The Postcard Collection

Carolyn Findell's notes at the Henley Gathering 2004

      My Grandparents were Frederick Russ & his wife Helen (née Bliss). The core 650 postcards of the 'new' Russ catalogue are Helen's collection, a large number of them sent by Fred to Helen before they were married.
      I got the postcards out of their two shoe boxes 12 years ago, and put them in date order, but...... only last October 2003, did I launch into the long-overdue cataloguing and analysis of them. I then realised that if I had a surviving collection, other postcards might also survive amongst the cousins, so I put out a plea, via e-mail and the website, for any others.
      Six other cousins have contributed - including a single card from NZ which is No.l in the catalogue, i.e. the earliest we have in the collection (July 1902). Martin Ashby (grandson of Bertha Russ/Welch) found 88; Charles Russ (grandson of Dr. Charles Russ) in Vancouver contributed 60 of his mother's from her round-the-world voyages working on Canadian Pacific Steamship cruises in the 20s and 30s; David Russell (son of Ernest Russ/Russell) contributed 75, many from Italy just post WW1; Gerry Fisher (grand-daughter of Emily Russ/Muller) has found 7; Richard Burt in California (grandson of Fred Russ) has sent 2; & Luanne Gooch's one from New Zealand. Every card ties up with another in the collection somehow. All cards that have been loaned have been, or will be, returned when they have been catalogued and scanned into the database. The purpose is not just to analyse this considerable archive, but to construct a back-up for these, to the Russes, precious items, and, perhaps most importantly, share the archive with all family members via the website. The total is now about 900 cards.
      There are so many GOOD STORIES regarding both the postcards themselves, front and/or back, but also about the process of doing this job over the last year.......But I will just stick to the FACTS:- 

     Postcard collecting was becoming popular in the 1890s, but it was in 1902 when it became a craze, because the British Post Office changed the regulations so that the message and address could be written on the same side, (instead of picture and short message on one side and only the address on the other). Cards usually cost Id (one penny) to buy and the postage was a ha'penny in the British Isles, so it was a very cheap hobby, [the picture subjects were anything and everything]. Helen's 650 that survive are nothing to the 20,000 - 25,000 collections that won prizes in the early 1900s.
      Our EARLIEST is from 1902, and the bulk (over 600) are from the years up to 1914, which is an understandable time for the initial craze to have come to an end. There are 40 cards covering the years of WW1, each one adding very personal touches to the well known horrors of that time. Postage went up to 1d in 1918 which was another reason for the decline in postcard collecting.
      Cards FROM and TO : Mater, all siblings (except Charles), the Winklers, and the Scottish Russ cousins - as well as plenty of other characters. Mater was a modest collector from the early 1900s having cards from Emily through to Will, lessening as each child flew the nest. BUT at some point all Mater's cards were given to Helen, (possibly on Mater's death?), as Helen had also started collecting in 1902. This is why so many Russ cards end up in Helen's collection, despite Helen only meeting Fred (i.e. the Russes) in 1907.
      Two large groups of cards in the collection are due to Frank Welch courting Bertha (prior to their marriage in 1906), and Fred courting Helen (they married in 1910). (From September to December in 1907 there are cards nearly every day Monday to Friday from Fred to Helen). It seems to have been a good way to secure a girl's heart. Many cards prove same day delivery, including the classic one of Mater inviting Fred and Helen to dinner that same day. There are cards from Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Portugal, U.S.A., Canada, South Africa, Australia and India.
      Bringing the remaining postcards together has achieved one of my aims - to establish that the London and Scottish branches were very close in the early 1900s - the postcards are, after all, all that remains of the correspondence that would have gone on normally, but letters HAVEN'T survived. The cards often represent what later became phone calls... ..and now texting today.
      The catalogue reads as a chronological story, mostly 1902 to pre-WW1. I have cross-referenced as much as possible, and researched intriguing details thrown up by either the pictures or the texts. We know our ancestors' names, and mostly what they looked like from photographs; but these postcards now provide snippets of their words and so give an inkling of their characters. The catalogue reads like a book, albeit with chunks of chapters missing.

I hope to have the cataloguing job finished by New Year 2005 when Michael Harte and I will decide how best to present it on the website.    Carolyn Findell, September 2004