Pricey Art Nouveau postcards a collector's
By Mike Smith
A few years back, I submitted
an article to the Wayback Times that showcased several artist-signed
postcards under the subtitle A Poor Mans Art Gallery.
In the article, I touted five
important Canadian artists whose work was popular enough at the
turn of the 20th century to wind up on postcards: John Innes
(1863-1941); F.M (Frederick Marlett) Bell-Smith (1846-1923);
George Horne Russell (1861-1933); C.W. (Charles William) Jefferys
(1869-1951); Newton McConnell (1877-1940).
Antique postcards showing artwork
from these talented guys are not scarce, but they can be pricey
because they are not all that common and the demand for them
For example, one would be hard
pressed to pick up one of the John Innes postcards from his North
West Mounted Police (NWMP) series for less than $50.
Likewise, with the series of
cards made from Newton McConnells anti-reciprocity (free
trade) cartoons. These hard-hitting cartoons, printed on the
editorial page of the Toronto Globe, were said to have been instrumental
in the defeat of Wilfrid Lauriers pro-reciprocity Liberals
in the 1908 federal election.
Again, $50 or more is the price
one would expect to pay for McConnell cards in very good condition
or better. Note that the Innes and McConnell postcards were produced
by Toronto publishers W.G. MacFarlane and Brigdens Ltd., respectively.
I've mentioned the $50 amount
a couple of times already because from my perspective, thats
a lot of dough to spend on a postcard. Many cards priced at that
level and higher tend to get passed over by the average collector
and end up in the realm of the specialist.
I am a bit of an exception in
that even though I'm a specialist collector of Canadian patriotic
postcards, I can honestly say I have very few cards for which
I have paid more than $20.
Since I've never seen a patriotic
postcard that I didn't like (and there are thousands of them),
I watch my price per card carefully so I can bring home as many
as possible from shows.
For those fortunate collectors
with deeper pockets and a love of artist-signed postcards, Art
Nouveau cards would be right up your alley.
In the realm of fine arts, the
Art Nouveau or new art period began in the latter
decades of the 19th century and reached its height at the turn
of the 20th century. During that period, artists in Europe, North
America and Japan began incorporating ornate flowing lines with
swirling whiplash patterns and plant-like figures
into sculpture, paintings, jewellery, architecture, etc.
One of the legendary masters
of the Art Nouveau style on this side of the Atlantic was Louis
Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) of Tiffany Studios, New York. Most
of us have seen or heard of his famous lamps, with their stained
glass shades and his beautiful hand-blown, multi-coloured vases
These items, like most other
Art Nouveau objects, command a premium today and Art Nouveau
postcards are no exception. In fact, for serious postcard collectors
they can be considered the crème de la crème.
With the postcard collecting
craze in full swing at the turn of the 20th century, it was inevitable
that publishers and printers would want to use Art Nouveau designs
to help sell postcards. Brief biographies of some of the more
popular Art Nouveau postcard artists are included below.
I have also indicated corresponding
postcard values (in pounds) as listed in the 2007 edition of
the Picture Postcard Values catalogue, published by IPM Promotions
in Britain. Due to the age of my catalogue and the current state
of the economy, please consider the values I have transcribed
as guidelines, not gospel.
Alphonse Mucha was a Czech who is sometimes referred to as the
most defining artist of the Art Nouveau style. He was a skilled
painter, commercial artist, illustrator, graphic designer (calendars,
posters, menus, programmes, paper money and stamps), furniture
designer and sculptor (phew). His most distinguished model and
fan, the legendary French stage actress and future silent screen
star, Sarah Bernhardt, propelled him into the Paris limelight
in the 1890s. From 1893 to 1903, his poster art and murals wowed
Parisians and he gained even more fame painting portraits and
decorating theatres during his 1904-1912 sojourn in the United
States. His artwork hangs in many museums worldwide, and most
of his postcards catalogue at £100+.
Another leading figure in the Art Nouveau movement was Austrian-born
Raphael Kirchner. He was responsible for over 800 postcard designs
and is a favourite among collectors today. Many of Kirchners
earlier postcards are unsigned so it pays to keep ones
eye open at postcard shows. Sadly for the art world, Kirchner
died in the United States at the height of his fame at the relatively
young age of 42. His Art Nouveau postcards are listed at £75
at the low end and climb up to £500 (gulp) at the high
end. Interestingly, Kirchner always used his beautiful wife,
Nina, as his model. This arrangement would have undoubtedly produced
much less stress on Kirchners marriage than using say,
This Austrian artist studied at the famed Vienna School of Arts
and Crafts and from 1900 onwards made his living as a freelance
painter. In 1906, he co-founded the Wiener Keramik art studio
that helped make Viennese ceramic works world famous. From 1909
to 1935, he taught as a professor at the Vienna Arts and Crafts
Academy. Many of his wonderful Art Nouveau postcard designs were
used to advertise expositions and all of his cards are highly
collected to this day. Loffler postcards are catalogued at £100
Jack Abeille was born in Varenne-St. Hilarie, France, in 1873
and by his early 20s had established a reputation as a skilled
cartoonist, illustrator and commercial artist. During his career,
he worked for several French humour magazines, illustrated books
and designed a famous series of WWI postcards. He created several
series of thematic Art Nouveau postcard designs including Les
Saisons (The Seasons), Les Baigneuses (The Swimmers), and a series
on flowers for the 1900 Exposition Universelle (Paris). Because
of the beautiful women shown on his cards they are often listed
in the glamour category in catalogues. Abeille postcards
are listed at £50 and up.
Born in Pest, Hungary in 1873, Arpad Basch was one of the acknowledged
masters of Hungarian graphic art.
He was a prized illustrator
of Hungarian books, almanacs and magazines, as well as artistic
director the Magyar Genius (magazine).
Famous for paintings and posters
alike, his Art Nouveau postcard designs are true little masterpieces.
Basch postcards are catalogued at £100 and up.
Finally, if you thought that
£500 for a Kirchner card was expensive, hold on to your
hats. In 1923, there was a now legendary series of 20 postcards
made to advertise the Bauhaus Ausstellung (Bauhaus Design Exhibition)
in Weimar, Germany. Among other things, the exhibition was an
attempt to help redefine German art and architecture in the desperate
years after the First World War. Anyway, 14 different artists
contributed to the series and it is thought only 25 copies of
each postcard were made. This no doubt helps to explain why individual
cards sold for $1,500 to $5,000 at a European auction less than
a decade ago. And I thought $50 was a lot of dough.
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