A brightly coloured old postcard on a market stall caught my eye the other day , and it turned out to be one of a series of “Famous Old Gardens” produced sometime in the very early 20thc by the firm of Raphael Tuck.
This series of cards are all in a very distinctive style, so I decided to track down Mr Tuck and more of his garden postcards to see if they’d make some light reading for the Saturday morning breakfast table, and indeed they do!
The first surprise was that Raphael Tuck was actually born Raphael Tuch in 1821 at Poznan, a Polish city that was then in East Prussia. He married Ernestine in 1848 and they had seven children before managing to emigrate to Britain where in 1866 they set up a small shop off Bishopsgate in London selling frames and pictures. By 1868 they had moved to Commercial Road Whitechapel and were dealing in furniture as well as framing. A further move saw them move to City Road in 1870 when 3 of their sons formally joined them in the business.
The Tucks soon noticed that most of the Christmas cards on sale were surprisingly secular, and in 1871 began designing religious ones. Not bad for deeply religious Jews. But it got better.
In 1880, one of their sons, Adolph, initiated a Christmas card design competition, offering £500 in prizes. They were inundated with entries, which were exhibited in the Dudley Gallery in the West End and attracted many visitors and press coverage. By 1890 the competition was attracting as many as 20,000 entries.
At the same time they had diversified into printing books, screens, scraps, and even making wall plaques as well as producing original prints, photographs and copies of paintings by artists including Myles Birkett Foster, one of the original ‘chocolate box’ landscape painters. These soon found homes on many middle class walls.
Ernestine [d.1875] and Raphael [d.1900] did not live to see the picture postcard which they pioneered become a popular form of communication. Instead that was overseen and developed by their sons, the eldest of whom was given a baronetcy in 1910. It was thanks to Sir Adolph Tuck that the Post Office had agreed in 1898 to allow standardized cards which have a picture on one side and the address and message on the other.
Immediately after the Postmaster General altered the rules the company issued its first regular sets of picture postcards, a group of twelve coloured London views. By 1900 there were 45 sets of views on sale and by the end of 1904 they were producing over 15,000 different designs in Britain alone, many packaged as series of 6 like the ones I’m featuring today. In addition there were others produced specifically for the United States or Canadian markets, and later others aimed at the colonies. Tucks were clearly the market leader in the new field of picture postcards.
The company were so successful that they were appointed publisher to Queen Victoria, opened a branch in Paris in 1882 and another in New York in 1892. It became a limited company in 1895 and went public in 1901, issuing share capital of £500,000 [The Globe 23.10.1901] with Arthur Conan Doyle and the painter Alfred Parsons on the board alongside the family.
They hit on another wonderful wheeze in 1900 by organizing a competition with a £1000 prize for the person who collected the most Tuck postcards that had actually been sent through the post in the 18 months or so it had been possible. Believe it or not the eventual winner had managed to collect no less than 20,364 cards.
The competition was repeated in 1902, with prizes totalling £2000 and the winner that time had amassed as many as 25,239 cards. Unsurprisingly more competitions followed.
Unfortunately the company HQ was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940 and all their records and the originals of by now, over 40,000 original designs went up in smoke. When the last of the family retired in 1959 it was not in a very sound financial state and had stopped paying a dividend to shareholders. It was a time of considerable pressure on all printers and publishers and a rival firm, Purnell, gradually built up a large shareholding before taking over completely in 1962. In 1964 it merged with other firms to become the British Printing Corporation, which ended up being run -and ruined – by Robert Maxwell…a sad end to a great institution, arguably the most important publisher of picture postcards in the world.
The “Famous Old Gardens” cards that feature prominently in this post were made by a process introduced in 1903 that Tuck’s named “Oilette”, which reproduced the image in the style of an oil painting, showing noticeable “brush strokes”. It was to become their best selling style.
The cards first appear as two series of 6 cards each listed in the 1908 catalogue as “Picturesque gardens” , and they continued to be sold under that name until 1914. They then resurfaced as “Cottage Gardens” in catalogues as late as 1930, but for some reason were described as “Famous Old Gardens” in the 1908 American catalogue.
But these weren’t the only garden-related cards that Raphael Tuck produced during their long history. A wordsearch of the database of their cards revealed as many as 2718 postcards have garden in their description … they range from public parks
and seaside gardens…
to hotel gardens and those at tea gardens – presumably specially commissioned by the establishment…
Gardens indoors as well as out…
and a huge range of what might loosely be called chocolate box pictures which range from the surprisingly pretty to the really ghastly and naff. [More on them on their own one day]
And they didn’t have to be “souvenir” postcards either. Gardens featured on cards for birthdays, Christmas and New Year and every other event that cards were issued for…
although as you can see they tend to be less accurate depictions!
And on that happy note I will leave you with a link to the Tuck database so you can check out the other 2700 of their garden-related cards or widen your search to include any of the other 135,491 designs they produced.