A Penny Stamp for All Places – Cathedral Square c.1908

“There are two classes of Christchurch postcards – those with the Cathedral and those without.” [1]
Coloured Postcard of Cathedral Square, Christchurch c. 1908
Coloured Postcard of Cathedral Square, Christchurch c. 1908 [2]

The elegance of a lost age is captured in this exquisite photochrom postcard taken in Cathedral Square. The Edwardian photographer has recorded a moment in time, circa 1908, taken from outside the Christchurch Post and Telegraph Exchange.

Women dressed in wide Edwardian hats and dress coats seem to waft through the scene. A gathering of ladies encircle a horse-drawn bus, perhaps bidding farewell to friends after attending a service at the Cathedral or a fundraising bazaar in the city. A few men in coats and bowler hats stand amongst them. Two or three ladies pushing their bicycles, make their way through the crowd.

The trees are in full leaf which gives a clue to the season the photograph was taken. It is summer, however the day is cool due to the well dressed figures. The long shadows suggest that it is late in the afternoon.

Penny Postcard, Photochrom No.61. Private postcard collection.
Looking along Worcester street towards Cathedral Square. [3]
The Cult of the Post Card

At the time that this postcard was in use – around 1908 – the picture postcard collecting craze had peaked. The Press had called it the ‘Cult of the Postcard’. Specialty postcard shops had sprung up to cash in on the craze, like the Novelty Postcard Depot, at 228 High street, near Peterson and Co., but just about every stationer and small fancy goods shop in town carried postcards of some kind. Those picturing actresses were popular with ladies but there were also reproductions of works of art, verses of popular songs, ‘ugly’ valentines, Christmas and ‘reprehensibly suggestive postcards – a pestiferous mode of salutation which approaches perilously closely to the border-line of indecency.’

According to the Press: ‘There are two classes of Christchurch postcards – those with the Cathedral and those without’.  Those without this iconic building inevitably carried images of swans and willows, no doubt on or beside the Avon, ‘but all were artistically got up, and could be had for a penny plain and twopence coloured’. Many were printed in Bavaria, some in Japan for economy, but the best were considered to come out of Britain.

When the craze had been at its height in the city, collectors who wanted to receive picture postcards from foreign countries in exchange for local cards, could pay 1s to have their name inserted on to an Exchange List at the Specialty Book Agency, next to D.I.C. on Cashel street. [4]

Godley Statue, Cathedral Square.
Godley Statue in Cathedral Square, with the distinctive Royal Exchange building behind. [5]
Great source of advertising and revenue

It was the opinion of one trader spoken to by the Press, that ‘postcards had done more to advertise the natural attractions and resources of New Zealand than any other means’.

Pictorial postcards had been popularised in Germany. German hotel keepers found  postcards bearing views of the locality, which they sold to guests, a great source of advertising and revenue. The fashion spread to France before making its way to England.

By 1903, an estimated 192,000,000 postcards were purchased in Great Britain. Post Offices were struggling to cope with the volumes of postcards sent during the holiday season, which outstripped Christmas mail volumes. It was only a matter of time before this trend appeared in New Zealand. The popularity of picture postcards here was blamed for the decline in the number of old style Christmas cards sent in December 1905. [6][7]

Closed postcards

Closed postcards – or ‘letter cards’ – made their appearance in New Zealand Post Offices in December 1894. They doubled the writing space and being closed, provided the same security as an ordinary letter. They sold for 1 1/2d each, including delivery within the colony.

The 1894 one and half penny letter card featuring illustrated scenes of New Zealand.
The 1894, one and half penny letter card featured illustrated scenes of New Zealand. [8]
On the back of the card were printed views of Mount Cook, Mitre Peak, Sutherland Falls, Tongariro, Ruapehu and Lake Taupo designed by an artist in the Wellington General Survey Office. [9]

Latest novelty in postal matters from home

Postcards first became popular in the ‘home country’ in the early part of the 1870s, but their invention is believed to date back to 1865, when English eccentric Theodore Hook sent a hand-coloured picture postcard to himself. They found favour with such notables as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Gladstone, on the grounds of their economy of space and price, but ‘polite society’ remained unimpressed by the brevity they afforded the writer. [10]

Early postcards were a far simpler affair than the thick glossy picture postcards we send home from our travels today. They were simple unprinted cards, the size of an ordinary envelope and ‘exceedingly neat and handy’. They ‘could easily be carried about in a pocketbook, so that, at a moment’s notice, a short letter might be sent’.  [11]

The solution for bad correspondents

The postcard was seen as the solution for ‘bad correspondents’. For those who would not take the time to put pen and ink together to fill a sheet of paper, the postcard offered a much smaller space to fill.

