They are postcards on which no-one ever wrote, Wish You Were Here. Yet for generations, they documented a lost world of life in Yorkshire’s industrial powerhouse.
From street corners on which Edwardian urchins kicked their heels, to Bramall Lane on match day, the 10,000 or more images represent a lifetime’s work for Tim Hale.
When they go under the hammer next week, with an expected price of £10,000 or more, they will constitute one of the most complete collections of Sheffield’s pictorial history.
“There is a rumour that there’s another set of this size. I don’t know it it’s true,” said John Morgan, at Sheffield Auction Gallery. “I didn’t think so many postcards could have existed, let alone that someone would have collected them all.”
Meticulously categorised according to post code, Mr Hale’s hoard is a world away from the familiar seaside postcards produced in Scarborough and down the rest of the coast.
His were the work of photographers who turned out at local landmarks, on days out and sometimes at the scene of tragedies, and sold their pictures at the local newsagent’s counter later the same day, to people for whom seeing their own image was still a novelty.
“This was the age in which people used postcards to send messages – I’m coming home, or how are you,” Mr Morgan said. “Other than telegrams, cards were the fastest communications medium of the time,”
Some had print runs limited to just a few dozen, or even a handful. But all had space on the back for an address, a message and a postage stamp.
“Look at pictures of First World War soldiers – when they turn up now they’re always in postcard format, because they had been posted off to relatives,” said Mr Morgan.
“It was as close as they got to instant photography in those days,” added Mr Hale, a long-time company director and Chamber of Commerce member in Sheffield, whose interest in photography began as a child, with a Kodak Brownie 127 slung around his neck.
His earliest cards are from the dawn of cameras themselves, in the late 19th century. But some of the most valuable were taken by Edwardian photographers who roamed the city in search of scenes that people would want to remember.
Later, a mini-industry developed in photographing Sheffield’s great steelworks,and Mr Hale’s collection includes images of the great fire of Heeley, the city’s biggest peacetime conflagration, which in April 1921 destroyed everything bar the forges at the Sheafbank Works, causing damage put at £100,000.
“There is no shortage of photographs of all kinds of strange things in Sheffield,” said Mr Hale, who has spent 50 years thumbing the racks at postcard fairs and amassing on average a new one every other day.
He is selling his collection – save for a few of his own street, which he cannot bear to lose – partly to raise money for the Parkinson’s charity, and hopes they will fall into the hands of someone equally passionate.
“I hope they can be seen by a wider audience,” he said.
Highlights from the hoard include shots of Sheffield United’s FA Cup winning team of 1915, and of works trips on charabancs loaded with staff of the removal firm, W Caudle and Co.
Mr Morgan said it was “without doubt the largest single city collection of postcards we have ever been asked to bring to the market and it feels wonderfully fitting that it has been collected and will be sold in Sheffield”.
The sale will take place next Thursday, September 12, at Sheffield Auction Gallery.