Book traces history of picture postcards in India

Book traces history of picture postcards in India

The postcard was introduced in India in July 1879 for a quarter anna and the product proved to be a huge hit recording an annual sale of 26 million cards within the country by 1883, says a new book.

“Picturesque India: A Journey in Early Picture Postcards (1896 – 1947)” describes the evolution of postcards, the postal delivery and transportation systems in the backdrop of the development of Indian cities in the early 20th century. A total of 550 postcards are featured in the book which visually document this growth, while also capturing evidences of earlier times in India’s fascinating poly temporal towns.

The postcards are divided across six chapters representing six regions within India and Pakistan, as they were a hundred years ago. Publisher Niyogi Books describes these picture postcards as attractive and nostalgic record of the topography of the time and untapped resource for those interested in the evolution of cities, town planning, architecture, ethnography, sociology or, simply, travel.

The book is authored by Sangeeta and Ratnesh Mathur, who have an extensive collection of picture postcards, lithographs, coins, princely state insignia and weapons among other possessions. “Picture postcards showing Indian subjects and landscapes were being produced in Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and England during the 1870s and 1880s. Among the earliest were the Austrian and German lithographed series with the Gruss aus or Greetings From title,” the book says.

A few postcards with “Gruss aus Indien” were also printed in Germany and Austria but the authors arent sure whether these cards were the first ones on the subject of India or not. “There were some other early lithographed picture postcards with Indian subjects being used within Europe. One example of this is the classic Tiger hunt of elephant back picture, titled Indien, issued by Dess Company,” the Mathurs say.

Another landmark event in the postal history of the world is the first official mail to be flown by a plane, the airmail, which was in India on February 18, 1911. “This was an extension of an event organised by British aviation pioneer Walter Windham, when for the first time airplanes flew in Indian skies,” the book says.

The chaplain of the Holy Trinity Church at Allahabad requested the Indian Postal Department and Henri Pequet, a French pilot participating in the event, to undertake a short seven-mile journey from the Allahabad polo field to Nini to drop the mail, as a fundraising activity for a youth hostel. “All letters and postcards on this flight were stamped with a mark and date of the event, making them popular collectibles to this day,” it says.

Werner Roesslers “Gruss aus Indien” imports from Germany and Calcutta-based publisher D Macropolos “Greetings from India” and Greetings from Calcutta imported from Italy are some of the early picture postcards postally used in India. Another of the early postcard series, which was extensively in use between 1896 and 1904 in India was the “Weltreise” or “Voyage Around the World” series published in Dresden.

Later, when the capital of the British Empire was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911, postcards marked the events of the two Delhi Durbars (1903 and 1911). “The making of the new capital, with its secretariat and administrative buildings, churches, hotels and residential quarters that came up with the increasing population of European residents, became a popular subject in picture postcards of Delhi,” the book says.

Brief notes on India’s leading picture postcard publishing studios and their photographers have also been put together at the end of the book.

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