Valentine’s Scottish Islands
The exhibition in The Martyrs Kirk Reading Room (September 2017) gives a flavour of how the postcard firm of Valentine & sons depicted the Hebridean islands of Scotland during the period 1890 to 1960.
Valentine’s postcards and photographs of any place were driven by what they thought would sell to the public and this lead to a different depiction of the country to tourist view we have today. Many of the images taken and made into postcards are of the towns and villages of the islands and transport as well as the more recognisable tourist attractions of the countryside, castles and ancient monuments. The images in this exhibition thus reflect the commercial and social values of the times and the purpose the images served in being a souvenir to send home or a photograph to show on returning home in a time when few people had cameras and letters were the main means of communicating.
Many of postcards and prints produced are simple photographs of the place or a composite photograph showing several views of the town or island. Often these are a simple photograph of the place, but now have extra interest or value in that they show where and how people used to live
Valentine also produced small Snapshot albums, letter-cards and collections of postcards, for the visitor to buy as souvenirs or to send ‘home’. These had up to 12 photographs of a town or an island and would give a good range of local views for the visitor to take home should to their friends and family. Sometimes these albums depicted a way of life that was only found in the islands and even then would have been a curiosity to visitors.
The photographs were taken with artist care – most of the landscape images of the islands show a careful composing of the view, balancing trees with distant mountains or a ruined castle used as a focal point to draw the eye into the photograph.
In the late 1930s, there was a phase of producing softer ‘art views’ of Britain and many produced giving a more romantic picturesque view of the country. Often an old photograph would be given to the artist who then produced an art view almost identical to the photographic scene.
By the 1950s the Valentine depictions of the islands often include the prosaic as well as the scenic. Views of the hotels and guesthouses and even the transport to (and from) the islands appeared as postcards.
This exhibition gives a glimpse into the complex and varied ways that Valentine made available images of the islands, the landscape, the people and their way of life for the visiting public to buy, send and take away. This would encourage people to visit the islands and of course, buy a Valentine print or postcard.
[Photo Credit: The University of St Andrews Library: