I hope you are all well, and if you’ve been on holiday or going on holiday that you’ve had (or have) a good time!
My blog this time is about “Tart Cards”, the cards you used to see in public telephone boxes, advertising Sex Worker’s services, they were displayed mainly in London but were widespread across the UK. I am of the age where phone box’s were used frequently while out and about and you needed to make a phonecall, feeding the slot with 10p's and trying to finish your conversation before the pips went!! I remember also being fascinated by the cards that were often displayed in them...."Tart cards" as they are known.
The 1953 post office Act made it illegal to advertise in, or "in anyway disfigure" telephone boxes in the UK, many sex workers took to advertising on postcards in their local Post Office, discreetly advertising their services under the guise of "large chest for sale", "French lessons" or "French polishing". When this act was repealed in 1984, business savvy sex workers moved from advertisements in Post Office windows into public telephone boxes. The 1990's was the peak of "Tart cards" and Sex workers wanting to stand out from their competitors designed and created cards that where creative, colourful, saucy and a unique art form.
The job of putting the cards in the phone boxes was done by "Cardboys" or "carders" who would constantly go from phone box to phone box replacing cards and removing competitors cards. (an early form of Google ranking maybe!)
Placing Tart cards in phone boxes was made illegal by the passing of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 which made carding punishable by up to six months imprisonment or a fine up to £5000. An estimated 13 million tart cards were being distributed across Britain in the early 2000's, with 15000 cards being removed per week from Central London alone.
The birth of mobile phones and the Internet made phone boxes and tart cards redundant, which I think is a shame as I think tart cards are a unique piece of our history.
I always look inside when I'm passing the odd phone box that is still remaining, and you do still see one or two cards, who knows with the pressure the Government is putting on advertising platforms the Tart cards may make a resurgence!
Posted on July 25th, 2023