Archives of the Postcard Censoring Committee

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The content consists of two series of approved and disapproved picture postcards, committee correspondence, minute books (1933-1989), annual reports, memos, figures of approval/disapproval rates, copies of the 1933 Postcard Censorship Act, lists of retailers on the Isle of Man and lists of postcard publishers. Further items include receipt books, documents relating to the 50th anniversary celebrations, photocopies of newspaper cuttings, a photo album of approved postcards, a miniature photo album of Tynwald Fair (July 1983), a pamphlet on the life of artist Donald McGill (1875-1962) and the Postcard Censoring Committee door sign.

Administrative / Biographical History

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Isle of Man was a popular tourist destination, mainly due to the increasing travel and holiday opportunities for the ordinary British family. A week-long visit to a seaside resort was becoming extremely popular all over the British Isles and alongside this popularity was the recording of the occasion on a picture postcard. In 1894 the General Post Office in England gave publishers permission to manufacture and distribute picture postcards which could be sent through the post. Early postcards depicted famous landmarks, scenic views or animals, which tourists could buy and send to their loved ones. As time progressed postcard subject matter became increasingly risqué, with cheeky and often sexual innuendos and double meanings in either visual or textual formats. By 1912 James Denton Thompson (1856-1924) Bishop of Sodor and Man (1912-1924) protested against the vulgar and immoral themes portrayed on picture postcards which were on sale throughout the holiday Island. Thus a voluntary Censorship Committee was created, made up of local tradesmen. Postcards were submitted and only the appropriate postcards were allowed to be sold to the public.

The 1930s saw a significant growth in the number of cartoon-style picture postcards, with an estimate of 16 million cards sold per year throughout the British Isles. Opinion on the Island deemed it was now necessary to make the voluntary censorship system mandatory on the Isle of Man; the popularity of the cards meant people were still selling postcards of 'questionable designs'. In 1933 a Bill was introduced to the House of Keys by Joseph Davidson Qualtrough (1885-1960), in the hope of giving the voluntary Censorship Committee legal status. The Bill was passed the same year, creating the Postcard Censorship Act 1933. The Act stated that picture postcards should be submitted in triplicate for consideration. The content would either be ‘approved’ or ‘disapproved’; thereafter one set would be returned to the retailer, one set to the Isle of Man Constabulary and the final set would be retained by the committee itself. The Act also stated that disapproved cards would not be reconsidered for at least three years and persons engaged in the retail sale of picture postcards (other than the reproduction of photographs of scenic views) were to register at the nearest police station. If caught selling prohibited postcards the penalty for a first conviction would not exceed £1 and for a second (or any subsequent) conviction would not exceed £10. The committee consisted of a chairman and two other members (one representing the retailers selling postcards). There was also a Postcard Censorship secretary.

The early 1950s saw a new Conservative government in power in Britain, concerned at post-war society’s apparent lack of morals. It was decided a moral crackdown in literature and art was needed and the publishing of picture postcards was included. Several British seaside resorts established censorship committees called ‘Watch Committees’. Some retailers, publishers and artists were prosecuted and fined, the most notable case being that of postcard artist Donald McGill (1875-1962), ‘The King of Saucy Postcards.’ In 1954 he was charged with violating the 1857 Obscene Publications Act, was found guilty and fined. By the late 1950s and into the 1960s British attitudes were changing, the Watch Committees throughout the country were disbanded and censorship was relaxed. In the Isle of Man however the censorship committee continued and in 1983 it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Act: to mark the occasion a commemorative postcard was issued and sold at Tynwald Fair, St Johns, on 5 July 1983. By the late 1980s due to the changes in attitude of the general public towards comic postcards, it was decided to disband the committee and the Postcard Censorship Act was repealed in 1989.

Conditions Governing Access

No regulations or restrictions are implemented on this material.

Advance notification of a research visit is advisable by emailing library@mnh.gov.im.

Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from Manx newspapers, the Isle of Man Examiner (30 December 1932) and the Mona’s Herald (4 December 1951). Isle of Man newspapers available online at http://www.newspapers.gov.im/Default/Skins/IOMDemo/Client.asp?skin=IOMDemo&enter=true&AppName=2.

Further information was gathered from MS 09669’s deposit boxes and websites http://h2g2.com/approved_entry/A4350971 (accessed 23 March 2016) & http://jaquo.com/saucy-seaside-postcards/ (accessed 23 March 2016).

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), March 2016.

Related Material

Related material held at Manx National Heritage includes various library resources, the Golden Jubilee postcards (reference number: MS 12518) and administrative papers of the Committee (reference number: MS 09178).