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Trail talk: the language of the compass

A compass can be for more than simple navigation. Here, it was used on a postcard to signify feeling. The heyday of the postcard was prior to the First World War and this fascinating card is a relic of long lost romantic gesture from that time. Printed after 1902, it is dated by the sender 7 June 1912.

Langage de la Boussole- Language of the Compass
Postcard- Langage de la Boussole / Language of the Compass

Quite well-known postcards from the 1890s used to focus on the ‘Language of Stamps’, illustrating how the angle and orientation of a stamp affixed to a card or letter could ‘secretly’ signify the emotions of the sender to the recipient. Shown here is an uncommon card that expands instead on the ‘Language of the Compass‘.

The compass cardinal points are in French- Nord: North, Est: East, Sud: South and Ouest: West. Here the nearer to the north, the more platonic and cooler the feelings, relating to the cold frozen north perhaps? Moving toward the south, toward the hot sun in the south at midday (and toward the hotter equator?), feelings become positively warmer.

From north to south- Respect, affection, memories, friendship, sincerity, tenderness, love, and finally, passion. Below the printed compass is the instruction- “marquez d’une flèche la direction que vous desiréz” / ‘mark with an arrow the direction you want‘. In this case, the compass has not been marked so possibly this was a romancer requesting another to indicate their feelings, which didn’t amount to much…

Other decoration on the card include a four-leaved clover and pansy. The four-leaf clover is quite well-known as bestowing luck upon either the finder or to another when given. In Victorian England, the pansy was used during courting and was used between lovers to communicate feeling. Indeed the very word pansy comes from mid-fifteenth century French- penser;  pensee is the feminine form of penser meaning to think or ponder over something.  

While the first official postcard was sold around 1869, privately produced cards date from some eight years earlier. They took a while to gain favour as many were resentful of post office officials being able to read any message. Here the message was just a little more subtle. The card is probably Dutch in origin and has been printed via the costly chromolithographic process. Printed in the French language, it was also written and sent in France.

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