WE may think the cult of celebrity is a recent thing but as students of history know, very little is ever new. Certainly our Edwardian forefathers knew all about collecting pictures of the stars of the day, the popular actors and singers, as these postcards from the collection of John Taylor of Kidderminster demonstrate.
John collects all kinds of memorabilia relating to his birthplace Stourbridge and the link is that these cards were sent to ladies living in the town a little over 100 years ago.
The cards illustrate the synergy between two phenomena of the early 1900s. Picture postcards were at the height of their popularity. Before telephones became widespread the postcard was the cheapest and quickest form of communication, with postal services in the large towns ensuring a message could be sent and an answer received on the same day. Over long distances a next day delivery was certain for the price of a halfpenny stamp. The postcard manufacturers were always after new subjects for their pictures and the popular actresses of the theatre and music halls were an obvious choice. Appearing on a postcard raised the profile the actresses and turned them into the superstars of the day.
The card on the left shows the actress Mabel Love (1874-1953), a huge star at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. In 1894 a 20-year-old Winston Churchill wrote to Mabel Love to request a signed photograph.
She first appeared on stage aged 12, in an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. She went on to star in burlesque but in 1889 hit the headlines for her disappearance. It was reported that she had contemplated suicide on the Thames Embankment. However, the story only created more interest in her and increased her fame and she soon began appearing on picture postcards, so much so that she became known as "the pretty girl of the postcard".
For around 30 years she starred in musical comedies and pantomimes before retiring from the stage on 1918 and later setting up a dance school.
This card was postmarked in Birmingham on Sunday, May 26, 1907, to Mrs W. Duffield of Stanscroft, Market Street, Stourbridge. The sender was certainly a fan of Mabel Love, writing:
"Dear E., what do you think about this? I like it, so I thought you would, I think she looks very nice. Hoping you are better and all the others well. Maisie had another of those fainting turns the other night, made her so bad, kept her in bed till dinner next day. Hope you have all enjoyed yourselves. I suppose you heard of Evelyn of a daughter last Monday morning, going on well. With love from Mother."
Does any of that ring a bell with you? Was Mrs Duffield one of your ancestors?
The second card features Jessie Bateman (1877-1940). She made her stage debut at 10, dancing in ballet, and began acting in 1889 with a role in A Midsummer's Night Dream. She made her name in touring productions of Shakespeare but also played in grand opera, light opera and comedies. She toured South Africa and the USA and performed for many of the great actor-managers of the day, such as Sir Frank Benson (1858-1939), George Edwardes (1855-1915), Sir Charles Hawtrey (1858-1923) and Sir Gerald du Maurier (1873-1934). Her first husband, George Ashfordby-Trenchard, died in South Africa in the Boer War and in 1907 she married Wilfred G. Chancellor, with whom she had three children. She retired from the stage in 1933.
This card was postmarked in Worcester on Tuesday, August 15, 1905, to Miss N. Ray, The Heath, Stourbridge. The long message, written in a minuscule hand, reads:
"Dear Nellie, Aunt Martha and I both went to May's wedding, and enjoyed it very much. We went on an excursion at 8.15 and got home at 2 o'clock next morning. We had such a long day and were so tired. May looked lovely and so graceful. She was dressed in pale cream and veil, an d bouquet of scarlet and white. She spoke up so clearly. Her going-away costume was blue and scarlet hat and a lovely white feather fur not a stole. Went for the drive to Hanley Castle on Sunday. I've been tired after the excursion, not being used to it, nor Aunt Martha. Say whether you want me to come home. They do not mind if I stay a fortnight or more. They have spoken of taking me to Weston-super-Mare but still we are not going. Hoping you are all well. Thank George for his PC. Tell him I have sent Percy White a PC and I shall try to see him if I can dare to go in. With love from Annie."
Again, do any of those names mean anything to you?
Deltiology, or collecting postcard, is a fascinating hobby, but often the messages written on the back of the cards are as interesting, if not more so, as the pictures.
Have you any Black Country items of interest to share with Bugle readers? Contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle .co.uk, call 01384 567678 or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B65 5HL.