logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Greetings from holiday
in the mid 20th century

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After the austerity of the Second World War, people were pleased to get away on holiday. They also seemed rather proud of themselves for being able to do so and for seeing places which were often, for them at that time, far-flung and exotic. They seemed to want to let family and friends know. Depending of how close the intended recipient was, this could take the form of a present to take back, a picture postcard or a picture letter.

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Presents from holiday

Presents had to be something different from what could be bought at home, so they had to be memorabilia of the holiday location in some way, like the toasting fork illustrated elsewhere on this website. Or - if money was of less concern - they might be something like specialist local food.

The practice of giving presents largely died over the years as shops became chain stores identical in every town. Picture letters also largely died out, and although picture postcards continued to bought and sent, this was in smaller numbers. The demise was probably due to instant messaging.

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Costs of sending picture letters and postcards

At that time, postage was cheaper for postcards than for letters, and until 1968 there was no distinction between first and second class. Postage was also cheaper for letters and greeting cards if they were in unsealed envelopes.

As far as I remember, picture letters had to be taken to a post office to be weighed, as the cost of postage depended on weight, and therefore on the length of the letter. Only post offices were allowed to sell stamps.

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Picture letters

picture letter showing the picture side   picture letter showing the side for correspondence

Used picture letter, as opened out by the recipient for viewing.

Picture letters were long sheets of paper printed with with photos of views on one side and a blank space for writing on the other. They were folded in a concertina fashion with a space at the front for the recipient's address. Picture letters were widely available from seaside shops.

picture letter folded up, as sent through the mail and received.

Used picture letter folded up, as sent and received.

Types of messages on picture postcards

Picture postcards have changed little over the years. On the non-picture side was and is a space on the left for a message and a space on the right for the recipient's address.

I always found it amusing to see how different people used the message space. Some had a lot to say which resulted in cramped writing which often strayed into the margin of the address space. Other people, though, clearly didn't know what to say and were only writing because a postcard was expected. They wrote very little with very large, widely spaced writing.

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Types of pictures on picture postcards

The picture on a picture postcard said and still says a lot about the person sending. So there was a wide range to choose from, and of course there still is.

What has changed is that it was not at all unusual, particularly before the Second World War, for professional photographers to make their photographs into personalised postcards. These were circulated to friends and family as the then equivalent of 'selfies'. There are a number of them on this website, for example, the photograph of my grandfather as a special constable - not that you would know without being able to have the photograph in your hand and turn it over.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer
webmaster

Pictures of where the sender was staying or visiting were particularly common, as were places of historic or cultural interest that the sender had seen or wanted to be thought of as having seen - but this is as true today as it was then.

Also very widely available - although they didn't appeal at all to me - were postcards depicting bawdy drawings, suggesting the type of enjoyment that senders wanted to imply that they were having.

When, as a teenager away from home, I sent postcards was to my parents, I tended to choose pictures of where I happened to be at the time. I expected my parents to return them to me when I got home so that I could put them in my photo album.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.