Until 1894 all postcards came with pre-printed postage meaning the example the postal operator unveiled this week is among the first of its kind.
The rare card, which is postmarked 1 September 1894, states: “This is the first day that a written postcard with a half-penny stamp affixed is allowed to pass through the Post Office. This will be a curiosity one day.” It is addressed to a Mr Andrew Puer Esq of West London.
The card was unearthed during the Letters of Our Lives campaign. Part of Royal Mail’s celebrations of 500 years of the postal service, the campaign is asking people to look in their attics, rummage around their garages and search their sheds for letters or postcards that give a personal account of life in the UK, from centuries ago to present day.
The Puer postcard was submitted by Christopher Pearce from Leatherhead in Surrey. He purchased the card, along with a number of prints, from a stall at the annual May Fair on Esher Green in 1964.
He said: “As stamp collecting was one of my hobbies at that time it became one of my prize trophies because I thought that it was unique and that no other postcard like this could exist.
“Thanks to the creativity and foresight of Andrew Puer over 120 years ago this is a fascinating piece of philately history.”
While Mr Pearce’s card is one of the very earliest to have been stamped, the postcard had been around for substantially longer.
The first recorded postcard was sent by writer and practical joker, Theodore Hook, in 1840. It was sold at auction in 2002 for £31,750.
Thirty years later, plain postcards were released with a half-penny stamp printed as part of the design. By 1894, these had proved so popular that non-pre-stamped postcards – cards which users could affix a stamp to themselves - were allowed in the post.
In the early 1900s, picture postcards began to circulate featuring images of the Boer War and royal events. This led to the creation in 1902 of the postcard format we recognise today with a picture on the front and the address and message on the back.
After the First World War, colourful comic images provided the perfect antidote to the pressures of battle. Consumers embraced the saucy cartoons - which many regard as the ‘golden age of the picture postcard’ – with sales hitting 16 million a year by the early 1930s.