One of the tamer postcards, still stapled to its official record
Thank you, Teleread, for turning me on to the British Cartoon Archive, and just in time for the weekend, too. The physical archive has over 150,000 comic strips, cartoons, and other interesting bits of ephemera, and they are putting a number of their holdings online. The website is searchable, and there’s also a nice little tag cloud that can hook you up with vintage Andy Capp comics, caricatures by David Low, and, of course, Hitler cartoons.
The most intriguing section of the site (so far) is the collection of double-entendre postcards that were sold at popular seaside resorts in Britain but became the focus of an anti-obscenity crusade after World War II. The site includes a fascinating account of the police tactics used to seize the offending postcards:
“We have our own method of dealing with obscene postcards”, one Blackpool police officer noted in 1951: “Upon receiving a complaint from a member of the public, a plain clothes man is sent to buy a copy of the offending card. When the stationer says that he can see nothing wrong in the card, he is asked: ‘Would you send that card to your daughter?’ If the answer is ‘No’ – as it usually is – a prosecution may follow”.
The whole story is worth reading, and as a special treat, a number of the offending postcards are presented in full color, along with their prosecution records. The collection itself is a bit of an oddity: It was created by the Director of Public Prosecutions in order to try to impose some consistency on the postcard prosecutions. As always obscenity proved to be more difficult to define than to recognize, and the whole effort was ultimately abandoned, but the collection serves as a nice little time capsule of what passed for racy humor in the 1950s.