Postcard publisher’s sign has strong connection to Scarborough

A Bamforth & Co postcard stand sign
A Bamforth & Co postcard stand sign

by Jeannie Swales

A simple little object this week, but one that will bring back a host of happy holiday memories for many people.

This sign is from a postcard stand - a painted metal strip with folded ends that hooked onto the stand. It came from a shop on Huntriss Row, which kindly donated the stand when the Rotunda was refurbished in 2008.

The sign was removed and went into storage, eventually being spotted by sharp-eyed Visitor Services Assistant Jim Middleton, who passed it on to the Museums Trust’s Collections Manager.

Bamforth & Co, of course, is the West Yorkshire-based postcard publisher which made its name selling classic saucy postcards.

Bamforth’s was founded in 1870, when Holmfirth portrait photographer James Bamforth started making magic lantern slides and early films.

In 1894 Post Office regulations changed to allow postcards to be mass produced - the back had to comprise only space for the address and a message, while the front could feature a picture and up to five words – and a new market opened up for Bamforth’s.

Its first postcards were scenes taken from James Bamforth’s magic lantern slides, but in 1910, the company began to produce the bawdy cards that would soon become an essential part of any British seaside holiday, using in-house artists Douglas Tempest, Arnold Taylor, Philip Taylor and Brian Fitzpatrick, and freelancers including the famous Donald McGill.

They produced characters that became standards of British comedy – hen-pecked husbands, overbearing, fat wives, and ample-bosomed seaside temptresses – and were 
masterpieces of the double entendre; a sort of print version of the Carry On movies.

The company had a strong Scarborough connection at one point - in the early 1980s, it was bought by long-established Scarborough printers ETW Dennis, which is widely credited as the first commercial postcard printer in the UK, in the late 1800s.

Many local people (including my own mother) worked at Dennis’s throughout the 20th century.

When Dennis’s closed in 2000, the Bamforth’s images were bought by a Leeds businessman who relaunched the brand.

This sign is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on or (01723) 384510.