A Post Card Story


Bill Tonkin


            This is a story that has literally gone the rounds. It is written on the backs of twelve Japan-British postcards by an unknown young lady who visited the exhibition with her friend Alvin. Each card is numbered (in Roman numbers) from 1 to 12 and were posted individually to an address in Darlington from Croydon all at 4.15 on the 13 July 1910.

            The set of twelve cards stayed together and eventually came into the hands of Stanley Hunter who wrote an article on them published in the Picture Postcard Monthly. I can remember reading the article, and thought I had it filed away, but I cannot find it. From Stanley the cards passed into the possession of Andrew Brooks, and when he sold his exhibition collection at auction, were bought by a dealer Sevilla Post Cards. I think Jean Cullen was asking £20 for the set of twelve cards. As I already had all the cards I was not interested at that time in paying that much just for the story on the backs.

            Then out of the blue a producer of radio programmes got in touch with me. He wanted to produce a programme about messages on the back of Franco-British post cards. In the event he and a colleague spent three days at my home, reading and making notes of relevant messages on post cards. I had told them about the set that was still available, and we came to an agreement that for £20 I would purchase the cards for their use but when they were finished the cards became my property. So the cards came into my possession at no expense to myself.

            I remember they told me they had gone to a school of acting to get the students to read the messages, to get different voices. They also interviewed Don Knight and both our voices appear on the programme which was broadcast in 2008 for the Centenary of the Franco-British Exhibition.

            This then is the story told on the backs of twelve Japan-British Exhibition post cards.


Number I

            We went to the exhibition on Monday July 11 and this is the first place one enters. The passage from Uxbridge Road is converted into a series of beautiful tableaux representing Japan in Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter, beginning with Winter.

Number II

            After winter, one enters another section, and one’s eye is delighted by a burst of delicate spring colouring and cherry blossom. It is really beautifully done, & these dismal cards (the best sold) convey no impression of the beauty of the real thing.

Number III

            From Spring the transition to Summer is imperceptible. Singing birds are concealed amongst the excellently imitated foliage & the illusion is as perfect as art can make it.

Number IV

            Besides these real and old looking bridges (Not crude as in this highly coloured view!) there are little gardens and dwarfed trees, which are as charming, 100 & more years old, some of them.

Number V

            I am not quite sure which of these Autumn ones comes first! The Autumn tints are lovely, and so well imitated & contrived. After Autumn one goes through rooms devoted to stereoscopes and photo’s of Japan in all stages & seasons.



Winter                                                              Spring



Summer                                                            Autumn


Number VI

            After the stereoscopic rooms, one comes to exhibitions of naval and military matters of all sorts, models of ships, etc., & armour & medical outfits for war. Then to the anthropological, chemical, medical & geological Sections with nice skulls & aboriginal bones & flint implements, bottles full of chemical compounds, which didn’t interest me, medical cases full of microbes, mosquitoes, guinea-worms, trypanosomes, elephantiasis & all sorts of interesting objects & coal & such stuff, sulphur & various other geological & mining products.

Number VII

            We next emerged into this old familiar scene. In the govt exhibits. There were some fascinating finger prints of murderesses from which Alwin tore me away by main force, with much amusement. We went and had tea at Lyons first thing.

Number VIII

            After having had dinner we took a tour round all the waterways in a motor boat. How it reminded me of Venice! This fountain & Cascade is exquisitely illuminated in colours at night as you will doubtless remember. This picture follows in due order, but before going on this water we did various things first.

Number IX

            Alwin kindly got us each a bath-chair so that we should not get too tired. We went first to look at Mitsui & Co.’s exhibits, & at the map of Japan modelled on a large table, showing the enormous number of mines & districts owned by this “Octopus of the East”, as they are called. After this we looked at most beautiful china, Satsuma & Cloisonné and then went round the charming Japanese Gardens and on to the floating Islands. How beautifully the Japanese understand expressing a mood in their garden-artistry! Every tree, nay every stone has its own value in the landscape, most carefully planned & thought out.

Number X

            I am so sorry to hear about the dear little Kitt! How very unfortunate we are with our cats & kittens! But I was sure it would get lost someday, from the free way in which it was allowed to run about wherever it liked! I suppose it has not come back. If I get that one from Mrs S. I shall have a little collar with my name & address on, like a dogs.

Number XI

            We did not go on the Flip Flap of blessed memory! but we (Alwin & I) enjoyed hugely our ride on the Scenic Railway again. Its the most delightful 3d worth I know! We had the front seat, which is extra thrilling, A says after this that he doesn’t believe I’ve any nerves. I told him I was prepared for thrills then, but I am not prepared to be nearly run into in an old growler, by taxi cabs or motors, or be driven in hansoms with drunken drivers in the midst of motor traffic. A motor itself, of any sort is able to hold its own without accident, usually. But cabs (4 wheelers) I hate! They are too slow to get out of the way of a fast motor.



Post Card number XI

Number XII

            Wasn’t it curious, we met, quite suddenly, Eline & Doreen Kitching, & May Gawan-Taylor! They were having a lovely time on the various mechanical devices. The Wiggle-Woggle (the latest) is a horrible thing! I can’t think how anybody can even contemplate being shaken & bumped down a zig zag incline, into a veritable jelly!! It consists of round baskets containing 5 or 6 people, which run down a slope through a series of curved barriers, reversing the direction each time!!! The result is a most terrible shaking of the occupants, till not only men’s but ladies hats fall off! Horrible!!


© Exhibition Study Group 2010