Edinburgh is one of the most distinctive and widely recognised cities in the world. Even people who have never been anywhere near Scotland will have formed impressions of the city based on a range of usually attractive and positive images. Those images come from a wide range of difference sources, but many are from books; and over the years it would be fair to say that the number of books about Edinburgh has grown to the point where they would occupy a significant length of bookshelf. Books of images, particularly books of historical images, have always featured strongly amongst books about the city, and this raises some obvious questions for anyone intending to write or publish another one.
"Phillimore's Edinburgh" by Jan Bondeson is indeed another book of historical images of Edinburgh. But it succeeds in being completely different to anything we've seen before because it relies entirely on the output of Reginald P. Phillimore, who in the decade prior to the First World War was one of Britain's leading postcard artists. As the opening biographical chapter explains, Phillimore came from an English family, but left an unhappy teaching career behind him and moved to live in North Berwick after inheriting a house and property there from two elderly aunts. Once established there, he set about producing postcards from his own drawings which were then printed, often in Europe, and hand-coloured by a local schoolgirl, Mary Pearson, who later became Phillimore's housekeeper.
The bulk of the book is divided into a series of geographical sections which between them are illustrated by all 92 of Phillimore's postcards of the area that now comprises Edinburgh. For the modern collector, Phillimore's postcards range from the relatively commonplace to the extremely rare: it all depends on the popularity of the subject and the number printed. This book draws partly on the author's own collection, supplemented by scans provided by others.
What emerges is a fascinating tour of the city through the eyes of one individual. Many of the cards were heavily annotated, in a style reminiscent of Wainwright's Lake District guides; though of course they were also subtly coloured. The end result is a book that gives a lovely insight into aspects of Edinburgh considered to be attractive to tourists in the early years of the last century, and a book that will also be of huge interest to postcard collectors.