Early Valentine's cards some of finest cards made

 
 
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Valentine’s Day popular theme on antique postcards
 
By Mike Smith
It's interesting how memory works.
 
When the WT’s charming editor/publisher suggested I write an article on antique Valentine’s Day postcards, one of the first things I thought about was the annual exchange of Valentine’s Day cards that took place when I was in elementary school.
 
If I remember correctly, we used to make up a batch of cards in art class and then pass them around on Valentine’s Day, or the Friday before if Feb. 14 was on a weekend.
 
Since the cards were handmade, they were all fairly crude but it was a lot of fun and you could even find out if you had a secret admirer or two.
 
“Crude” may have been an apt description of the cards I made in school many years ago, but this word could never be applied to any of the Valentine’s Day postcards I have come across in over 30 years as a collector.
 
In fact, the “greeting card” postcard types circulating during the Golden Age (1900–1914) were some of the finest postcards made. Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Birthdays and St. Patrick’s Day were all popular themes on Golden Age postcards.
 
And postcard manufacturers employed some very talented artists and graphic designers in the battle for market share.
 
Figure 1. A pretty Art Nouveau-style Valentine postcard signed by popular artist Sadie Wendell Mitchell and published by W. G. MacFarlane.
 
The Figure 1 card is from a popular Valentine series published by W. G. MacFarlane, one of Toronto’s most important publishers from 1902–1910.
 
The beautiful Art Nouveau gal on the card was drawn by Sadie Wendell Mitchell, a highly-collected artist among today’s postcard aficionados.
 
Fortunately for Mitchell fans, MacFarlane published at least 40 cards with her “pretty gals” in six different series.
 
In fact, I know of no other postcard publisher with so much Sadie Wendell Mitchell material so sticking with MacFarlane is a safe bet if you want to collect this artist. Don't be surprised though if you end up paying $20 and up for some of the better Mitchell cards. She is in demand.
 
Figure 2. A beautiful Valentine postcard printed in Germany and published by W. G. MacFarlane around 1907.
 
As soon as I saw the Valentine postcard shown in Figure 2, I knew right away it was a German printing. The brilliant colours and richness of the design were a dead giveaway.
 
Most antique postcard collectors will concede that with few exceptions, prior to 1914, German printers were simply the best. In fact, two of the biggest postcard publishers in Canada, the aforementioned W. G. MacFarlane and Brantford’s Stedman Bros., relied almost exclusively on German-printed cards.
 
It's no coincidence the start of the First World War and the subsequent embargo on all things German helped mark the end of the postcard’s Golden Age. That said, I'm just thankful that so many German-printed postcards have survived.
 
What’s this card worth? The good news is that without an artist’s signature, there's not much demand for cards like this so they can be picked up for next to nothing. The bad news is that demand is so low that many dealers don't bother stocking them.
 
Figure 3. This lovey-dovey card from Stedman Bros. of Brantford has an impressive 3D design that would certainly delight the sweetheart at the other end.
 
I mentioned Stedman Bros. of Brantford in the previous paragraph, so I guess it's only fair I show a card from one of the fancier Stedman Bros. series. The Figure 3 postcard may not have been specifically intended for Valentine’s Day, but the lovey-dovey theme is close enough.
 
This attractive card is one of the two known without a specific view from a Stedman series with 100+ rectangular views in fancy frames. The design has a wonderful 3D look about it and it would certainly impress the intended recipient.
 
Note that Stedman Bros. published two other fancy-framed postcard series: one series with a single oval view and another with two oval views per card. All three series were printed in Germany (no surprise there).
 
The price for the lovey-dovey card would be between $5 and $10 depending on condition and postmark, if any. Other fancy-framed cards by Stedman Bros. can sell for much higher, depending on the view (city, town, lumber mill, factory, etc.) within the frames.
 
Figure 4. Another German-made postcard from Stedman Bros., this one a novelty card with an attractive silk heart.
 
The Figure 4 postcard is a novelty postcard from Stedman Bros., with beautiful silk heart as part of the design. For those unfamiliar with the term, novelty postcards are loosely defined as those cards made from “exotic” materials like leather, wood, aluminum or birch bark, or that contain fancy items such as feathers, metallic pins, special fabrics or even human hair.
 
The idea was obviously to create something unique or artsy to grab the purchaser’s attention. And it sure must have worked as dealer tables always seem to have a box or two of novelty postcards.
 
With respect to Stedman Bros., this publisher’s most popular novelty cards seem to be those with fancy metallic pins attached to them. The silk heart postcard by the way is attractive enough to fetch about $10 at a show.
 
Figure 5. This Valentine postcard with a “23 Skidoo” Cupid was published by the McCoy Printing Company of Moncton, New Brunswick.
 
Finally, not every Valentine postcard has to be fancy to be attractive. There is something about the cartoon Cupid on the Figure 5 card that made me pick it up for a toonie at a show many years ago.
 
The drawing isn't in colour, there's no artist signature and I haven't quite figured out the meaning of the “23 Skidoo!” (i.e., “I’m outta here!”) in the caption.
 
The publisher, the McCoy Printing Company of Moncton, is better known as a producer of patriotic and heraldic postcards so this little card is unusual at every turn.
 
Although some collectors actively seek cupids, cherubs and the like on antique postcards, my specialty is the patriotic stuff. So why is it in my collection? I guess that in every hobby involving collectibles, sometimes you purchase something whimsical just for the heck of it.
 
And my “whimsical purchases” now fill five albums.
 
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
 
 
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