“Sold at a shilling a dozen, these cards would be commonly carried and would be often filled in in pencil at spare moments when the more serious task of writing a letter would never be undertaken.”

It was only a matter of time before the ‘latest novelty in postal matters from home’ made its way to the Colonies. They were not expected to be as largely used here as they were ‘at home’ but their small expense and the little effort required to fill one, was encouragement enough for the suggestion to be made of an experiment in the Colony by the Government.

In March 1875, the Bruce Herald wrote of the desire for a superior quality postcard to those being used than was currently available, suggesting that postcards were already in use in New Zealand at this time. A limited number of ‘some what superior’ cards were planned for trialling ‘on February 1st next at a price of 8d the dozen’. [12]

Six for sixpence

Official Postmaster General postcards were issued for use in New Zealand over a year later, on 1st November, 1876. They were sold in packs of six for sixpence. The design, like the home country equivalent, was simple.

“On one side there was an impression of the penny stamp and the words “Post Card, New Zealand, The address only to be written on this side,” and beneath it a blank space for the address. The other side is blank.” [13]

A Penny Stamp for All Places, Gold Medal Series No.52. Issued in Christchurch, N.Z. Printed in Saxony. Source: Private postcard collection.
A Penny Stamp for All Places, Gold Medal Series No.52. Issued in Christchurch, N.Z. Printed in Saxony. [14]
The postcards immediately found favour with businesses. One of the first postcards received was used to announce the change of ownership of a Wellington ironmonger. [15]

By the end of 1884, at total of 1,153 555 post cards had been dispatched and received in New Zealand during that year. [16]

A Penny Stamp for all Places

Universal Penny Postage was introduced in New Zealand at the beginning of 1901. This reduced the price of postage on any letter or postcard posted within New Zealand to one penny. Reciprocal arrangements were arranged with Great Britain and other countries in the British Empire to ensure all penny post would also be delivered to addresses outside the Colony, except for our closest neighbour, Australia. To post mail to Australia would cost 2d, and any short paid mail would be slapped with a surcharge amounting to double the amount short. [17]

Penny postage had been championed for over a decade by the Postmaster General, Sir Joseph Ward. Great Britain had had penny postage since 1840, but according to Sir Joseph, New Zealand could lay claim to being the first country to introduce universal ‘penny post at one stroke’. [18]

For more on the history of postage in New Zealand and penny post see ‘Penny Post’ Auckland Star, Volume XXXII, Issue 1, 2 January 1901, Page 2 on PapersPast.

  1. ‘THE CULT OF THE POST CARD’ Press, Volume LXV, Issue 13614, 24 December 1909, Page 11.endnote ‘THE CULT OF THE POST CARD’ Press, Volume LXV, Issue 13614, 24 December 1909, Page 11.
  2. Source: Private collection.
  3. Penny Postcard, Photochrom No.61. Private postcard collection.
  4. Page 3 Advertisements Column 1. Star , Issue 8334, 5 June 1905, Page 3.
  5. Penny Postcard, Photochrom No.60. Posted 1909. Private postcard collection.
  6. COLLECTING PICTORIAL POSTCARDS. Bruce Herald, Volume XXXI, Issue 3172; 12 June 1900, Page 7. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XXII, Issue 7171, 4 January 1895, Page 2; LOCAL & GENERAL. Otago Witness, Volume 01, Issue 2123, 1 November 1894, Page 22.; POSTCARD BOOM. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XXX, Issue 9868, 9 October 1903, Page 3.
  7. POST AND TELEGRAPH.. Star , Issue 8509, 29 December 1905, Page 3.
  8. Source: Private collection.
  9. NEW ZEALAND TELEGRAMS. Feilding Star, Volume XVI, Issue 151, 22 December 1894, Page 2.
  10. ‘Postcard was an English invention.’ The Guardian, Tuesday 19 February 2002 10.18 GMT.
  11. Grey River Argus, Volume XVI, Issue 2244, 18 October 1875, Page 2; Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXXI, Issue 5653, 26 October 1875, Page 2.; HOME GOSSIP. Star , Issue 2702, 24 November 1876, Page 3.
  12. Bruce Herald, Volume VII, Issue 684, 19 March 1875, Page 7.
  13. Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XI, Issue 233, 30 October 1876, Page 2.
  14. Source: Private postcard collection.
  15. Marlborough Express, Volume XI, Issue 864, 4 November 1876, Page 5.
  16. Postal and Telegraphic. New Zealand Herald, Volume XXIII, Issue 7597, 29 March 1886, Page 9.
  17. PENNY POSTAGE. Daily Telegraph , Issue 9369, 18 October 1901, Page 5.
  18. THE PENNY POST. Auckland Star, Volume XXXII, Issue 1, 2 January 1901, Page 2.
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