Bamforth Song Cards 

During the early part of the 20th century, popular music was mainly accessed and shared through live performance and published sheet music. In the UK, gramophones were expensive and only available to the well off, whereas a music hall performance was well within the reach of most working class people. During this time in Britain, if you could not play the sheet music, there was another popular way to share your favourite songs with others. This was through song postcards which became very popular over the first decade of the 20th century and into the war years. 


They came in many forms, for example, they may include a miniature reproduction of the sheet music for a song or simply include a song title with an illustration relating to the title. Arguably the most popular versions of the song post card featured 'magic lantern' illustrations, often with live models  and the song lyrics. These live model cards evolved directly from the tradition of illustrated song slides, which were popular during this time. In 1894, when publicising their song “The Little Lost Child,” Edward B. Marks and Joseph W. Stern chose to use live models to pose for a set of slides to accompany the song, and the illustrated song was born. 


Magic Lanterns, otherwise known as the stereopticon, is a type of slide projector that had been used for entertainment and in education as far back as the 17th century. Illustrators painted directly onto glass slides and then projected the images onto a screen or wall for groups to enjoy. As photography developed during the mid to late 19th century, many slide manufacturers began to produce slides that included people and real places and as a result, soon models were employed to 'pose' for slide stories.

Today Bamforth and Co are largely known for their range of  tourist cards and 'saucy' seaside postcards produced originally in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, but here we see examples of the song postcards that they produced both before and during WW1. James Bamforth began his career as a portrait photographer in 1870 and then began producing hand painted lantern slides in 1883. During the late 19th and early 20th Century, the company were also involved in making moving pictures using James' skills as a lantern artist to pioneer new techniques in early film making.


Many of these postcard sets survive today, with Bamforth being amongst the most prolific publishers during the ealry 20th Century. These ones are from the collection held at the Imperial War Museum, and were photographed by Charlie Wells during a research trip in September 2018.