If any style of picture postcards epitomised their worldwide appeal and transmission, it was those of ocean liners. Catering for rich travellers, hopeful emigrants and globetrotting business people, they arrived on the scene in a big way, just as the picture postcard was establishing its world media domination (otherwise known as the ‘Golden Age’). Postcards of liners were published in huge quantities during the 20th century, and in turn, the liners repaid the compliment when passengers collectively posted millions around the world during their travels. In fact, picture postcards and travel were equated in the original title of the biggest British Edwardian magazine devoted to the hobby. Lots and lots of albums belonging to avid collectors were filled with postcards from around the world (some, admittedly, acquired by an exchange system rather than written on the deck of some great ocean liner). Fascinating messages and exotic stamps added to the picture on the postcard of some romantic far-away place for those receiving these items from friends or relatives. This side of collecting admittedly underlines the fact that the meticulous compilation of postcard collections in Edwardian Britain was primarily a middle-class fixation.
Postcards of liners can be found as photographic or artist-drawn cards, the latter attractively collectable, and shipping companies produced magnificent posters advertising their services that were reproduced on postcards. This was not just in the early 20th century: a craze for re-issuing these designs as postcards re-emerged in the 1980s.
The tragic story of RMS Titanic has made postcards of the liner insanely collectable and perhaps overshadowed the rest of the genre in collecting terms, but Titanic cards were merely the tip of the iceberg – every liner launched has its own postcard tributes.
Article by Brian Lund