Wish You Were Here

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Just like sand in sandwiches, sticks of rock and wrestling with a windbreak on a windswept beach, sending a postcard has been an intrinsic part of the British holiday tradition since the 1900s. It coined the expressions "Wish you were here" and "Having a lovely time", and generations of holidaymakers have penned and posted a few lines to the folks back home from much-loved resorts and destinations across the country. From souvenir shops and beach-side kiosks we would purchase scenes of coast, countryside, towns, villages, famous landmarks and customs, or even throngs of happy holidaymakers - like ourselves - paddling in the briny, basking in the sun or savouring the bracing sea air. And, among the picturesque panoramas and subtle watercolours who can forget those cheeky colourful cartoon postcards famed for their own saucy blend of humour!

But, as we all know, times change and as a result of the increasing popularity of social media, Britain's oldest postcard publisher, Joseph Salmon, has announced it will be closing at the end of this year. When I heard the news I was incredibly sad that this family firm, which employs 50 people, is facing this prospect. Established in 1880 and based in Sevenoaks, Kent, the business has been in the same family for five generations. Over the decades it adapted to changing tastes and styles and, in addition to focusing on favourite British holiday destinations, the company also published patriotic postcards during the war. However, the digital era has led to annual postcard sales plummeting in the past 25 years from 20 million to five million.

The sadness of people losing their jobs - and the demise of a long-established family business - is inevitably intertwined with our own holiday memories and deep-rooted affection for a gentler, less-hurried era. We feel that part of our collective past, our childhood, has gone. We have lost that very personal, handwritten communication from our travels - whether stamped and postmarked in Blighty or beyond. Selfies are all very well, but they are just too ephemeral, too instant and lack that resonance as a lasting memento. Meanwhile postcards, despite only costing a few pence, are valuable social documents offering an important permanent snapshot of the lives of each generation as well as the places they depict. Here in the Evergreen and This England office we have a wonderful collection of vintage postcards in watercolour, black-and-white, sepia and hand-tinted colour. They are a priceless chronicle of people, places and past times, and are an excellent illustrative resource or reference point. Sometimes, the messages, so beautifully inscribed on the reverse, are as fascinating - and intriguing - as the scenes on the front.

I am also delighted to report that we have an enticing gallery of 21st-century postcards pinned up on our office noticeboard, as everyone who goes off on their holidays is loudly reminded: "Don't forget the postcard!". We never do, so it's a sunny outlook for the postcard-sending tradition here, but I know that in the years ahead, we will miss seeing the familiar J. Salmon imprint on the cards that come through our letterbox. Indeed, we will be thinking, "Wish you were here."

Before I sign off, I have to admit that summer holidays seem a distant memory as we are busy working on the winter issue of Evergreen, which offers plenty of scenic splendour, marvellous destinations and fascinating articles. What's more, Evergreen is perfect for arranging a gift subscription to send to family and friends back home ...wherever you are in the world (click here for details).

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