Preceding the earliest postcards,‘Cartes de visite’ came into increasing fashion during the second half of the 19th century, initially in France. In the 1860s, R. Owen of Grays Inn Road, London produced the earliest known Methodist examples, depicting such events as the Epworth fire, Wesley preaching from his father’s tomb and the first Conference.
The first Methodist picture postcards came on the scene in 1894, though they were not of the type and size that became so popular from about 1902 onwards. Postcards depicting churches and personalities became increasingly common in the early 20th century. Popular subjects included Presidents of the Conference, Cornish Methodist scenes, and the chapel atWinchelsea, often with a quotation from Wesley’s Journal.
The pioneer Methodist photographer was J.W. Righton of Newbury, who produced some fifty different cards for the Wesleyan Conference at Sheffield in 1904. The following year he collaborated with the Methodist Publishing House in a series of over 170 cards, many of them in colour. His hope was to encourage young people ‘to collect Methodist Parsons in place of questionable people and subjects.’ But collecting them became a hobby for people of all ages. Series included the Children’s Home & Orphanage, Methodist colleges and schools, and missionaries, before the Great War provided a setback.
Other branches of Methodism followed the Wesleyan lead, especially the Primitive Methodists, e.g. at the time of their 1907 centenary. Among the subjects depicted were Mow Cop, scene of the first camp meeting, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, and the female preacher Elizabeth Evans, the model for George Eliot’s Dinah Morris.
Methodist photographers who followed Righton’s lead included Walter Scott of Bradford and E.W. Tattersall, whose photographs appeared on Epworth Press postcards as well as in the Methodist Recorder. The Bamforth Methodist family of Holmfirth improbably specialised in comic postcards.