Old postcards keep telling the story

Postcards from days past allow splendid insights into what folk got up to, writes Hamilton Libraries Perry Rice.


Look – another photo of Victoria Street. Yes, there are hundreds of them I guess, but this one is special – it’s a postcard.

Postcards were a commonly used medium for brief emails as the Edwardians hadn’t yet invented computers. A postcard had just enough room on the reverse – referred to by some as ‘the postal side’ – to write a brief note on the left half and the recipient’s name and address on the right. I have seen postcards with as little as ‘Dear Mum, Am well. See you next time. Your son, Jimmy.’

Many postcards were excellent photographs and as with this example, later became wonderful pictorial records of a town, a feature – bridal veil falls or suchlike, a building a river or a lake. You get the picture.

Photographers were very clever, very resourceful and very much focussed on income. This was the way many people in the heyday of the postcard made their livings. Many of the postcards were published by photographers hundreds of miles away from the locality of the image. Indeed, some New Zealand postcards were published or, at least printed overseas. Some were published by the printer and some were published by bookshops and even tobacconists.

There are elements which can date a postcard within a ‘date range’. Often it can be as simple as a building giving the earliest date – this postcard has the Cosey Corner building which was built in 1904 so it was not photographed before then. To close in on the date of the photograph we need a ‘not later than’ date. Whoever used this postcard did us one great favour – they wrote the date on the front of it. How would they have known in 1906 how farsighted they were when they thought, ‘What’s the date today?’ and, having worked it out, wrote it on the front of the card.

For those of you who know Victoria Street in Hamilton, the tall whitish facade in the centre may be recognisable. That is Alexandra Building home now of the renowned Browsers Second Hand Bookshop. It was, years ago, and exactly where Browsers is now, the home of the Dolly Varden Milk Bar.

What is also interesting about this postcard is what it tells us about the times and the activity some Hamilton folk got up to. This could be difficult to believe of early Hamilton but the inscription reads:

“We are starting a Shakesperian Club & are going through ‘As You Like It’. have you a copy you do not want” I think I remember you had it at school one year. If you don’t require it now I should be very glad if you would send it to me and post it up at once. First rehearsal is next Wednesday so please send it by first post.”

Now, before anyone takes issue with my spelling, that does appear to be the way the writer spelt Shakespearean. I wonder how many nights it ran for?

The building with the great first floor balcony is the Commercial Hotel. It’s still there but the balconies are gone and the facade is now brick.

Story: Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Libraries.Perry Rice

Email Perry here.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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