postcard of Leacock house

Stephen Leacock’s house in Orillia

You are on a trip somewhere. You spin the rack, buy some postcards, some stamps, go sit at a cafe and write a postcard to your lover, your parents, your child. Remember doing this, back when you knew their address because people didn’t move? Or when you actually filled in the addresses in the back of your agenda, when you carried an agenda? You sometimes thought your postcards were responsible for the survival of the post office. Now sending postcards should be easier; you should have the addresses on your portable device. But do you? And can you find post cards or post offices? Who writes postcards anymore? Are postcards now in the realm of nostalgia?

No, they are not gone, but their use may be morphing into a less personal and more public function. At the beginning of this century, when I lived in Vienna, I picked up free postcards left in cafes, which advertised events, plays, readings, causes. A cool picture on one side, and information on the other. Hey, my Viennese friends, are those postcards still being dropped in cafes? While postcards are sold to collectors at flea markets, they are also being used for such things as education, charitable endeavours and design contests, such as Nottingham , art, and local history.

Invitation to Austrian architecture

About the same time that postcards made their way into cafes as advertisements, the short story took a spin in a mini. Grain magazine was the first, I think, to run a postcard story contest. (Grain‘s was 500 words or less; I remember deleting them one by one for “The End of Things.”). The Writer’s Union of Canada joined in with an even shorter version (250 words). These stories were published, but not on postcards, which might have brought the authors more readers. Now Geist is running a contest that actually requires a postcard image to go with the uber short story. Here is CWA’s advice: print up a bunch of postcards with a photo of the magazine cover on one side and story with web link on the other, and distribute them around bookstores —  oh right, hardly any left – ok, then, cafes and libraries, for free. Promote those story winners.

UK author Angela Carter sent enough postcards to her friend (and now literary executor) that the friend has published a book based on them with Bloomsbury. My favourite librarian blogger has put up postcards from the archives of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea: click here. Not surprisingly, postcards have also made their way into popular culture, in song, such as “Postcard from Paris” and film, for example, “Postcards from the Edge.” What examples can you think of?

The postcard has been around since the nineteenth century. It might be called the precursor to the tweet: short and inexpensive message to loved ones that others can read. Information on its history takes us to Paris and England and the United States, according to this  Wikipedia history. I would love to know how many postcards were sent over the years in Canada, from loggers and tree planters, from cottagers, soldiers on duty, nurses on holiday, students leaving home for the first time, relocated workers, lovers in long-distance relationships, from families doing their cross-Canada car trip. And from writers abroad.

A quick random check shows six postcards in the Dorothy Livesay papers at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections from her trip to Bulgaria in 1977 for a writer’s conference. Would it be interesting to know how many postcards made it into the archives of other writers and whether there was a peak period of postcard posting?

These two postcards promote a cause — I couldn’t find any promoting literary causes, so these will have to do.

Niagara River

Maid of the Mist. A tourism postcard, but also a cause as the river Maid now competes with other boats for the Niagara Parks contract.

Sonntag bleibt arbeitsfrei! (Aviva Taborsky) This was part of a campaign to not have Sunday shopping.

Posted by Debra Martens

author, editor

One Comment

  1. Another modern use of “postcards”: Bookbird International Journal for Children’s Literature publishes “Letters” and “Postcards” which are reviews of children’s books or authors of different lengths. Postcards are maximum 300 words; letters can be longer, and can deal with a book, an author, or an author’s oeuvre.


Comments are closed.