Frequently Asked Questions
Why bother to collect old Sussex postcards?
The main reason is that they provide valuable information about the past. They enable us to visualize what Sussex was once like and how it has changed over the years. They offer us glimpses of lost worlds. You can see what an area looked like a hundred years ago, or inspect the house where Gran lived before it was pulled down. Every picture, as the saying goes, tells a story.
For a minority of collectors the principal interest is the "thrill of the chase". It is always exciting to find a rare card or still better one that nobody else has previously recorded. The card may depict something unexpected and interesting. Nevertheless, collecting in order to possess can easily become an unhealthy obsession. Nobody should make themselves miserable fretting over the fascinating cards that continue to elude them but can be seen in rivals' collections.
What kind of postcards ought I to collect?
This is very much a matter of personal choice, but topographical or view cards need to be judged on their pictorial content. What do they show and how well do they show it? Some photographers were very artistic and technically proficient, others less so. One card may appeal because the picture is beautifully composed with plenty of atmosphere. Another may be much less "arty", but full of historic interest. Modern collectors prize postcards where people bring the scenes to life: children play in a village street, a man with a horse and trap makes deliveries, or crowds gather to watch a pageant. Such cards command higher prices than those that show deserted streets and empty squares, yet very often the "animations" are carefully posed, which rather detracts from their historical interest.
Why does it matter who published the cards?
Old postcards can be a source of abiding interest and enjoyment even if their publisher is unknown. Identifying the publisher can, however, greatly increase their fascination. Very often the publisher was also the photographer, and if his or her identity can be discovered it may explain a lot about how the picture came to be taken. It may help, for example, to date the picture or establish its location if this is not stated.
Regarding a postcard simply as a picture without reference to the publisher is analogous to visiting the National Gallery and admiring Van Gogh's Sunflowers but taking no interest in the artist. Learning about Van Gogh's tortured life adds an extra dimension to one's appreciation of the picture.
How many cards are there to collect?
This question is much easier to ask than to answer! Broadly speaking, the number of cards that have been issued of each place in Sussex is dependent on its size (especially its population size early in the last century) and how many visitors it attracts. According to Mike Green, over 600 different cards were issued of Barcombe (population size 1165 in 1901), while Alan Barwick estimates the number for Henfield (population 1867 in 1901) at 1200-1500. The numbers for larger places are very speculative, however. For example, Lewes (population 11,249 in 1901) has probably been the subject of 5-7000 different cards, while Brighton and Hove (population 153,000) features on perhaps 70-100,000 cards, though nobody has tried to make a count! The total for East and West Sussex is likely to be around half a million. The plethora of cards allows collectors much scope for specialization. One collector, for example, may choose to concentrate on post offices, another on trams or rural crafts.
Where can I find out more about Sussex postcards?
Visit your local library where you are likely to find a wealth of books on Sussex illustrated with pictures taken from old postcards. The books rarely say much about the publishers of the cards, but are often a mine of information about what the cards actually show. Mark Collin's excellent Sussex Online Parish Clerks website at www.sussex-opc.org reproduces great numbers of Sussex postcards and is an invaluable reference source.
Joining your local postcard club will give you the opportunity to meet other postcard enthusiasts and hear interesting talks relating to card collecting. In the Brighton and Hove area the Sussex Postcard Club (contact Robert Jeeves, 01273 253110) attracts large audiences at its bimonthly meetings in Portslade. Another long established club in Sussex is the Wealden Postcard Club, which usually meets on the second Friday of each month in Crawley (contact Alan Barwick, 01273 493155). Also well attended is the South Downs Postcard Club which meets on the second Wednesday of each month, from 7 pm, at the Village Hall, Peelings Lane at Westham near Pevensey. Postcard dealers attend the meetings of all three clubs and refreshments are normally available.
Subscribing to Picture Postcard Monthly will enable you to keep in touch with every aspect of postcard collecting at both the national and local level. The magazine regularly carries articles on Sussex publishers, as well as news of postcard fairs, auctions and other events. Visit www.picturepostcardmagazine.co.uk for details of current subscription rates.
Where can I buy cards?
Most collectors buy cards at postcard fairs or at meetings of postcard clubs. The bigger fairs attract 40 or more dealers, and offer a vast choice of cards. A firm favourite with Sussex collectors is the Haywards Heath fair, which is normally held on the first Saturday of each month at Clair Hall, about 3 minutes walk from the Railway Station. Also popular, but smaller scale is the fair at Shoreham-by-Sea, held four times a year. Very large fairs are organised periodically at Kempton Park Racecourse and at Woking, and on the fourth Sunday of each month at the Royal National Hotel in London. Full details can be found in Picture Postcard Monthly.
A quarter of a century ago old picture postcards could be easily purchased from junk shops as well as specialist postcard dealers. Nowadays the supply of cards to junk shops has almost dried up, and few specialist dealers run shops, but two shops that remain and are well worth visiting are Step Back in Time (Robert Jeeves) at 36 Queens Road in Brighton (open all weekdays) and Francois (F. F. Celada) at 26 South Street, Eastbourne (open Tuesdays and Saturdays).
Needless to say, collectors are increasingly turning to the internet to obtain cards. It is worth checking out not only eBay but also specific postcards sites such as www.ukpostcards.com, www.oldpostcards.com and www.rarepostcard.com. Great bargains can often be obtained on eBay, but the unwary all too often pay ridiculously inflated prices. Just as at conventional auctions, it is a good idea to decide your top price in advance and not exceed it however frenetic the bidding becomes.
A well respected local auction house that regularly sells Sussex postcards and other paper collectables is Toovey's of Washington in West Sussex (www.tooveys.com). This firm issues illustrated catalogues in advance of its auctions and also uploads many choice images on line.