More than 10,000 Sheffield postcards set to go under the hammer
A remarkable collection of more than 10,000 postcards documenting Sheffield’s history, from triumph to tragedy, is set to go under the hammer.
The pictorial treasure trove, lovingly assembled by Tim Hale over half a century, chronicles the changing face of his home city across nearly 100 years.
From Sheffield United’s 1915 FA Cup winning team to the 1921 Great Fire of Heeley, which was the city’s largest peace-time conflagration, the incomparable hoard captures some of Sheffield’s most momentous occasions.
But it also portrays everyday life for people and the ordinary street scenes which have altered beyond recognition amid the shifting social sands from the late Victorian era to the 1980s.
These postcards are a world away from the jolly, sun-drenched snaps sent home by generations of holidaymakers, instead painting a grittier, more authentic portrait of daily life in the industrial heartlands.
They are the relics of a bygone age of photography, when a roving army of snappers would scour the city in search of events great and minor to shoot, with their images being sold later that day at newsagents to an eager public for whom seeing prints of themselves and the streets they trod remained a novelty.
They also hark back to a time when postcards were the kings of communication – before most people had phones and, Mr Hale says, a super-efficient postal system meant you could send a card in the morning inviting the recipient to meet for tea later that day.
Mr Hale’s collection, meticulously catalogued by postcode, spans the worlds of transport, politics, entertainment and more, with one highlight being the selection of images from 1920s works trips aboard the charabancs – or old-fashioned coaches – of W. Caudle and Co.
The earliest documented event is Queen Victoria’s visit to Sheffield in 1897, but for Mr Hale the real interest lies in charting the city's evolving streetscape, with the postcards providing a reminder of long gone landmarks like the Hole in the Road.
The 66-year-old, of Lodge Moor, has been fascinated by photography since getting his first camera – a Kodak Brownie 127 – as a nine-year-old.
He began collecting postcards as a teenager – he can’t remember the first one he bought – and was soon scouring antique fairs.
“The interesting thing about having a photographic eye is that you tend to look at old pictures and ask yourself how’s that changed, and you look at modern photos and wonder what that was like in the olden days,” he said.
“By collecting older postcards you’re completing the picture, if you like.”
Mr Hale has a particular fondness for animated street scenes, in which the photographer would include local children, knowing their proud parents would be guaranteed customers.
He took the difficult decision to part with the bulk of his collection after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014, which has made it harder for him to manipulate the cards, and he plans to donate a share of the proceeds to the charity Parkinson’s UK.
“I would have liked them to go to a good home in one piece, but the reality is there are lots of people interested in different sections,” he said.
“I think the local history societies do the right thing in collecting things like this for the benefit of the local community, but there are also private individuals who collect postcards of specific subjects like aviation, cars or the railways.
“Hopefully they will find something new in this collection which they’ve never seen before. The important thing is to let it go to a wider audience.”
The collection has been split into hundreds of lots, which between them are estimated to fetch at least £10,000 when they are sold at Sheffield Auction Gallery in Heeley next Thursday, September 12.
Auctioneer John Morgan said: “This is certainly one of the rarest collections of its kind and if you take the time to study it you will be amazed at the unique snapshot in time it creates of the city.
“Because it's in postcode order you could open the relevant book and you might find your house or your street as it looked 100 years ago.”
He added that his personal favourite is a 1912 postcard of Sheffield's 3rd Brigade Territorial Artillery unit on military manoeuvres in Cleethorpes, featuring the incongruous image of a Rolls Royce pulling a heavy gun.
Mr Hale, who has three adult daughters and two grandchildren, and is a keen badminton player, plans to sell his collection of North Derbyshire postcards at a later date.
But he is holding onto a selection of his most treasured images and says he has not given up collecting altogether.
His biggest regret is that he has so far been unable to track down a postcard of Chase Road, Loxley – the street where he lived as a young boy.
Such is his passion for the humble postcard that in the late 80s he started his own business, Hedgerow Publishing, taking and selling photos of modern-day Sheffield – a firm he sold in 2006.
While many of the postcards represent the only surviving record of street scenes across Sheffield, today there is no shortage of photos uploaded daily to Facebook, Instagram and the like, and we now have Google Street View.
"It’s nice to see people taking photos but I think they take too many with their mobile phones. Sometimes you need to enjoy the occasion and not just spend the whole time taking photos, though I'm as guilty of that as anyone,” said Mr Hale.
“These days everyone has a camera on their mobile but the pictures they take rarely compare to the stunning quality of some of the old photos, taken with the big plate cameras, which are as clear as high-definition television is today.”
The postcards will be available to view next Wednesday, September 11, from 9am to 4.45pm, on the sale day from 8.30am or by appointment.
For more information, visit sheffieldauctiongallery.com or call 0114 281 6161.