Derek Shaw recreates the same view as the front cover photo of ‘Old Nelson: A postcard history 1900 – 1940’, looking down Trafalgar St from the church steps. Photo: Kate Russell.

Old Nelson showcased in postcard history


Forget texting, email and Facebook, the way to communicate in the early 1900s for many Nelsonians was by postcard.

And now, 125 of the best postcard images of the region have been made into a book, called ‘Old Nelson: A postcard history 1900 – 1940’.

Publisher Derek Shaw, of Nikau Press, says the images come from the large private collection of retired Richmond postcard enthusiast, Rob Packer.

The postcards are printed in duotone, each with a fully researched caption by Barney Brewster.

They were all created well before the emergence of the region’s well-known tourist attractions we know today. The images include street scenes and themes such as public occasions, unfortunate events, sport and recreation, transport, trade and commerce, education and military processions.

The locations include not only Nelson City, Richmond, Motueka and Takaka, but also settlements such as Wakefield, Murchison, Tapawera and Collingwood.

“For a long time, we thought Rob’s collection would make a good book,” says Derek. “The early 1900s was the boom time for postcards as it was one of the main ways of people communicating. If people didn’t want to send a letter, they often sent a postcard.”

In fact, picture postcards were the “cheap and cheerful” means of keeping in touch, before telephones were in every home.

Derek says the process of narrowing down Rob’s collection of over 1000 postcards started earlier this year. Rob has been collecting postcards for over 30 years, unearthing many gems on Trade Me, antique shops and fairs.

“The selection had to be good quality and showcase the best of Nelson,” says Derek. “Nelson hasn’t seen a pictorial book like this for a while, and we saw an opportunity to do that and highlight some of the early photographers in Nelson,” says Derek.

Probably the best-known photographer to feature in the book is Frederick Nelson Jones. He was Nelson’s leading postcard publisher who even had his own ‘Postcard Emporium’ on Trafalgar St.

“Freddy certainly was the man about town and proved that anything could be made into a postcard,” says Derek. “He carried a ladder around with him and even climbed to the top of the cathedral spire to get different perspectives on shots.”

Freddy was always conscious about the news value of his photographs and his photos of the 1929 Murchison earthquake, the 1904 Nelson College fire, floods, storms and bus wrecks were all made into postcards which feature in the book.

Derek says depending on the success of the book, they may look at publishing another, featuring postcards from later years.

The book was launched last Thursday at the Nelson Provincial Museum and is available to buy for $50 at local bookshops around the region and the museum.