There are two different postcard collections which meet Geoff’s own interests. To shape and control these there is a “collecting policy”.
The collecting criteria for the main postcard collection is that the subject should have an association with time or horology and that the subject is humorous or cartoon. Geoff is interested in language, words, rhymes, puns and comedy. As well as being a qualified watchmaker he is also an experienced poet who has performed his poetry under the stage name of The Speech Painter since 1988. From a curator’s point of view I am interested in what these images can tell us about the social history of the early to later 20th Century.
In addition to this there is a separate group of postcards advertising watches and clocks. Although these have been listed under the section on postcards they mainly relate to the separate collection of advertising and promotional material.
There are no postcards of public clocks or clocks in museums and historic houses, although these are of course very valid subjects for collection. There has been a relatively recent article in The British Horological Journal (February2017) by Bill Linnard covering all of these postcard subjects and some advice if you are interested in starting your own collection.
Geoff made the decision to collect any postcard relating to these criteria regardless of his own tastes and views about the subjects and in turn we have carried that on to our digital record. We have not selected or censored the more controversial ones which makes the collection more representative of culture at that time. As yet, of course, the collection is not exhaustive and is still being added to.
We have not yet made comment either as the aim is to display the collection rather than analyse. Having said that it has been difficult not to as some of the subjects are uncomfortable. Sexism, racism, stereotypes, body shaming it is all there. The question arises “Yes they are of their time, but does showing them perpetuate their clearly unacceptable, if funny, message?”. If I was curating an exhibition rather than making the collection accessible, I might make different choices or use the images to illustrate a point. The aim here is for the collection to be representative of what was produced within the date range and for people to have the opportunity to make their own decisions about the content or use them to illustrate their own points of view. If nothing else, hopefully it will raise questions and comments about how views have (or haven’t) changed over the last century (perhaps particularly relevant in the light of recent international events) Like any piece of evidence each postcard holds clues and information about how society was ordered, subtle historic details, what the artists and the general public thought was relevant or controversial perhaps. These include: the stereotypes; how they used language; what they found funny; and what they saw as acceptable for a generally available and very common everyday piece of ephemera.
They are without a doubt a fantastic source of historical information!
George Orwell’s essay on The Art of Donald Mcgill http://www.george-orwell.org/The_Art_of_Donald_McGill
Su Fullwood July 2017