Picture Postcards from the Great War

Novelty Postcards from ww1

novelty postcard

This c.1905 novelty postcard of a bird - embellished with real feathers, has  no publisher's details on the reverse.

Even before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, novelty type postcards were popular in many countries and no less so than in Britain.The range was enormous and far too to large to mention the different types here. However, the most common novelty cards were the so-called ‘pull-outs’. One example was a view of Scarborough and when a small flap on the front of the card was lifted, out fell a strip of miniature views of this coastal resort. There were obviously many variations of this type of pre-war novelty card.
2 ww1 novelty postcards
Two novelty postcards printed and published before the outbreak of the Great War. The "Valentine's Series" card on the left was number 834 and when the postman's bag was lifted a strip of 12 photographs of Blackford were released. The card on the right has printed on the bag at the rear of the post office van "GREETINGS FROM BROMLEY" and when the flap is opened, not surprisingly, out falls a strip of views of Bromley. However, the publisher is not named neither is the printer, but a notice on the reverse tells us that the card was "Printed in Saxony." Soon, the publisher would have to find a printer nearer home!

Before the war, there were also embossed cards which made the picture look three-dimensional and cards known as ‘squeakers’. An example of this novelty was a picture of a bulky looking bird which invited the viewer to “Squeeze me and I will sing to thee.” One card depicted a cat whose fur was made from sandpaper and the viewer was invited to strike his match on the animal. There were a variety of perfumed cards for example, with pictures of trees or flowers or bottles of perfume, with each giving off a fragrance appropriate to the particular image thereon. Before the war, the art of pressing flowers was a popular pastime with children and postcard publishers extended this idea to their novelty postcards and offered small bunches of pressed flowers tied together with a coloured band and fixed to a postcard - often accompanied by a suitable verse. The ideas incorporated into pre-war novelty postcards were almost endless.

Novelty Postcards 1914-1918

During the Great War, the output of novelty postcards continued and of course many of them now displayed a wartime theme. For example, there were images of war leaders, various aspects of army life, soldiers' welfare, displays of patriotism and cards mocking the enemy - to name just a few. There were mechanical cards with moving parts, which had levers or tabs to change part of the displayed image and others with thumb-wheels, which when rotated displayed a new image and caption.

There were cards with extra pieces fixed to the main card with metal studs that allowed the piece to be rotated left or right - which then revealed a different caption and image. There were cards that had within the main picture a hidden message or image which the viewer was invited to find.

These novelty mechanical cards were published by The Regent Publishing Co., Ltd., London and were number 2209 in its 'The Regent Series.' By simply tipping the soldiers' cap a different facial expression was revealed to correspond with the caption displayed above. The card was sent through the post on 15th October 1915 from Aldershot to Norwood with the message "Will see you tomorrow."

The Regent Publishing Company used the same technique as mentioned above, on this German picklehauber helmet card, to predict that Germany would loose the war. The card was mailed  in 1916, from Melton Mowbury to an address in Bedfordshire.

YMCA Novelty postcards

In some army training and rest camps, recruits could browse, choose and purchase novelty postcards at the YMCA recreation hut. The Photochrom Company of Tunbridge Wells and London, published several ‘YMCA Hut’ cards in their colourfull pullout ‘Novelty card - Celesque series’. In addition to those illustrated below, similar cards were captioned, ‘Views from Aldershot’, ‘Views  from Bramshott Camp’, ‘Views from Kinmel Park, Abergele’ and ‘Views from Canterbury Camp’. There were almost certainly other titles in the series.  
By simply lifting up the image of the hut, the 'pull-out' miniature black and white illustrations were revealed in a 'concertina' type assembly. When unfolded there were views of the location the card represented. For example, some were views of the camp named on the 'roof' of the hut, others were views of the nearest town to the camp and others were images taken from sets of postcards produced by the Photochrom Company. Usually there were usually 12 hidden pictures on a card. Sold in the New Army camps and shops in the surrounding areas, these colourful and fascinating novelty postcards would have been a useful advertising medium for the YMCA as well as providing much needed funds for the association.  ‘Jotter' (Hayward Young) designed the original image.                                                                                              
The 12 pull-down illustrations (above) were miniature reproductions from a set of postcards in Photochroms' amusing "Camp Silhouette" series T. These YMCA novelty cards were extremely popular with the volunteers and then conscripts. They are more commonly found un-stamped. This was probably because, due to their bulk and loose edges, there was always a risk of damage in the post. A more sensible method was to mail them in an envelope and it seems that was how most soldiers sent them home to their relatives and friends.

Novelty Card Postage Rates

During the conflict, the inland standard rate for postage was ½d for a postcard and 1d for a letter.  The General Post Office allowed novelty cards to travel through the post at the normal ½d rate providing that only the name and address of the sender appeared on the message section. And this warning appeared on the cards, "If any other writing - Penny Stamp is required.” and this one, “Shape passed by G.P.O. for ½d   stamp.”

