Anyone who knows me, knows I love postcards. Yes, even in this age of instant messaging, Twitter feeds and WhatsApp photos, for me no holiday communication can compare to a postcard through the letterbox.
But why, you might be asking 😉 Well, let’s see.
A postcard shows someone is thinking of you.
It adds a bit of colour to the usual pile of manila envelopes, of bills and letters for previous tenants. I live on my own so, honestly, receiving a postcard brings a small pleasure to my day. One from a friend, just the other day, said at the end “Welcome home” because he knew I’d been on holiday too, which made me smile when I arrived back.
They decorate my fridge nicely. And I like the tangible nature of the postcard; the neatness of the design, the variety of stamps and postmarks, and the fact it’s a keepsake. Once my phone runs out of memory and wipes old text messages and WhatsApp conversations, that’s them gone forever.
So I was quite delighted to receive a loan of a postcard album. A gem of an album containing postcards from the Scottish National Exhibition of 1908, which took place over six months in Saughton Park, Edinburgh.
A bit of background: I was working on the Saughton Park Restoration Project. Along with a team of volunteers, over one year we recorded people’s memories of the park and the surrounding area, we collected images, and we researched the history of the park.
The Scottish National Exhibition (SNE) is a major part of this history. Aiming to display the best in art, science, literature and industry, it was a hugely ambitious and well-attended event. A train station was even specially built to ferry passengers from Waverley.
The SNE featured a water chute, figure-of-eight railway and helter-skelter, art galleries, daily concerts, and even the intriguingly-titled Pageant of Allegory, Myth and Legend, devised by and featuring famous Scottish artists of the day such as Jessie M King.
There was a Senegalese village where craftspeople demonstrated their skills, and a baby incubator demonstration hall. The Industrial Palace displayed wares from hundreds of local business such as an Edinburgh Rock manufacturer and an ostrich feather seller, to international delights from Japan and Canada.
Various places in Edinburgh hold a certain amount of material from the SNE; souvenir programmes and catalogues showing the wonderfully varied collection of things festival-goers could find in this corner of the city. Below are images from the National Library of Scotland.
So we were not short of images and documents detailing the SNE. But what really brought it all to life was this postcard album.
In a serendipitous moment, while I was taking down our Saughton Park project exhibition at the Dower House in west Edinburgh, the chairman of (Dower House-based) Corstorphine Trust, Ian Anderson, who I hadn’t met before, came in and mentioned he had some postcards from the SNE. I thought he meant a handful, and that they may be the same ones already documented by the volunteers and Saughton History Group (who have been carrying out research for the past couple of years).
He lived along the road so went and got them, and returned with an album bursting with postcards. More than 100 and many of them handwritten and sent. Some have a SNE postmark. These were sent 109 years ago!
I think it’s a remarkable collection. It’s such a great variety of images and designs (I’ve posted just a handful to give you a taste): colour-tinted and black and white photographs, artists’ illustrations, and cartoons. The writing, from the detailed to the two-liners.
I like the wee messages that we’d text these days: “How is your cat keeping? I am having a nice holiday”.
Probably my favourite one shows how reliable first class post was then – it was guaranteed to arrive the next day so people wrote simple messages, again in the way we would text or phone: “Mother will be up tomorrow if dry about 5”.
I bet the SNE postcard stand did a roaring trade over those six months.
Some things both stand the test of time and give a colourful insight into previous eras. Postcards are one of them. I hope there are still enough people sending postcards to delight or inform people in 109 years’ time. And don’t forget they will likely bring cheer to someone’s day in 2017 should you feel inclined to put pen to card. (Yes, friends, that includes you 🙂 )
Finally, huge thanks to Ian Anderson for generously lending us this brilliant collection and letting us reproduce the images.