These are tumultuous times. In the space of a few days we have buried a Pope, Brtitain’s future King (and Queen?) have married, thousands of car workers face losing their jobs and we are in the midst of a general election campaign which has all the acrimony of a chimpanzees’ tea party.
We know all this because of the speed with which news travels around the globe. Time was, before telephones, radio and television were not as common as they are today, when the humble postcard played an important role in recording memorable events for the least expense.
I say all this as a preamble. The alternative might have been to reduce this column to the realms of soft porn and glamour photos, which is not my intention.
However, given the pictures illustrated here, that’s going to be difficult! But I’ll force on.
Old picture postcards remain today as one of the most accessible, fascinating, inexpensive and easily cared for and stored collectables there are.
The fact that so many millions of the things remain in existence goes a long way in explaining their popularity in their heyday.
Time was, following some memorable event like a crowning, or a funeral or a disaster, that within hours of it occurring, picture postcards recording the scenes were on sale and being posted by the masses to the masses.
The Royal family, in the space of a couple of generations, has provided enough material to fuel the postcard industry. Queen Victoria‘s death in 1901 probably started the ball rolling when “in memoriam” cards bearing her likeness were apparently being printed and sold by postcard manufacturer C. W. Faulkner less than the day after her demise.
Thereafter, every Royal birth, wedding, Coronation, and funeral spawned millions of cards now eagerly collected by both lovers of royal memorabilia and postcard collectors worldwide.
There are, of course, thousands of other subjects all immortalised by photographers both professional and otherwise in illustrations on the fronts of the little cards and as such each is important as a record of social history.
Collecting postcards illustrated with images that are, if you like, the Victorian and Edwardian equivalent of the Page 3 stunner, had not occurred to me until I had a chance conversation with a stallholder at a recent collectors’ fair.
His display consisted entirely of pictures he had framed himself, all charming lithographs and prints all ready to hang and bring stylish cheer to the dullest of rooms.
Among them, however, was a large number of picture postcards which, when framed, lifted them beyond the bounds of the £2-£3 price range that they would otherwise command to something far more significant.
“Oh look,” said the Business Manager (Mrs P) “I’m sure we’ve got some postcards like that at home.” And of course she was right (she usually is) whereupon we learned that we were the unwitting owners of something much more significant — in postcard terms that is.
The artist responsible for them is called Angelo Asti (1847-1903) who some think was responsible for introducing the glamour postcard to an already burgeoning market.
Clearly Angelo had an eye for the ladies, but then he did have Italian parents and spent most his life in Paris. Until the collectors’ fair conversation, I had never heard of him but a quick search through the online catalogues of a few auction houses soon located ” Angelo Asti: Head and shoulders of a maiden, crystoleum, copyright 1902, framed, 29cm x 23cm” in a sale in Tunbridge Wells.
The guide price was £100-150. It sold for £30 and I wish I’d been there, although the picture was a crystoleum – basically a print pasted face down to the inside curve of a piece of concave glass.
Asti’s postcards, beautifully detailed and coloured and a tribute to the skills of Edwardian printers, are valued at £8 apiece in the current Picture Postcard Values price guide.
In my view, that is a serious undervaluation, but Asti‘s stunners are not to everyone’s liking. Some refer to them as “nasty Astis” while others have referred to them as “luscious, Rembrandtesque, full-breasted beauties”. I’ll leave you to decide!
In fact, Asti was a serious artist, exhibiting a range of works at the Paris Salon. He was also renowned for the beautiful women’s portraits he painted in a traditional Italian style on silk.
In 1904, some of the portraits were chosen to decorate a calendar and at the height of the Art Nouveau movement, it was a huge success. More than 1.5 million copies were sold, some would argue marking the beginning of the pin-up and glamour calendars that we know today.
The success was spotted by the French postcard publisher known today only by the initials K. F. and later by the famous specialist printer Raphael Tuck. In all, Asti had around 60 of his works published as postcards which today are highly sought after by specialist collectors.
Interestingly, Asti was also asked to provide designs for JOB, the French cigarette paper company, showing “les fumeuses” and since I have been looking, I’ve also found an extremely smart, early 20th century circular tin tray, intended for a bar or cafe, decorated in the centre with an image of a décolleté Asti lady.
In an online auction, the biding had reached $80 with three days to go.
Over the years, Asti‘s style has been copied by countless other artists. However, in my view no one has come close to matching his prowess at capturing the hairstyles, poses, fashion and style of a lost era.
Readers remember ‘forgotten’ Frances
My blog last week appealing for information about the “forgotten” artist Wallasey-born Frances Macdonald, whose monumental work “The Welsh Singer” was commissioned for a Festival of Britain exhibition in 1951 has drawn a response.
In an email, Mrs KR from Crosby tells me that like Frances, she also attended Wallasey High School and remembers the painting being displayed at morning assembly when it was donated to the school.
“It was presented to the school during the autumn term – 1957 – as ‘an
anonymous gift’” she writes. “The artist is described as a pupil of the school from 1924 to 1930, and later a student at the Wallasey School of Art. She was also an official war artist.”
I think it is fairly safe to assume that Frances herself was the donor of the painting, but there will be no sign of such generosity when it is sold by Colwyn Bay auctioneer David Rogers Jones next Saturday, (April 23).
The remarkable painting entitled depicts the vast Penrhyn slate quarry in North Wales and takes its title from a central figure, a miner who sits head tilted heavenward, singing at the top of his voice while the cacophony of mining goes on all about him.
I’ll let readers know what it fetches in a subsequent blog.
Angelo’s beauties – we picked up the Art Nouveau mounts years ago at a fleamarket for little money and they are just right for these Raphael Tuck postcards
Below, left to right –
A card from Tuck’s Connoisseur series
Look out for the distinctive Asti signature. Note also the Tuck trademark to the right. It is a tiny artist’s easel and palette with brushes with the initials RTS and it appears on all their products
This Asti postcard was published by Birn Brothers, but they did not credit the artist