Blotting from Grade 3 to adulthood

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Grade 3 fun with blotters blossomed into collectible items
By Mike Smith
I had no knowledge of what “blotting” was until Grade 3 when near the beginning of the year we were handed a list of materials to bring to class.
The list, among other things, included a fountain pen, ink cartridges and blotting paper. It was 1963, I was eight years old and was finally going to learn to write like the big shots.
Pencils and block letters were finished; pens and fancy ink writing had arrived. I remember it took me ages to concoct an acceptable-looking signature, which finally came together when I copied some of the elegant swirls my dad used in his signature.
In kids’ hands, when I think back, fountain pens were messy and blotting paper was a necessity. Ballpoint pens had been available for years, but I suppose old teaching methods died hard.

After Grade 3, when my fountain pen and its blue-stained nib were put aside forever, I rarely heard or saw the word "blotter" anywhere. Of course, there were TV show “police blotters” used for recording arrests etc., and some of my First World War postcards refer to “blotting out the Hun,” but ink blotters had pretty much disappeared from the lexicon.
I was very surprised then when I came across a beautiful-looking blotter for sale on eBay several years ago (see Figure 1). I had no idea that long before my Grade 3 writing classes, printers had been embellishing blotters with delightful patriotic designs and fancy advertising.
The eBay blotter, which I just couldn't resist purchasing, has a proud place among my best patriotic postcards. Although the printer isn't identified, I'm going to guess it was Laidlaw-McCullough of Hamilton because of the numerous patriotic postcards they printed.
The next time I came across a multi-coloured blotter was the day before the annual Toronto Postcard Club Show last February. I was at Bill Angley’s house helping this renowned postcard collector, part-time dealer and good friend get his postcards ready for the show.
In previous years Bill would have done all the organizing and pricing himself, but he's had to slow down a bit due to his age. He still looks young for a 92-year-old, but at his age: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
Anyway, I saw the “postcard” shown in Figure 2 in one of Bill’s specialty albums just before I left his house. Note that I put the word postcard in quotation marks because at 6¼ by 3 inches this George V coronation souvenir certainly didn't have standard postcard dimensions (5½ by 3½ inches).
In addition, it was made of soft porous (blotting) paper. However, there was a receiving postmark on the front and when I turned it over I saw that someone in Hamilton put a stamp on it, wrote a message and addressed it to Marion, Ohio.
Although the back design was blank, just like a blotter, it had been used as a postcard by the sender and mailed on 25 August 1911. The picture side by the way is a sight for sore eyes. I tip my hat to Lever Brothers of Toronto for publishing this gem, however it was meant to be used.
The opposite happened with the blotter shown in Figure 3, which was also in Bill Angley’s specialty album. This item had standard postcard dimensions so I initially assumed it was a patriotic postcard.
Although the back was blank, it certainly looked a lot more like a postcard than the coronation souvenir shown previously. I felt a little foolish when I finally noticed the word “BLOTTER” printed at the lower right corner.
Regardless, it's an exceptional item and I would gladly display it alongside any patriotic postcard in my collection. By the way, it took some help from John Aitken at the London & Middlesex Postcard Club but I was able to identify the blotter’s printer – Wright Litho of London (Ontario).
For the political pundits out there, I was also successful in identifying Chas. R. Tuson. He was mayor of Windsor, Ontario from 1917-1918. The blotter ad must have worked - but not for too long.
It was a sentimental moment for me when I sold the 500th and final copy of my first postcard book, The Canadian Patriotic Postcard Checklist 1898-1928, last fall. It certainly went to a good home – a Timmins-born collector living in Texas.
Even though the book seemed to take forever to complete, as soon as it was finished I started working on the second edition. I knew from experience that no matter how hard I had tried to make the book as complete as possible, there are always more postcards to find.
For example, soon after I mentioned that I was looking for unlisted cards at a postcard meeting I attended last fall, a fellow collector handed me a beefy stack of unlisted cards to catalogue. One of the most colourful thus desirable items in the stack was an “Allied Flags” card published during the First World War (see Figure 4).
Alas, when I turned the card over to see if it had been used in period (a desirable feature on most antique postcards) I immediately saw that the back was completely filled with an advertisement for Heintzman & Co. pianos (see Figure 5). My very patriotic postcard was actually a very patriotic trade card.
Finally, I just love the design of Canada’s early Red Ensign and pick up colour images of this great flag whenever I can. When I say “early,” I'm referring to the design that shows our pre-1921 crest.
When the new provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were added in 1905, the Canada crest was modified to include two additional provincial shields.
Although I'm usually a “more the merrier” kind of guy, I have to admit with nine provincial shields overall, our crest sure looked a little busy (see Figure 6).
Anyway, I don't know whether or not the Figure 6 item was meant to be a blotter or trade card, but it is certainly a great paper collectible.
Now if I could only find the same design on an antique postcard.
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
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