Although the first official postcards have been
around since Austria introduced them to the world in 1869, it
wasn't until the 1890s that private publishers in most countries
were allowed to design and retail their own cards.
Until that time (specifically 1895 in Canada), postcards
had to be purchased at the post office to take advantage of the
special postcard mailing rate.
From a philatelic (stamp collecting) perspective, the early
post office cards could be considered well designed. The imprinted
stamps were very nice and often the cards had fancy borders and
From a postcard collecting perspective however, early postal
stationery can't hold a candle to the designs issued by the private
sector in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
From both a design and propaganda standpoint, some of the
most sought after antique postcards collected today were created
by European printers during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). This
brutal conflict, which pitted the British Empire against the
fiercely independent Boers in Africas Transvaal and Orange
Free State, resulted in thousands of civilian casualties and
a flood of anti-British propaganda cards.
Promoted by Britains
Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain (Figure 1 at left) and
cheered on by Cape Colonys famous diamond mogul Cecil Rhodes,
the three-year war achieved Britains aim of uniting her
African colonies from Cairo to Cape Town. Joseph Chamberlain,
by the way, was easy fodder for lampoonists. He wore a large
monocle and always had a fresh orchid on his lapel.
In early 20th century Europe, Britain wasn't the only nation
stretching her imperialist muscles. A unified and confident Germany,
fresh from her victory against the French in the Franco-Prussian
War (1870-71), began a lengthy period of militarism and imperial
Under Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) and Admiral von Tirpitz
(1849-1930) the creation of the German Imperial navy, with its
ultra-modern battleships, worried Britain so much that it sparked
a European arms race.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, British publishers
became the undisputed masters at anti-German and anti-Kaiser
propaganda. No doubt still smarting from all the anti-British
propaganda created by European printers (mostly German and French)
during the Anglo-Boer war, the British mercilessly lampooned
the Germans at every opportunity.
The anti-Kaiser postcard
shown in Figure 2 (left) is one of the more malicious examples.
Note that the Kaiser had a large moustache that pointed upwards
at the tips. This and his prominent nose were easy targets for
The Figure 3 postcard (below) is evidence that Canada was
no slouch when it came to producing First World War propaganda
cards. In this example, from a six-card series published by Torontos
War Novelty Co., the Kaiser is taking his crown to a pawn shop
to raise money to help pay for Germanys war debt.
The First World War
not only bankrupt Germany, but most of Europe. Germanys
war debt, exacerbated by the brutal penalties imposed upon her
by the Treaty of Versailles at wars end, hobbled an entire
generation of its citizens. Even worse, Germanys post-First
World War economic turmoil can be directly linked to the rise
of the Nazis in the 1930s.
Adolph Hitler and his fanatical propaganda minister, Joseph
Goebbels, unleashed a torrent of pro-Nazi/anti-Semitic propaganda
on the German people from the early 1930s right up until the
end of the Second World War (1939-1945). Several books have been
written on Nazi propaganda postcards and needless to say, the
cards are very collectible today.
When the Americans entered the Second World War after the
Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, a fresh batch
of propaganda postcards soon entered the mail system. Interestingly,
most if not all anti-German propaganda cards made in the USA
focused on Adolph Hitler and/or Luftwaffe commander Herman Goering.
In other words the German people as a whole were left unscathed.
A typical anti-Hitler
card is shown in Figure 4 (left). Printed by an anonymous publisher
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, here Hitler is portrayed as a jackass
in the classic pin the tail on the donkey game.
The same logic was used for the anti-Italian propaganda cards
made in the USA, where Benito Mussolini was the prime target.
When it came to the Japanese however, American propaganda cards
targeted everyone: Emperor Hirohito, Prime Minister/General Tojo
and all the Japanese military.
There was also a racist slant to the anti-Japanese cards
not evident in the anti-German or anti-Italian cards. For example,
the Japanese characters were mostly drawn with yellow or green
skin, had slits for eyes and large, buck teeth.
They were often portrayed as dwarf-like, and were constantly
shown cowering, running away, or trying to stab an American soldier
in the back. The latter theme no doubt alluded to the sneak attack
on Pearl Harbour.
Michael J. (Mike) Smith is an RMC graduate (Class of '77)
and ex-naval officer who has been an avid collector of Canadiana
for most of his life. His current passion is collecting and writing
about Canadian antique postcards. He is currently working on
his eighth postcard handbook. Visit postcard-directory.com/mikesmithbooks