Inside the Collection

Vulgarity kills the Valentine’s Day card

Valentine's Day Card, posted to Linda Hall, New South Wales, 1910
Picture Postcard, mailed to Linda Hall, New South Wales, 1910

If you have just sent a picture postcard to someone for Valentine’s Day you may, or may not, be aware you are part of a tradition stretching back over one hundred years. Picture postcards first appeared around 1869 and from then on the ‘Valentines Day’ card, I thought, had been a yearly success story for the commercial printer.

It seems however there was an outbreak of “vulgar” postcards around 1910 that both shocked straight laced Australian society, and threatened to make the “Valentine’s Day card extinct…”

All this was news to me as most of the postcards I had seen from this period were very tame, like the one above. But there appears to have been a sub-genre of a more controversial type, which, while presumably tame by our standards, were vilified in the following text by Tasmania’s ‘Examiner’ …

“Few crazes have had such a successful run as the picture postcard, and the reason of its long hold upon the public favour is that it combines a considerable element of usefulness with a large degree of beauty and art. But the picture postcard has been abused, and things have come to a critical pass when we find the Postcard Traders Association of the United Kingdom solemnly debating the future of the card, and wondering whether it is to share the fate of the Valentine, which, once a very profitable article of commerce has become practically extinct.

Vulgarity killed the popularity of the Valentine, and it may do the same for the picture postcard. In Launceston as in other centres, “few people can be unaware of the objectionable types of card that are upon the market and that are sometimes flaunted before their eyes in the windows of establishments of a certain type, and, in front of which it is not a nice sight to see young people gloating over the suggestiveness of this sort of picture postcard, some of them on the very borderland of obscenity. It is not a healthy public taste and is one that it were well to discourage. It is some satisfaction therefore to know that in their own interest the postcard traders of the. ‘Old Country’ have taken up the question.

That ‘they recognise the evil is evident from the fact that they passed a resolution pledging the association to take all legitimate steps to suppress objectionable postcards. One speaker went so far as to say ‘that the postcard trade had become disgusting and offensive in the eyes of the public. That is strong language, but no doubt the circumstances warranted it. A man does not usually make such comments on his own line of business unless there is some grave reason for it. There is a great deal of pleasure as well as practical utility in the picture postcard, and it would be a pity-to see ft pass into utter disrepute simply because of its adaptation to the baser thoughts of man and woman kind.

The postal authorities can do a great deal in the way of censorship, but that is not enough, for many a card is published that could never pass the postal scrutiny. It could only get through within the shelter of an envelope, or be circulated in other ways. In some Australian centres the police have taken action in the matter, and admittedly it is an evil aspect in a legitimate and desirable business that ought, if possible, to be suppressed. It is something to know that traders themselves are realising the evil of it.”

Given the tameness of the Valentine’s Day card above it’s hard to imagine the shocking ‘evil’ invading genteel Australian Society around 1910. Perhaps someone else has seen Australian examples of of this sub-genre of cards?

Geoff Barker, Curatorial

Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania, 24 November 1908, page 4

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