With examples from the collection follow our step by step guide to writing your own postcard.

1) Postcard Selection

Black and white postcard of Piccadilly Circus with the message written at the bottom.

Example of a postcard message and image on the same side, 1903, (00383/66)

Before you even begin to write your postcard you first need to pick one. Pictorial postcards were not officially used in Britain until 1894, but after their introduction they began to feature a wide array of themes. The image on the card could relate to the content of your message or it could just be a picture you think the receiver will enjoy.

Your card also doesn’t need to be made of paper, in our collection we have a plywood postcard of a red post van.

Image of a wooden postcard in the shape of a post van. The van is red with a hand drawn Royal Mail monogram.

Plywood postcard in the shape of a Post Van, 1978 (2009-0081/671)

2) Address

Now that you’ve selected your postcard who do you intend to send it to? It could be a friend, colleague or family member, it’s entirely down to you. When you’ve decided, write their address on the right hand side of the postcard, including the postcode, making sure it is nice and clear.

Up until 1902 only the address of the recipient could be written on the reverse of the image, leading to small messages being written around the picture. When the divided back was introduced it allowed the message and the address to be written on the same side, freeing up more space for the picture.

Image of the reverse of a postcard with the message and address separated by a vertical line.

Example of a divided back postcard with clear instructions where each section of text should be, 1901-1910 (OB1994.280/05)

3) Message

Now the main section, the message, written on the left hand side of the card. The postcard was intended to be used to send short punchy message. However, we do have examples in the collection when the space provided was just not enough and the sender found ingenious ways to write a little bit more.

Postcard where the text has been written in different directions over the top of one another to fit more into a small space.

Example of a cross written message on a postcard, 1909 (PH39/20b)

Many postcards, especially those sent during the First World War, have the date the postcard was written above the message. This was confirmation of the soldiers safety at that time and also allowed correspondence to be kept in chronological order.

A postcard with the date 8.12.16 written above the message.

Example of a First World War postcard dated 8.12.16, (PH183/04a)

Who you are writing to can dictate what you write. If you don’t know the person well you may begin ‘Dear…’ however for a loved one you could start ‘My darling…’. This also effects whether you sign the message with your name. The receiver may recognise your handwriting or realise your identity from the content. However, if in doubt it’s best to conclude the message with your name.

Two examples of postcard messages where instead of the concluding with a name they finish 'From one who did not turn up' and 'much love from a friend'.

Nameless postcard messages reading, ‘From one who did not turn up’ and ‘much love from a friend’, 1906 & 1914, (PH64ZG/18 & E11870/06)

The format of the postcard means that it can be read by others. If your message is private and you only want the recipient to know the content you could try writing your message in code.

Two examples of cryptic messages on postcards.

Two postcards with cryptic messages, 1912 & 1906 (PH118/13b & E11885/32)

4) Stamp

Lastly the stamp, which should be affixed to the top right hand corner. The stamp you need depends on the distance your postcard is travelling. Within the UK a first or second class stamp will be sufficient but further afield the cost will be more. Stamps also come in different designs, don’t forget to ask at your local Post Office what current stamp designs are available.

Postcard depicting the different angles a stamp can be affixed to a postcard to send a hidden message and an example of an angled stamp with postmark.

Postcard of the ‘Language of Stamps’ and an example of a tilted stamp, 1915 & 1908 (2005-0082/73 & 2014-0038/032)

When you’ve selected your stamp you could also use the Language of Stamps to send a hidden message to the receiver. By angling the stamp left, right or even upside down it conveys a different meaning.

Congratulations, you’ve just completed your postcard. Now pop it in the post and await your reply.

Happy posting!

-Georgina Tomlinson (Deputy Curator, Philately)

Sign up to our newsletter for stories of extraordinary communication and more.