffered very much from the results of war, and the only reason that I mention such an obvious fact is that I may add that so far as I know, the only real advantage that the world has ever derived from war was the introduction of the post-card. Post-cards first appeared in connection with the Franco-German War in 1870, and yet this statement requires a little modification, because Austria produced the first post-cards that were ever seen, and in 1869, a few months before war broke out. The ideas, however, originated with the same person, the German statesman, Heinrich von Stephan (1831-1897), who, at a postal conference in 1865, threw out the suggestion of the issue of a post-card, and expressly said that, from a military point of view, it would be an exceedingly valuable advantage. The idea was carefully considered, and on the 26th January, 1869, the Austrian Postmaster-General issued a million post-cards, and a copy of one of them lies before me. It bore upon it all kinds of inscriptions as to its use, especially a statement that the post office undertook no responsibility for the contents of the communication, and it went on to add as to what kind of communication should be put on the card, where the communication should be written, and so on.
The Austrian post-cards were not a general success, but in the following year, the idea leapt into prominence, because Stephan started his field post-card for the use of the soldiers, and by means of the field post, maintained uninterrupted communication with the army in the field-using, in the first few months of the war, over two and a half million post-cards, and finding them most acceptable to the soldiers. These field post-cards were not beautiful objects, by any means. They were printed in black and white, they had all kinds of instructions upon them, and separate places for the insertion of details concerning the military rank of the writer, and they were accompanied by two kinds of envelopes, also introduced by Stephan for the use of longer communications. Some of these could be sent open, and so, to a certain extent, resembled post-cards. Stephan was very enthusiastic over the success of his post-card, and sent out circulars to all the other post offices concerning them, and, in 1870 Great Britain followed suit, introducing the small postcard of lilac on buff, which commenced our series.
I have often wondered why there are not more people who collect post-cards. There is one great advantage that the post-card possesses over the postage stamp, in the fact that it is rarely, if ever, forged. I believe there are only two forged post-cards, or perhaps three, that are known to collectors, those for Heligoland, Japan, and possibly Paraguay. Post-cards are exceedingly artistic and charming to look at; they are far less costly to obtain than are postage stamps; they offer an interesting hunting ground for persons who take delight in minor varieties, such as errors, and varieties of frame, lettering or design; they are quite easy to keep, whether in albums or in bundles, and are far less likely to be lost than are small postage stamps, while an album of post-cards is quite an ornamental book, full of delight to a collector, and in many ways quite as interesting as an album of postage stamps. For the history of the earliest post-cards, the military cards, and the changes that took place in them, make of itself the study a very fascinating one.
Post-cards came in with a rush, and yet there were very few countries in 1870 that made anything like an important use of them. Austria, Hungary, Wurttemberg, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Baden and Switzerland, were the earliest countries to issue cards. They were followed by several others in 1871, and prominent amongst those is the exceedingly pretty blue post-card which Canada produced in that year, and which is a fine piece of bank note engraving executed in Montreal.
Heligoland, Belgium, Denmark, Chili and Finland followed suit. Russia did not issue any cards until 1872, and then came out with two or three varieties ; the beautiful card issued by Ceylon belongs to that year, and the inscriptions in Tamil form a charming piece of decoration round these very pretty cards. Sweden issued cards in that year, followed in the next year by the United States, France, Luxemburg, Rumania, Serbia, Shanghai, and the charming green postcard of Newfoundland, another very artistic piece of work, in which the Prince of Wales was represented in Scottish costume, and this production was executed in bank note fashion by the American Bank Note Company in New York.
From that time onwards the movement spread, and during the early seventies many countries, such as Japan, Norway, etc., and various English colonies, followed suit, but others lingered behind, and it was not till the eighties that Spain had any post-cards, and about the same time Argentina, Bulgaria, Egypt, Persia, Guatemala and Turkey began to issue cards of their own. Stephan's idea spread slowly and steadily, until eventually, when we come into the eighties, we find practically every country in the world of any importance issuing and using post-cards.
Reply post-cards came out in Great Britain in October, 1893, but several countries had issued them before that time, and very charming some of the double issues were, especially those for Finland, Austria, Hungary, German Federations. The Eastern post-cards were longer and narrower than those used in Europe, and some of them, especially the earliest Japanese that were sent out, were on paper rather than card, in some instances on a kind of native rice paper, but they were found inconvenient, and cardboard quickly took their place.