Three Novelty Cards that incurred different postage rates

three ww1 novelty postcards
backs of three ww1 novelty postcards
The card on the left by Valentine's, was mailed on 14th September 1918 from Stoke Newington to another address in London and carried the correct postage of one penny for a novelty postcard with a message. The 12 fold-down miniature pictures behind "The High Wycome Smiler" were predicatively - views of High Wycombe. The centre card in the CELESQUE SERIES and number 263 and titled "GERM-HUN SOUVENIR", has behind the German helmet a drop-down display of 12 miniature reproductions of  'The Silhouette' picture postcard set depicting camp life. According to post office regulations, if the sender of a novelty card did not write a message on it, the price for postage would be ½d, otherwise it would be a penny. A penalty of double the shortfall of  ½d was applied to the card with a 1d postage due label - as the sender had written a message and only stuck on a ½d stamp. The recipient would have had to pay the extra charge to the delivery postman. The sender of the Valentine's novelty card on the right was playing safe. He wrote a message and put a 1½d stamp on the card - a third more than he need have!
onw ww1 novelty card
2 ww1 novelty cards
The card on the left, published by Valentine's, was sent in an envelope in July 1916 by 'Tom' to 'Lily' and contained 12 views of Barry Camp. The centre card was another where the name of a different location could be inserted as required. This one was "Kind Regards & a few Pictures from the Boys at Rochester." Some of the 12 views were "Strood Pier", Rochester castle", "The Medway", "Gordon's Memorial Gillingham", "Chatham Dockyard Gates", "Rochester Cathedral" and "Memorial Arch Gillingham", to name seven of them. The card was published by 'The Photochrom Company' and was number 219 in its 'Celesque Series.'  The card on the right was another in the 'Valentine's Series' and as the caption stated, the pull-out photos showed "Territorial Camp Life"  in "The Canvas City", "Skirmishing", "The Camp Butcher", "A.S.C. Wagon", "The Camp Kitchen", "The Maxim Team" and six more views.
wounded soldier novelty card
two great war novelty cards
The caption on the card on the left suggested it was produced for convalescent soldiers at Malahide and one of the views on the card may well have been a hospital or a temporary hospital in which they were recovering from their wounds. The centre card was another in the 'Valentine's Series' and the pull-out pictures showed views of Shoreham Camp and the surrounding area. A message from 'Will' to his 'Dad' reads "I have just come in after a 20 miles march and am not at all tired. I am feeling quite fresh and feel quite proud of myself  to think I can do it. This is how we sleep in camp...only instead of being in tents we are in wooden huts..." The card on the right was another by Valentine's and captioned "Under the Allied Flags" The photos within the card show black and white sketches of British, French, Belgian and Russian infantry, artillery and cavalrymen.

Find the General

Three examples from a set of novelty cards, which hide within each picture, the profile image of a well-known war leader. The number of cards in the set is uncertain.
When the card on the left is rotated 190 degrees - the profile of General French is revealed. Lord Roberts and Sir Edward Grey remain hidden. Or do they?

"Cooking His Goose"

Open the oven door and there is 'Bill' trussed up ready to be roasted. No mention of printer or publisher on this card.

News and Views from City and Camp

The design on the card below was used many times with a different caption and different views therein.
two versions of a ww1 novelty postcard

Basic images such as the one above could be used time and time again and they were - featuring different camps and towns. The card on the left "News and Views from York" featured 12 views of this beautiful and ancient city with its magnificent cathedral and defensive walls and bars. The city was raided several times by zeppelins during ww1. The card on the right - as expected - has hidden within the soldiers knapsack 12 views of Curragh Camp. They include, "Post Office", "Headquarters", New Cavalry Barracks", "View from Rifle Range", "R.F.A. in Action",  and "General View" and six more titles.

 Six Cards Each Holding a Secret

A set of six cards from Charles Fontaine of Paris depicted scenes of slaughter and mayhem said to have been carried out by the German army. But when arranged in a certain way - the cards revealed a secret.
6 Kiaser cards
Shown above are the six cards which when displayed in a certain way - become something else. The captions read   (a) The bandits rape women and massacre children. (b) Cowardly use of poison gas and burning petrol. (c) Zeppelin raids and incendiary bombs. (d) The pirates torpedo innocent neutral civilians. (e) Abusing the white flag. (f) Pillaging in Belgium and Northern France.
6 Kaiser cards assembled
 The assembled cards

Flowers from France on Novelty Postcards

Several novelty postcard publishers in Britain and France, offered to both soldiers and civilians small bunches of pressed flowers, tied together with a coloured band and fixed to a postcard and often accompanied by a suitable verse.
ww1 real flower novelty postcards
The card on the left featured a patriotic verse, the flags of Britain and France, a rather uninteresting view of a forest and river and what appears to be a sprig of real heather. The centre card is French and the verse probably refers to Verdun and the battles there. A French tri-colour ribbon holds together a sprig of real flowers. "Flowers from Franee !" [sic] declares the card on the right and "Britain for ever !" A coloured ribbon holds together a bunch of artificial flowers.

