Travel postcards: Trains, ships and other modes

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20th Century Travel Aptly Recorded on Antique Postcards
By Mike Smith
One of the great things about antique postcards is the amount of social history recorded on those little 3½ inch by 5½ inch pieces of cardboard.
From the Paris Exhibition in 1889 to the present day, picture postcards have recorded and continue to record millions of images showing mankind’s interaction with the world.
The 1889 Paris Exhibition is significant in deltiology because it was at that event that the world’s first official picture postcard was introduced to the world.
(Please note the distinction between postcard and picture postcard. Postcard geeks all know that the world’s first official postcard was issued by Austria in 1869.)
Sold at the summit of the newly-built Eiffel Tower and meant to be posted at that location, the Paris Exhibition card has a nice vignette of the Eiffel Tower and is a terrific collectible, especially with summit postmarks.
The first time I saw an example was in the collection of a dear friend, Bill Angley of Toronto. The Angley card, which was posted from the Eiffel Tower summit on Aug. 29, 1889, is shown in Figure 1.
Ten years after the Paris Exhibition, a young entrepreneur from New Brunswick named W. G. (William Godsoe) MacFarlane started a publishing business in Toronto, where he initially specialized in souvenir view albums.
Within a couple of years however, W. G. MacFarlane shifted priorities and soon became one of Canada’s most successful postcard publishers.
Since this article is supposed to have a 20th century transportation theme, it’s a lucky coincidence for me that the earliest-known postmark on a MacFarlane postcard is on a card showing an old-time country conveyance – the oxcart (see Figure 2).
From my experience, oxcarts are mostly likely to be seen on Golden Age (1900–1914) postcards from Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I.
In a previous article, I wrote about the wonderful postcards and other collectibles associated with the return of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR’s) S.S. Keewatin to Port McNicoll, Ontario.
Postcards of steamships are very popular with collectors and the CPR published oodles of cards showing its ships as well as its great locomotives. One ship from its Atlantic fleet, the S.S. Lake Manitoba, is seen on the very attractive postcard shown in Figure 3.
This 10,000 ton steamer was launched in 1901 and initially operated by the Beaver Line, a transportation company that ran a steamship service between Montreal, Quebec City, New York and Liverpool, England.
The CPR purchased the Beaver Line in 1903 and added the Lake Manitoba to its growing fleet of ocean-going vessels.
In 1883, the then two-year-old CPR printed the first of what would be a long series of immigration and travel posters to drum up business for its railway and steamship service. All of these posters are very collectible today, and many were reproduced as equally-desirable postcards.
The Figure 3 example is one of several showing the CPR’s rail service through the Canadian West.
The train illustrated on the card is the Trans-Continental Express and the advertising on the back says, among other things: “The Canadian Pacific Railway controls rail and track over 19,000 miles long, and its lines reach every important farming and manufacturing district in Canada. The Canadian Pacific Railway has the most picturesque route to Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan.”
This card and other poster-types like it often fetch $50 to $100+ on eBay and at dealers’ tables, so if you can find one at a bargain price pick it up. Note that I have included this particular CPR postcard in the second edition of my Canadian patriotic postcard handbook because of the great slogan at the bottom.
For those interested, the new handbook will be launched at the Golden Horseshoe Postcard Club Show in Dundas in the fall.
Figure 4. “The Empire’s Greatest Railway” is illustrated in this CPR postcard which started life as one of the CPR’s classic travel posters.
Since I’ve already discussed land, sea and rail travel postcards, it’s only fitting that I include a sentence or two about 20th century air travel.
Although domestic air travel didn’t really take off, so to speak, until after the First World War (1914–1918), transatlantic passenger service via winged aircraft was still a long way away.
Airships, or zeppelins as they are often called, did make transatlantic trips from Europe prior to the Second World War (1939–1945) but these were few and far between.
Although it took a backseat to Pierre Elliot Trudeau (formerly Dorval) Airport decades ago, Montreal’s St. Hubert Airport made international headlines in 1930 when Britain’s famed R100 airship docked at its specially constructed mooring mast (see Figure 5).
According to the Internet, the R100 flight was the first non-stop passenger flight across the North Atlantic to Canada.
The airship spent 12 days at St. Hubert and was visited by thousands of Quebecers before flying to Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls.
Postcards documenting the exploits of the R100 are very collectible indeed.
Figure 1. This Eiffel Tower postcard was printed for the 1889 Paris Exhibition and is the world’s first official picture postcard.
Figure 2. This Nova Scotia “oxomobile” postcard by W. G. MacFarlane is postmarked 16 July 1902, which is the earliest-known mailing of a MacFarlane card.
Figure 3. This CPR postcard, showing the S.S. Lake Manitoba, was mailed on May 18, 1906.
Figure 4. CPR's The Empire’s Greatest Railway
Figure 5. The famous R100 airship is shown tied up at St. Hubert Airport’s mooring mast in this 1930 postcard by the Photogelatine Engraving Co. of Ottawa.
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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