A new book unveils the lively and visually intriguing history of QSL cards
Across the 20th century, these cards were used to affirm radio transmission between stations. Few would have guessed that they would look this good, as confirmed in the latest book published by TopSafe.
- Ayla Angelos
- 14 December 2021
Antwan Horfee has always had an adoration for printed matter. Growing up on the periphery of Paris, which is where he still lives, Antwan has spent his creative career making short films – “sometimes animated, sometimes not” – in his studio, and testing out “painted movies” on the side, as well as print publications such as zines, limited edition books and the like. As you might imagine, book launches, exhibitions and shows tend to fill his calendar, despite the fact that he thinks it’s hard to “make a scene alive” in Paris due to the expensive nature of the city pushing many creatives out. “It’s really blocking so many rare identities,” he says. “They have no space but they have an urge to express themselves.” Antwan decided to stay, though, and it’s in Paris that he mingles with artists, craftsmen, “neighbourhood life”, curators and the “dense aspect of culture”.
The busy atmosphere of Paris seems to suit Antwan, who’s gone on to dig out various interests from its busy streets, including ephemera and things that enliven a passion in his bones. “I dig up roots, I see what period I prefer, I see what book or films exist on the subject to get an overview,” he explains. “I try to let myself be penetrated by the whole story of it.” His latest obsession is QSL cards, which blossomed in New York while he was meandering through the bits and bobs on offer at a flea market. He noticed a card on someone’s table and inquired about it; as it turned out, these were postcard-type cards devised in the early 20th century to confirm a two-way radio transmission between stations.
A decade after this fortuitous moment and Antwan has now released Buzzard Control: A book about QSL cards culture, published by TopSafe – a publisher founded by Freddie Forsyth. The book’s information-packed pages highlight the graphic legacy and history of the cards, presenting a curated selection of ephemera from artist's very own collection – he’s also provided an insightful essay on the topic. Antwan amassed around 3,000 cards in total during the research stage of the project, but never did he set out to make a book about it – it all just came about naturally. With Encore studio on the design, the result is a functional and easy-to-peruse display of years and years’ worth of memorabilia, some from many moons ago and some from as recently as the 1980s (if you can call that recent). “It’s a vast horizon,” says Antwan.
It’s a refreshing body of work that reminds us all of a time before the internet, where streaming, information and entertainment wasn’t such a thing, let alone being something you could easily access at your fingertips. Over time, the QSL card evolved from a basic format to one that could carry an array of different, striking designs. The book, therefore, highlights a variety of aesthetics but also the many different codes that were used to communicate back then, like QSB, which means “Are my signals fading?” or QSR, meaning “Do you want me to repeat my call?”. And did you know that YL means “young lady” or that 88 means “Love and kisses”?
The cards featured in Buzzard Control: A book about QSL cards culture range from those with simple stamps and blunt typography to those that are more illustrated and colourful. When picking out his favourites, Antwan speaks of one that made him think of a Philip Guston drawing, Dreamer. “There is no way to know if the card was here before the Nixon’s drawing series from the artist,” he says. “I like how big the ear is that it’s standing out of the pillow, and I like the details of the cartoonish mouse hole on the wall.” On the card, there are subtler details like a little citizens brand radio transmitter – “I was really drawn to this one because it’s all in black and white, which I like, and the typeface is tiny and simple.”
In another card named Fire Engine, the visuals are a lot more colourful as it depicts an illustrated drawing. “We see a fireman facing the hat and the rolled fire house,” he says. “I really like the typeface which is printed randomly, in a bumpy, simple and not too big way; I find it super efficient. It’s as if the driver was on a bumpy road driving this vehicle but was trying to scream the name to you on the other side of the street. You can hear it as it is written, I think.”
For those who’ve never heard of QSL codes before – and even for those who have – Antwan’s Buzzard Control: A book about QSL cards culture is a comprehensive guide into the history of the media. You can learn plenty by flicking through the pages, and we’re more than excited to see what Antwan decides to obsess over next.
Buzzard Control: A book about QSL cards culture is available to buy from TopSafe.
GalleryAntwan Horfee: Buzzard Control: A book about QSL cards culture. Published by TopSafe (Copyright © Antwan Horfee, 2021)
Antwan Horfee: Buzzard Control: A book about QSL cards culture. Published by TopSafe (Copyright © Antwan Horfee, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.