Delightful "back of the book" antique trade cards

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Antique trade cards/blotters get back of the book status
By Mike Smith
For stamp collectors, the “back of the book” items typically refer to postage due stamps, air mail stamps, war tax issues and other special postage.
The reason is these stamps are assigned a unique numbering system and normally displayed at the back of catalogues. Since there are no official retail catalogues in the Canadian postcard trade, the “back of the book” term is not used among postcard collectors.
In this issue of the WT then, I'm going to present a few delightful antique trade cards and blotters that I consider great “back of the book” items for any postcard album.
“The Moose” blotter shown in Figure 1 is from a terrific series of four patriotic blotters that I incorrectly listed in my first postcard handbook in 2003. Like most people my age, I know what an ink blotter is because fountain pens and blotting paper were still being used in elementary school writing classes in the 1960s, even though ballpoint pens had been around for years.
In 200,3 though, I had no idea decorative blotters existed. Thus, I assumed the four blotters I illustrated in my handbook were just thick postcards with blank backs. Live and learn. By the way, beautifully-coloured images of Niagara Falls, Parliament Hill and a British dreadnought adorn the other three blotters in the group.
As trade cards go, it doesn't get much better than the card Charles Raymond of Guelph, Ontario, had printed up by the Toronto Lithographing Co. to market his sewing machine (see Figure 2).
Printed in the 1880s, there's something about the black background and multi-coloured maple leaf design on the front of the card that makes it particularly attractive. And the great advertising on the back (see Figure 3) is like icing on the cake.
Although the Toronto Lithographing Co.’s main business was the printing of calendars and fancy advertising like the Raymond card, this prolific printer also made some very collectible postcards from 1895 until it morphed into Stone Litho in 1909.
In fact, the Toronto Lithographing Co. is so popular with postcard collectors in Canada it's almost always referred to as “Toronto Litho.” Over the years, I've seen lots of Toronto Litho’s fancy printing and I sure wish I had collected more of it.
In 1910, Price’s Patent Candles Ltd. of Great Britain printed 12 trade cards from a “Land and Sea Battle” series that shows important victories in British military history. For Canadian collectors, the last card in the series has a reproduction of a watercolour illustrating Canada’s contribution to the British victory at Paardeberg during the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902).
The much admired Lord Roberts of Kandahar, commander of the British Empire Forces in South Africa until December 1900, is also shown on the card in a circular portrait (see Figure 4). With several more victories under his belt after Paardeberg, Lord Roberts handed the reins to his second-in-command, Lord Kitchener of Khartoum.
Kitchener was given orders to “mop up” and Roberts returned to Britain to a hero’s welcome. Unfortunately for the British, and the civilians caught in the conflict, the Boers switched to a guerrilla campaign which lengthened the war another two years.
Lord Kitchener would have an otherwise stellar career blemished by being responsible for setting up the world’s first concentration camps.
On a positive note, the patriotic memorabilia generated in Canada and Britain during the Anglo-Boer War is very collectible today. Even the anti-British propaganda printed up in Holland, France and Germany during the period is fun to collect.
As for Price’s Candles trade cards, it's hard not to include them in a postcard album. They are the right size, are packed with information on the back and really nice to look at.
When I first looked at the Canada Packers’ blotter shown in Figure 5, I didn't notice the weapon at the bow of the ship right away. My attention was focused on the pigs waving good-bye and not the patriotic porker manning the gun. Needless to say, when I realized I was looking at a Second World War blotter I was thrilled.
This is a well-drawn bit of artwork and it's too bad the artist’s signature, which can be seen just above the choppy sea to the right of the ship, is illegible. It's the kind of artwork that makes you want to find more by the same artist.
I wouldn't be surprised to find the same artist’s name on a few Second World War posters as well. Thank goodness this wonderful object was never used as a blotter because it sure looks dandy in a postcard album.
Figure 1. This patriotic moose blotter was originally listed as a postcard in the author’s first handbook.
Figure 2. The front of a beautiful trade card made by the Toronto Lithographing Co. for Charles Raymond Sewing Machines of Guelph.
Figure 3. The back of the Raymond trade card shows some great sewing machine advertising.
Figure 4. Price’s Patent Candles of Great Britain printed this Canadian-themed Battle of Paardeberg trade card in 1910.
Figure 5. This well-drawn Canada Packers’ blotter underscores the importance of Canada’s food exports to Britain during the Second World War.
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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