Titanic discovery boosted interest in
By Mike Smith
One of the great things about
collecting picture postcards is the endless variety of material
In the heyday of the postcard,
from 1900 to 1914 (i.e., the picture postcards Golden
Age), oodles of publishers produced millions of postcards
for public consumption.
If a subject could be photographed,
painted, drawn, woven in silk, embroidered, burned into wood
or etched into metal, chances are it was reproduced as a postcard.
With so many different antique
postcards out there, specialization is almost always the norm
with collectors. In other words, if a collector doesn't focus
on a particular subject or subjects, he or she could be literally
A similar situation occurs with
stamp collecting. Many young philatelists start collecting stamps
from around the world but soon realize it would be next to impossible
to complete such a collection. Therefore, the obvious path is
to specialize in ones own country or region.
In the realm of postcard collecting,
some of the more popular collecting areas are: main streets and
businesses (especially real photo cards); artist-signed cards
(including advertising); military and patriotic cards (including
royalty); and transportation cards (railway stations and trains,
early autos and planes, ships and liners).
Ocean liner collecting, in particular,
has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 15 years or so. And
I think I know the reason for this - a phenomenal discovery followed
by a blockbuster movie.
Legendary, colossal, unsinkable
. . . there were and still are many superlatives used to describe
the ill-fated Titanic. As for its postcards, the only thing I
can think of is yikes.
Figure 1: A beautiful R.M.S. Titanic postcard
by Raphael Tuck & Sons of London, England. Although there
were differences in upper deck design, Tuck cheated and
used the same picture
to portray Titanics sister ship, the RMS Olympic.
It was bad enough when Robert
Ballard discovered the wreck of the great ship off Newfoundland
in 1985, but demand for its postcards went ballistic after the
1997 James Cameron movie. Cards in the $25-$50 range soon started
selling for more than 10 times that amount.
Thankfully, the market has cooled
down somewhat, but one can still expect to pay big bucks for
cards showing the Titanic being outfitted and at Cherbourg, France,
one of her last ports-of-call. And if you ever come across a
Titanic postcard mailed from one of the passengers or crew? Oy.
For those like me with a more
modest collecting budget, cards of the RMS Olympic, Titanics
sister ship, are much more affordable.
When I saw card of the RMS Virginian
at a postcard show many years ago, I was thrilled to discover
that ocean liner postcards had cross-pollinated with patriotic
The gloriously-coloured RMS
Virginian card has a large Union Jack at right and Canadas
distinct Blue Ensign at left. (Our Blue Ensign was at one time
flown as much as the Red Ensign, but thats fodder for another
Published by Valentine &
Sons of Dundee, Scotland, around 1911, this gem is certainly
a treat for the eyes. When compiling my first postcard book,
The Canadian Patriotic Postcard Checklist 1898-1928, I learned
that Valentine & Sons made a whole series of these cards
under the their own name and made an identical series for C.
W. Hunt & Co. of Liverpool, England.
The cards I have seen are the
RMS Virginian, Victorian, Megantic, Corsican, and Empress of
Ireland. Since publishers back then usually produced even-numbered
sets of cards, this list is probably incomplete and I would love
to hear from a WT reader with a more extensive collection.
What are these postcards worth?
My card, which is in very good condition, cost me about $20 in
the 1980s. Today, because very few turn up at dealers tables
and on eBay, I would say it's worth at least $30.
The most famous liner ever flying
a Canadian flag is without a doubt the Empress of Ireland. Needless
to say, it's very popular among Canadian postcard collectors.
When I started collecting ocean liner postcards as a sideline
about 20 years ago, it took me years to find a nice one.
I haven't figured out the publishers
logo on the back yet, but the card was posted aboard and received
at Liverpool, England, on Oct. 20, 1911. Interestingly, the last
line written in a message signed by S.G. is: The
Duke and Duchess and Princess are on board and I have been quite
close to them and they came to see us.
Tragically, less than three
years after the Empress postcard was mailed, this great Canadian
liner sank in the St. Lawrence River after being struck amidships
by the S.S. Storstad, a Norwegian freighter. Over 1,000 lives
were lost when she foundered, making the sinking of the Empress
the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history.
For the record, more passengers
(840) perished in the Empress of Ireland disaster than those
in the Titanic. The Titanics overall (passengers and crew)
death toll was higher though. By the way, nice Empress of Ireland
postcards sell for at least $25 and up.
Figure 2: The Empress of Ireland, Canadas
most famous liner, was owned
and operated by the
Canadian Pacific Railway, C.P.R. Her sinking in
1914 still ranks as
Canadas worst maritime disaster.
One of the most modern postcards
in my collection is that of another great liner - the M.V. Britannic.
It was a Cunard liner launched at Belfast, Northern Ireland,
in August 1929. The more interesting story though is that of
her predecessor, the RMS Britannic.
The RMS Britannic was the third
of three Olympic Class vessels built in Belfast by Harland &
Wolff - the first two were the Olympic and Titanic. Launched
in February 1914 and originally named RMS Gigantic (what a moniker),
the RMS Britannic was requisitioned by the British Admiralty
during the First World War and subsequently used as a hospital
Tragically, she struck a German
mine in the Mediterranean in November 1916 and sank. Fortunately
however, Harland & Wolff had learned from the Titanic sinking
and had installed an ample amount of lifeboats. Only 21 of the
1,134 people aboard RMS Britannic lost their lives when she foundered.
Cunards M.V. Britannic
had a much longer career, completing 275 voyages before being
scrapped in Liverpool in December 1960. I know that one of the
M.V. Britannics ports of call was Haifa, Israel, because
my card was postmarked there on 21 February 1956. Since it's
not a Golden Age ship, most M.V. Britannic postcards
should sell for between $5 and $10. An interesting postmark like
the one on my example (gloat, gloat) should double the value.
Finally, there's a very popular
sideline to ocean liner collecting in North America - collecting
postcards of Great Lakes steamers. Steamers were king before
the railways opened up Ontarios vast interior and the S.S.
Medora, was no exception.
Figure 3: The S.S. Medora is shown on this mint
condition Warwick Bros.
& Rutter postcard.
The Medora was one of the many
vessels operated by the Muskoka Lakes Navigation Company, also
known as NAVCO, in and around the waters of Lake Muskoka, Lake
Joseph and Lake Rosseau.
Founded by Alexander Cockburn
in 1866, the first ship launched by NAVCO was the S.S. Wenonah,
named after Cockburns wife. When Cockburn died in 1905,
NAVCO was one of the largest companies of its kind in North America.
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