Friday 28 July 2017

Why postcards are on the edge

Gemma O'Doherty

When was the last time you sent a postcard? If you're like many modern travellers, you may not even remember.

The notion of buying, writing and posting a memento that takes several days to get home seems almost prehistoric in an age when holiday snaps and stories can be shared instantaneously via social media.

Just 24pc of Irish holidaymakers now send postcards when they are overseas, according to a recent survey by travel and lifestyle website lastminute.com.

The survey comes at a time when the High Court has appointed an examiner to John Hinde Ltd, a company famous for its Technicolor postcards -- or 'viewcards', as the eponymous photographer called them -- of classic Irish scenes such as Keem Bay on Achill Island and turf-cutting in Connemara.

John Hinde Ltd is the Irish division of the Wicklow-based Hinde Group, which has operations in Britain and the US that are not affected by the Irish company's financial problems.

In reality, of course, sales of postcards have been in decline for years. Twenty-first-century holidaymakers take shorter breaks, communicate through Facebook, texts and emails, and can easily afford digital cameras, or smartphones, to take their own holiday snapshots.

An Post doesn't distinguish between types of personal mail, but it agrees that fewer postcards are being sent, primarily because foreign travel is not the novelty it once was.

Though technology is changing the way we share our travel stories, however, older holidaymakers are sure to feel a twinge of sadness accompanying the death throes of the postcard.

For decades, after all, postcards have been at the heart of the travel experience. First mailed in the 1870s, their colourful history ranges from Bamforth & Co's saucy British seaside cards to special editions created by highly skilled artists, and collectables marking historic events.

No gift shop was, or is, complete without racks of cards outside. Because they require an effort to choose, craft and post, moreover, postcards came with a very personal touch.

What brought them to life, of course, was the sender's unique handwritten contribution. Think of Brendan Behan's classic, sent from LA in 1961, and still on display in the Dublin Writers' Museum half a century later. "Great spot for a quiet piss-up," he scrawled.

And despite John Hinde Ltd's woes, the popularity of TG4's 'Cartaí Poist', which tracked down the people in the old postcards, prompted the station to re-broadcast all three series last year.

Postcards may be on the edge, in other words, but their wit, collectible nature and our rising appetite for nostalgia in these techie times means we'll always wish they were here.

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