Another interesting feature of post-cards is the fact that there are a considerable number of what are called commemorative post-cards, officially issued in order to commemorate certain events; for instance, there was one issued by the little republic of San Marino in 1894 to commemorate the anniversary of its independence ; there was one in 1888 in New South Wales, to mark the fiftieth year of the issue of postage stamps in the colony; France issued two in 1893, one commemorating the centenary of Dunkirk, the other the visit of the Emperor of Russia to Toulon ; Italy issued one in 1894 in respect to an international exhibition; in 1895, in connection with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Rome; and in 1896 as a souvenir of the marriage of the Prince of Naples. Then such events as the assassination of King Humbert, the funeral of President Faure, the Kaiser's visit to Constantinople, the coronation of Alfonso XIII of Spain, the deaths of Verdi, President McKinley and Zola, have been commemorated by post-cards, and celebrations in connection with Benvenuto Cellini, Victor Hugo, the visit of the Shah to Ostend, and the eightieth birthday of Bismarck, have all been made the subject of special postcards, which are of interest to collectors.
Again, there is also another series, that known as official pictorial post-cards, bearing the usual printed or impressed stamps, and yet having illustrations upon them of certain important scenes, which the particular Government of the day desired should be represented. There is a fine series of Greek cards, with views of the country upon them, and other series of the same kind were issued in Switzerland, Belgium, France, and Italy. There was an important series issued in the Transvaal to illustrate mining, and Canada brought out a very interesting and artistic series of views on some of her official cards; Queensland, Cape Colony, New South Wales, and New Zealand did the same. These are not ordinary picture post-cards, but actual official cards, with Government stamps upon them, and are very well worth collecting.
Furthermore, a collector may be interested in some of the curiosities of post-cards, as, for example, the now rare card issued in Great Britain in 1872, with an impressed stamp upon it, and the curious, but not rare, foreign post-card of our own country, with a penny farthing stamp upon it, being half the foreign postage of the time, which was 2 1/2d
A rather rare thing very much resembles the impressed card just referred to, and is called a certificate of posting ; it came out in 1877, and was issued at the importunate request of certain faddists, amongst whom the chief was a Mr. Clifford-Eskell, in order that people might have certificates that they had actually posted letters, newspapers or book packets. They were first issued on the 14th of November, 1877, in Liverpool, Birmingham and Bath, and then extended to other places, but disappeared in November, 1878, and had been hardly taken up at all by the public. Only 4,565, were sold at Liverpool, 1,119 at Birmingham, and but 49 in Bath, and the majority of the 15,000 that were issued were called in again and destroyed. The only real sale for these was on the part of some dealers, who felt sure that the issue was going to be a very short one and who bought up the certificates of postage in order to be quite sure that they could supply them to their customers.
Collectors of post-cards are often eager to obtain the card that was issued in commemoration of the jubilee of Postage, at the Guildhall in London, and the envelope with its card enclosed, which was issued at the South Kensington Museum on the 2nd of July in the same year, 1890. There were only ten thousand of the Guildhall ones done, and very few of them were posted actually in the Hall and so acquired the diamond-shaped cancel mark which was made for the purpose. Of the South Kensington cards many were bought in an unused condition, but it is not often that they are to be found with the special " V.R." dated circular cancel stamp which was used at the Exhibition.
Another treasure that British collectors are eager to get consists of the two varieties of the first United Kingdom aerial post-the halfpenny card in a blackish-green cover, and the penny envelope with its notepaper enclosed, all printed in red. These were intended for conveyance by aeroplane from London to Windsor.
There are no great treasures, running into hundreds or thousands of pounds, to be obtained by the post-card collector, but there are many opportunities for turning over purchases at considerably enhanced values, and cards for which he gave a few pence are frequently sold for as many shillings; and there are some special varieties which, amongst collectors who understand them, run into very much higher prices. The collector of post-cards is pretty sure to include letter-cards in his collection. These did not come out in Great Britain until February 12th 1892, but they had been used in many countries on the Continent before then and, curiously enough, have always had a greater attraction to foreign users than they have to Englishmen. It is quite certain that the use of letter-cards in Great Britain has been very much less in proportion than it is on the Continent.
German history tells us that the Counts of Thurn and Taxis, who had been hereditary postmasters for Germany, and who also, through a branch of the same family, carried on a similar arrangement in Spain, were exceedingly bitter against Stephan for the introduction of the post-card. They had already seen a considerable loss from the breaking down of their old monopoly, and they saw, by his intention to extend the use of postage, their emoluments were going to pass away altogether. They had farmed the postal service of Central Germany for some three hundred years, and then, in 1864, Stephan introduced the Government arrangement in Schleswig and Holstein, and in 1866, over all the newly annexed provinces, and he quite quickly began to see the enormous advantages of simple postage; so that to him we owe, not only the introduction of the card, but various other simplifications of postage law which were started in Germany, and gradually spread to other parts of Europe. We may decry the fact that our post-card was first made in Germany, but we must nevertheless gladly give to Stephan the credit of having introduced an advantage which it is almost impossible to overvalue, and of having started a series of cards to which collectors would do well to give greater attention and which are thoroughly worthy of being made the subject of an interesting collection.