From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Seaside postcards are postcards sent from a seaside resort. They have the reputation of being saucy. These cards reached the peak of their popularity in the mid-20th century. Despite the decline in popularity of postcards that are overtly 'saucy', postcards continue to be a significant economic and cultural aspect of seaside tourism.
In 1894, British publishers were given permission by the Royal Mail to manufacture and distribute picture postcards, which could be sent through the post. Early postcards were pictures of famous landmarks, scenic views, photographs or drawings of celebrities and so on. With steam locomotives providing fast and affordable travel, the seaside became a popular tourist destination, and generated its own souvenir-industry: the picture postcard was, and is, an essential staple of this industry.
In the early 1930s, cartoon-style saucy postcards became widespread, and at the peak of their popularity the sale of saucy postcards reached a massive 16 million a year. They were often bawdy in nature, making use of innuendo and double entendres and traditionally featured stereotypical characters such as vicars, large ladies and put-upon husbands, in the same vein as the Carry On films. In the early 1950s, the newly elected Conservative government were concerned at the apparent deterioration of morals in Britain and decided on a crackdown on these postcards. The main target on their hit list was the renowned postcard artist Donald McGill.
In the more liberal 1960s, the saucy postcard was revived and became to be considered, by some, as an art form. This helped its popularity and once again they became an institution.
1970s and 1980s
However, during the 1970s and 1980s, the quality of the artwork and humour started to deteriorate and, with changing attitudes towards the cards' content, the demise of the saucy postcard occurred. Original postcards are now highly sought after, and rare examples can command high prices at auction. The best-known saucy seaside postcards were created by a publishing company called Bamforths, based in the town of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, England. Despite the decline in popularity of postcards that are overtly 'saucy', postcards continue to be a significant economic and cultural aspect of British seaside tourism. Sold by newsagents and street vendors, as well as by specialist souvenir shops, modern seaside postcards often feature multiple depictions of the resort in unusually favourable weather conditions. The use of saturated colour, and a general departure from realism, have made the postcards of the later twentieth century become collected and admired as kitsch. Such cards are also respected as important documents of social history, and have been influential on the work of Martin Parr.