Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Beagles' Postcards - BEST IN THE WORLD

We all have different hobbies. Mine is Family History. Whilst researching my family history I came across a man who contributed greatly to the collections of another hobby - postcard collecting.

John Beagles was not a collector of postcards - he was a publisher of them, and the firm that he founded published thousands of postcards that many postcard collectors will have in their collections.

I thought I would set down on record what I have discovered about him and also to pose the questions that I still have about his life.


John Beagles was born on 11 June 1844 in Whaplode Drove, Spalding, Lincolnshire. He was one of 7 children born to John & Jane Beagles. Jane was daughter of Thomas & Elizabeth Booth of Donington, Spalding, Lincolnshire  whilst John Senior was one of the large Beagles family in my tree and was a Butcher in the village.

I literally stumbled across John Beagles contribution to Postcard publishing quite by chance. 

Census Evidence

The 1861 census gives a clue that John seemed to be doing somewhat better academically than others in the Village School as he is shown as being a "Pupil Teacher" aged 16 (Class: RG9; Piece: 2326; Folio: 49; Page: 10; GSU roll: 542954) . The next sighting of him is on the 1881 census where he is found boarding at 40 Chippenham Road, Paddington, London aged 36 described as a "Photographic Publisher" (Class: RG11; Piece: 10; Folio: 6; Page: 6; Line: ; GSU roll: 1341002.).  A more definite clue that this man was worthy of further research. The 1891 and and 1901 censuses confirmed my hunch. In 1891 he was visiting the Household of Thomas W Stevenson a Printer living at 58 Cromwell Street, Nottingham (Class: RG12; Piece: 2691; Folio 61; Page 17; GSU roll: 6097801). Occupation given was still that of "Photographic Publisher" The final census finding is that of 1901 where he was living at 9 Rockley Road, Hammersmith, London (Class: RG13; Piece: 50; Folio: 156; Page: 44.) on his own. He is shown as an "Publisher & Printer" and this census provides the added information that he was an Employer. 

It was the census returns that led me to do a search on Google where I discovered that "Beagles Postcards" were widely traded on E-bay and elsewhere. 

A J Beagles & Co Ltd Postcard of Rudolf Valentino

Rear of a J Beagles & Co Ltd Postcard showing the trademark "Beagles' Post Cards BEST IN THE WORLD

When you come across something like this, it is natural to want to find out more. I contacted some postcard collectors and discovered that little was known amongst the postcard collecting fraternity at the time about the lives of the publishers themselves. It therefore seemed as if it would be down to me to find out more!

When you find someone in business during the C19th and early C20th the next logical step is to look at Trade Directories (the Yellow Pages of their day) and phone books. They help identify where the business was based and the years the business operated. The phone books showed that he had a telephone as early as 1902 (Tel No Hammersmith 1001) and that in 1903 he had premises at 9 Little Britain, Holborn, London (Tel No Holborn 4951) and that a J Beagles & Co business existed at 9 - 11 Little Britain for the next 30 years becoming a Limited Company in 1908,

Picture Postcards and Their Publishers" by Anthony Byatt, F.S.C.A., © 1978 by Golden Age Postcard Books, 28 St. Peter's Road, Malvern, Worcs, WR14 1QS, ISBN 095062120X. provides additional information about the concern.
This old-established company was already well-known for its photographic publishing at the turn of the century. Its postcards can traced back as far as 1903 when premises were occupied at 9 and 10 Little Britain, close to the Post office Headquarters in London, and overlooked St. Paul's Cathedral. By 1904 they had also taken over number 11 and many years later part of this same property was occupied by another postcard publisher, Moore and Dewdney, and their name was still visible above the dilapidated shop front in 1976. Beagles' became a limited company around 1908 and ceased to exist just before the beginning of World War 2. 
Beagles' were noted primarily for their postcard portraits of royalty. Real photographs or bromides, they covered almost every important personage and event for many years, recording weddings, births, deaths, various stages of the children's lives, and the dress and uniforms in which they and their parents appeared. Royalty from other countries also received some coverage. All are numbered, with a sequence of cards carrying a suffix lettered from A to Z.
At one time the firm boasted 5,000 different designs of famous actresses, including novelty cards, jewelled or spangled, luminous pearl cards and some in bas-relief. There is considerable range of action scenes from innumerable plays. An interesting series of skits in sets of six centred around some little children who imitated various key figures. "An Orchestral Rehearsal" issued in 1903 showed one of four years old as a musical director; a second set depicted a little girl as a judge in a Breach of Promise case, and another was called "The Doctor".
A set of "Celebrated Posters" appeared in 1903 and in 1907 a Louis Wain set was entitled "Matrimonial Cats". 1908 saw such varied issues as Leap Year cards, eight Empire Day cards for 24th May, and a set of twelve in colour called "Beautiful Women" drawn by the American artist Harrison Fisher.
The "Celebrity" series included literary figures, the clergy, musicians, politicians, scientists and many others. There was also an extensive series of exhibition cards, such as the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley."

