Aug 21, 2015

Raphael Tuck & Sons, The Early Days of a Postcard Pioneer

I always like the fragments of history one can learn by simply reading the back of a postcard. So, when I started to notice the name 'Raphael Tuck and Sons' on many of my vintage postcards I decided to look into it. The story is fascinating! [Sources: wikipedia,]

Most Deltiologists will recognise the name Raphael Tuck & Sons, one of the most prestigious and prolific postcard publishing companies. It was however the sons of Raphael, Adolph Tuck in particular, who managed the explosive growth of this most successful business in its early postcard era.

Raphael was married to the former Ernestine Lissner in March 1848. She gave birth to seven children, four boys and three girls, all born in Prussia prior to their migration to England. They moved in Bishopsgate in the City of London on October 1866 to set up in business selling picture frames from a small shop. Raphael sent out his sons, Herman, Adolph and Gustave to bring in more business. Herman and Adolph also went on selling trips, and at the end of the day they would check the results of the day's work. The one with the higher sales would have the bigger egg next morning for breakfast.

Three of the four sons participated in the firm established by their father. Their second son, Adolph, was chairman and managing director of Raphael Tuck and sons, Ltd. until his death on 3 July 1926. He was created a baronet on 19 July 1910. The Tuck coat-of-arms features a shield with a flaming antique lamp above which are two hands in the attitude of prayer, with two crossed F’s in a circle at the lower part of the shield. The crest shows a seated lion supporting an artist's palette whereupon is inscribed the work “Thorough". The Tuck motto inscribed on a ribbon below the shield is “Cum Deo”.

Raphael had received training in graphic arts in his home country; and, although he was not an artist himself, he had a flair for commercial art that prompted his interest in this new field. Upon coming to England, he caught the imagination of the public in such a way that he was able to create a new graphic arts business. He was so successful at it that, according to the “The Times”, he “opened up a new field of labor for artists, lithographers, engravers, printers, ink and paste board makers, and several other trade classes”.

By 1870 his sons were working for him as the business moved its focus to the import and publication of printed paper products. Presumably the picture frames had led to prints and then prints led to other chromolithographic printed paper products. In the 1871 census Raphael described himself as a 'Picture Dealer'.

By 1881 Raphael had retired and Adolph was running the company. It was at this time that the now familiar company trademark, an artists easel and palette, was first registered. Soon afterwards, in 1893, the company was awarded its first Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria, a measure of its sudden success in Britain. As the end of the nineteenth century approached Tuck had become a major publisher of Christmas and valentines cards, scrapbook scraps, prints, paper dolls, books, and calendars.

In November 1899 British Postal regulations were changed such that British publishers could, for the first time, publish picture postcards at the full Universal Postal Union agreed size of five and half inches by three and a half. Adolph Tuck ensured that his company was the first to publish such cards with the immediate release of a set of 12 London View vignettes. That release was swiftly followed by many others. The postcard boom had begun.

Adolph was clearly an astute businessman and clever marketeer. To promote sales his company announced a series of postcard collecting competitions. The first competitions (launched in 1900 and again in 1902) offered a prize for the biggest collection of Tuck postcards and triggered a craze. The first contest winner turned in a collection of 20, 364 cards over the 18-month duration of the contest. The second prize competition winner submitted 25, 239 cards. In 1914 the fourth prize competition was announced. The competitions were a novel and effective marketing technique. Similarly in 1903 Tuck followed the traditions of the art market and published 'limited edition' proof sets targeted at the collector. All of this placed Tuck firmly at the foundation of the postcard collecting boom with Adolf Tuck leading the way into the pre WW1 'golden era' of postcard collecting. 

Although the Tuck firm did some black-and-white printing in their London offices, the majority of color work was contracted for in Germany, Raphael’s home country. This is evidenced by the printed (or chromographed) in Bavaria, Germany or Saxony inscribed on the majority of the early Tuck postcards.

The greatest period of expansion of the Tuck firm came under direction of Adolph who had joined his father in 1870. Gustave and Herman soon followed their brother in 1871. Adolph became managing director, which included control of the art department. Gustave directed the book and calendar departments, while Herman handled the financial end of the business.

Raphael House enabled the Tuck firm to consolidate their various offices and departments that had spread throughout various Parts of the city. In addition to the administrative offices, the new building provided adequate space for eight functioning departments: Card Department (Toy-Books, Gift-Books, Booklets); Birthday Book Department; Educational Department; Wall Text and Scripture Motto Department; Engraving Department; Chromo, Oleograph, and Art Study Department; Relief and Art Novelty Department; and Show-Card Department. These Tuck departments attest to the fact that the Victorian age was the age of printed pictorials that took shape by means of the various printing and engraving processes.

Adolf was to die in 1926 but the Tuck business continued through to the 1960's when it was acquired by Purnell and Sons. Sadly the early company records and (whatever) archive of artwork and designs they had maintained were destroyed during a World War II air raid on London.

The graves and substantial memorial headstones of Raphael with his wife Ernestine, and also those of his sons Herman and Adolf, can today be seen at the Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery in North West London. The headstone for Raphael Tuck, who died in March 1900, is decorated with the Cohen Hands symbol which is used denote that the person buried is a Cohen, a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses.

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