Picture Postcards from the Great War

The story behind a Great War postcard
- Tony Allen

(27) Selfridges "War Window" Postcard


Selfridges, the famous London department store first opened for business on 15th March 1909. It was purpose built by Gordon Selfridge an American millionaire. When the Great War broke  out in 1914, Selfridges had by then earned a reputation as a company of excellence, not least for the skill it displayed in developing a new concept in shop window display.  Previously most shops used their windows merely as a place to display goods for sale. It seems at that time there was little idea among shop owners of how to present goods in an artistic way, either by theme or colour, nor were many shop windows illuminated at night. Selfridges was the first among its contempories to create a “Window Display Department', its aim was to “make an art of window display and upgrade window dressing”.

During the war, one window in particular, at the Oxford Street store, became a focal gathering point for many Londoners, known as the ‘war window’ it had previously been used during the first Balkan War in 1912, to display the latest war news from there. The site was resurrected soon after the onset of the 1914 war and Londoners and visitors to the Capital flocked to the window to read the latest war news, ponder over military campaign maps, or look at displays of war photographs. Although other shops and businesses sometimes displayed war news and pictures, none of their presentations enjoyed the same popularity as that at Selfridges.

 A number of photographic agencies supplied war pictures to shops for their exhibitions. Doing so would become a thriving business, and on 27th November 1914, the Daily Express carried an advertisement  offering, “war pictures for shop window display - selection of beautiful photographs 10 by eight inches; 10s per dozen: sample copy 1s, all post free, - Press Photographic Agency, l70 Fleet St.”



Not long after the outbreak of war Selfridges advertised a free War Information Service, by publishing a postcard featuring its war window. One is reproduced above. It is a black and white printed photographic card and shows an enthusiastic well-dressed crowd of people milling around the window. It was sold in the store and printed details on the back of it state the obvious, ‘Selfridges & Co. Ltd., Oxford Street, London,

The card in the illustration was postally used from ‘Willsden’ on 8th September 1914 and addressed to ‘Mr. F. Alexander, 84 Kimberely Road, Cambridge.’ The message on it reads, “We are looking at the war photographs, in a crowd like this today.” The writer simply signed himself’ W.E.B.’ The text on the front of the card, next to the caption "SELFRIDGE'S War Window”’, reads, as can be seen, ”In this window were displayed maps, bulletins, etc, of the Balkan War…” The notices in the picture are not clear enough to read for clues, but presumably the photograph shows a scene during the 1912 Balkan War, not the Great War. The text continues, “It [the window] is now been used for the same purpose during the present great War.”

It would be interesting to know if a further edition of the card was released and if so, if the picture on it was updated to show a crowd from the 1914-1918  period? However, even if there was only one edition of it the card was still good publicity for Selfridges.



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