The sale of postcards was a booming business in late Victorian and Edwardian times. They allowed a far clearer image of a theatrical actor, a member of royalty or a film star than any newspaper could expect to reproduce and were aimed at the masses - a bit like "OK magazine" today without the gossip. 

Did it pay? Well it may have done. John was able to live in a fine house in Hammersmith which still stands today and obviously finance a lease of business premises in Holborn, but his Will shows that he did not make a fortune. He died on 8 January 1907. He never married. He left his estate equally to his sister Harriet Booth Beagles and his nieces Eleanor Lucy Isabella Mary Beagles, Mabel Emily Beagles, Evelyn Lakin Beagles & Gladys Bells Beagles stipulating that should they marry any husband shall have control over the legacies. Executors were Thomas William Stevenson of 4 Burns St, Nottingham & Frank Handley Hopewell of 9 Shepherd Bush Road, Hammersmith. At Probate, Hopewell renounced his appointment. The value of the Estate was £554 15s 10d Gross, £182 5s 6d net.

Those with a keen eye will have noted that Thomas Stevenson was the printer who John Beagles was visiting in 1891.

J Beagles & Co Ltd

A J Beagles & Co Ltd postcard of American Actress Janet Gaynor

Rear of a J Beagles & Co Ltd postcard - still BEST IN THE WORLD
The Limited Company appears to have been formed as a direct result of John Beagles death. The reason was probably to allow the name to be used and also the "trademark" (I am still trying to establish whether it was a trademark in the normal sense. There should be a record of the Company at London Metropolitan Archives and that is still on my to do list. I have though established from the London Gazette https://www.thegazette.co.uk/ that the Company was wound up on 18 July 1939. The Picture Post had been launched the year before and it is likely that this and similar quality printed magazines made the postcard obsolete when it came to presenting images of celebrities to the adoring fans. 

Unanswered Questions

A key one is where was John on the night of the 1871 census? This might help give a clue how he got into photography in the first place. I have been looking on the main census websites for a number of years. I also hope to be able to follow up information about the Limited Company and the relationship between Beagles & Stevenson, 

I am proud that a humble Butcher's son from the small village of Whaplode Drove in rural Lincolnshire was able to leave a legacy that postcard collectors are still aware of a century later and no doubt an archive of images some of which have no doubt been digitised and therefore will exist for centuries ahead. This piece is just about the man on the back of those postcards.

Relationship to me

John Beagles was my 1st cousin 3 times removed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John! I stumbled into your blog by accident, while doing some family tree work of my own. A distant cousin (2nd cousin, 3x removed), was a young lady by the name of Mabel Moore. As a teen, she worked for the Rotary Photo Company, which produced picture postcards of famous people of the day - as you probably know, before 1914 there was a great demand for collecting these, which were for sale in all the news shop windows. Mabel and her sister Elizabeth worked hand coloring the postcards, and they often featured leading actresses of the day, like Zena Dare, Beatrice Lille, and Gladys Cooper. When war broke out, they started doing photos of popular generals. One photo had an image of a soldier saying farewell to his girl as he left for the front, and Mabel was the model portraying the girl. Apparently she was quite lovely, and was featured in several other postcards sold all over England. I've found a few postcards marked J. Beagles featuring a "Miss Mabel Moore" and suspect it may be her as well.