 An Example of a ww1 Mechanical Novelty Card

"Tommy's Service "Barometer." is a fine example of a so-called 'Mechanical' novelty card. Published by 'J.T.C.' of London it was from their 'Pioneer Series' and the mechanics of it, left only the back of the wheel with enough room for a message.
Tommys Service Barometer postcard mechanical
"Tommy's Service Barometer." Six different facial expressions and relevant captions were generated by simply turning the thumb-wheel. In essence, six different cards for the price of one!

Embossed Cards and 'Material' Added

three ww1 embossed cards
The card on the left was an embossed, gilded and tinseled portrait of Sir John French. (The glitter and gilding is more pronounced on the original card.) This "Bas-Relief Greeting Card" was published by Scopes & Co, Ltd., 1 Cotton Street, Barbican, London and was "Pat. No. 4523/08. "The Kaiser's mustache was a constant inspiration for ridicule by comic postcard artists during ww1. The tache on the centre card was fashioned from a piece of black wool! The card on the right, another "Bas-Relief" by Scopes, carried an embossed  image of a mounted Sir John French. (On the original card the three-dimensional effect is more pronounced.) Embossed cards were made up of two thicknesses of card and therefore quite sturdy to send through the post without being placed in an envelope first.

A "Boots The Chemist" Novelty Card

In 1914, not long after the outbreak of the Great War, the chain of Boots the Chemist printed and published a fund-raising postcard.  Captioned "The Glory of a Lion is his Mane", it was a clever drawing, which upon close inspection reveals the names of Britain’s colonies who were flocking to her aid.
ww1 The glory of a lion is his mane
"The Glory of a Lion is his Mane." The card was described as "A TRIBUTE TO OUR COLONIES" and was published for the benefit of the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund. A statement by Jesse Boot on the back of the card said it was a "happy conception of Mr. William Armitage, the artist..." The firm had been "favoured with an order from Her Majesty Queen Alexandra for two gross of these cards, and she has graciously expressed her wish that they may have a large sale." It seems Her Majesty's wish was granted, as the cards are quite easy to find today!

Hold to Light (HTL) Postcards

In 1898, Wolf Hagelberg of Berlin produced a new type of picture postcard which became known as ‘Hold to the Light’ or ‘HTL’. Before the outbreak of the Great War the Berlin company produced a number of HTL cards for various publishers in Great Britain too.

There were two basic types of HTL postcards - die-cut and transparency.

 Die-cut consisted of three layers of card glued together. The top layer had a picture on it. The scene was often a building or buildings set in the country side, a town or the coast, with certain pieces of the picture removed with a die-cutter. The middle layer was a translucent sheet (often yellow). The third and last layer was the address backing sheet.  When the postcard was held up to a light source, windows, doors, lanterns, the moon or ripples on a pond or lake for example, which had been cut out, become illuminated and changed the day-time scene into a night-time one.

Transparency HTL cards were more sophisticated than die-cut. Also made of three layers, they had a 'hidden image' which was usually related to the front design – but not always. Objects, figures, colours, or special scenes appeared like magic - when the postcard was held in front of a strong light.

However, when war came all trade between Germany and Britain ceased and British publishers had to work out how the HTL cards were manufactured and assembled. And they did.

Below are two transparency HTL cards that were produced in London in 1915.

Captioned “PUZZLE – FIND THE ABSENT ONE”. This card was produced by the War Puzzle Picture Company, 176 Piccadilly, London. It was from the firms “HOLD TO LIGHT SERIES No.1.” When the card is held to a strong light in the glowing embers of the fire the children see their father leading his men towards the enemy with his sword in hand and shells bursting around him.
Captioned “PUZZLE – FIND HOW LONDON IS GUARDED AT NIGHT” This card does not name the publisher, although originally it probably did. Because on the back, below this printed announcement “COPYRIGHT – PRINTED IN LONDON”, the card had been over stamped with a long box cancel in black, completely obliterating what were probably two lines of text. However, we do know the card was mailed from Swafffield to a camp in Great Windsor Park on 20th September 1915. When held to the light, a Zeppelin raider is caught between the cross beam of two searchlights - ready to be shot down!
ww1 1918 novelty card
Novelty postcards were still being bought and sent by people right up to the end of the conflict despite the fact that food rationing and for example, the ever increasing numbers on the casualty lists, 'war weariness' was beginning to set in. This card was posted in May of 1918 and carries within, 12 miniature photographs of the town of Warwick. The card was number 302 in the "CELESQUE SERIES" and published by the Photochrom Co., Ltd;, of London and Tunbridge Wells.
The novelty cards illustrated here, hopefully brought a little light-relief into the lives of those who bought them and those who received them during the 1914-1918 war.
                                                                                                                                                                                                     Home page             Top
Copyright © 2014 Picture Postcards from the Great War 1914-1918. All rights reserved.