In 1894, British publishers were given permission by the Royal Mail to manufacture and distribute picture postcards which could be sent through the mail. Early postcards were pictures of famous landmarks, scenic views, photographs, lighthouses, animals or drawings of celebrities and so on. With steam locomotives providing fast and affordable travel the seaside became a popular tourist destination. The steam locomotives generated its own souvenir industry. The picture postcard was, and is, an essential staple of this industry.
In the early 1930’s 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 tacky in nature making use of innuendo and traditionally featured stereotypical characters such as priests, large ladies and put-upon husbands in the same vein as the Carry On films.
In the early 1950’s, 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 1960’s the saucy postcard was revived and became to be considered, by some, as an art form.
The demise of the saucy postcard occurred during the 1970’s and 1980’s, the quality of the artwork and humor started to deteriorate with changing attitudes towards the cards content.
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 depiction’s of the resort in unusually favorable weather conditions. These continuously draw tourist to the seaside. The use of saturated color and a general departure from realism have made the postcards of the later twentieth century become collected and desired by undiscriminating taste.
Original postcards are now highly sought after and rare examples can command very high prices at auction.