Postcards from the past: A trip down memory lane through cards dating back over a century

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Published: December 30, 2018 12:49:18 AM

At a time to reminisce, a trip down memory lane through postcards dating back over a century.

The CharMinar, Hyderabad ? A postcard of the Charminar in Hyderabad

A long time back, before Facebook Messenger and Instagram stories became a part of our daily lives, people communicated with loved ones through postcards. These 6×4-inch, cream-coloured fat sheets of paper were posted by travellers to friends and family across the world. With the advent of technology, however, postcards, which showcased printed images of iconic sites and symbols, have become relics of the past.

There has been a sharp decline in their usage in India too, but there was a time when the country was one of the frontrunners in the postcards business. In fact, in Paper Jewels: Postcards from The Raj, a book on postcards in the Indian subcontinent, which features over 500 professionally-restored images, California-based author and historian Omar Khan says, “The history of the picture postcard in India is closely intertwined with Germany and Austria, countries where most image postcards were first printed.”

Talking about the cosmopolitan nature of postcards, Khan says, “The very nature of postcards was global: a photograph would be sent to Dresden (in Germany) by a publisher from India, postcards would be struck from it by a printer there and then shipped back to Jaipur to be sold to tourists outside the Hawa Mahal or other tourist spots, and finally it would be mailed to London, arriving there two weeks later.”

Then, some time between 1905 and 1918, there came a new innovation in postcards: multiple-fold panoramas, which allowed more space for photography and logos than standard-size postcards. One of these, in fact, is featured in the book, Picturesque India: A Journey In Early Picture Postcards (1896–1947) by the husband-wife duo of Sangeeta and Ratnesh Mathur. Picturesque India captures the significant changes in postcards over the years in India—over 550 postcards feature in the book, recording the journey. On the topic of multiple-fold panorama postcards, the book says, “Long panoramas of European towns became a popular collectible and though relatively heavy in weight, these panorama postcards were often not inserted in envelopes but posted with stamps and address written on one side.”

And that’s why it wasn’t easy for the Mathurs to get hold of these postcards. After a lot of digging, though, the authors finally came across a four-fold panorama of Bombay titled ‘Bombay—Panoramic view of Fort and Harbour from Clock Tower—Esplanade Hotel, Sailor’s Home and Harbour from Clock Tower’. Reportedly, this postcard was used in 1905 by a German visitor in Bombay who was writing to his family.

Here, we feature a few picture postcards from Picturesque India

A 4-fold panorama postcard of Bombay, 1905
This is a four-fold panorama of Bombay bearing the title, ‘Bombay—Panoramic view of Fort and Harbour from Clock Tower—Esplanade Hotel, Sailor’s Home and Harbour from Clock Tower’. Published by Phototype Company, Bombay, the postcard was used on July 22, 1905, by a German visiting Bombay and writing back home. Since there is no trace of a postal stamp on it, it appears to have been sent in an envelope to Germany.

Clock Tower Chandni Chowk, Delhi
A postcard of the Clock Tower in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi. Published by HA Mirza & Sons, Delhi, it was printed in Germany. The Clock Tower was built by the Delhi Municipality at a cost of Rs 28,000 after the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny.

Birdseye View, Amritsar
A postcard presenting a view of Amritsar. Published by DA Ahuja, Rangoon, it was printed in Germany.

The Bazaar, Leh
A postcard of the Bazaar in Leh. It was published by RE Shooter, Sialkote and Kashmir, on an undivided back.

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