Bathing at Brighton, 1910

This postcard shows Brighton beach near the entrance to the Palace Pier. It was sent by a visitor to Brighton on 3 August 1910.

In the nip?

This postcard shows a typical Edwardian Brighton beach scene. But when you zoom in on the details of the image, several figures appear to be almost nude. Several of the men seem to be wearing tight fitting trunks that would not be fashionable for several decades.

The date of the postcard seems to be quite reliable. Aside from the postmark, the bathing machines pictured here fell out of use further into the century. The printer, London View Company, only traded between 1905 and 1908.

So what’s going on?

The answer probably lies in the way this postcard was printed. Although the image is derived from a photograph it was printed using a letterpress halftone process. Rather than reproducing the image using a chemical photographic process, the image was transferred onto a metal plate and printed with ink.

This method enabled the cheap manufacture of thousands of postcards, but much of the detail would be lost. If you zoom in on the section below you can see the small dots of colour that make up the image.

Since the original photograph would have been black and white, the colours are simple guesswork. As the printer could only use a small number of inks, blocks of colour are repeated across the image. The people who appear to be nude are coloured with the same ink that’s used on the slatted panels on the side of the bathing machines.

This might have been an unfortunate judgement, or it may have been a small joke on the part of the printer. Another possibility is that the printer had never had the chance to leave London and visit the seaside — perhaps he or she simply did not know what people wore that close to the sea?

Author: Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager

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