A lifetime of collecting - an antique
postcard affair Part 1
By Mike Smith
Most postcard collectors I know caught the "collecting bug"
early in life. It may have started with Dinky toys, Batman comics
or sports card hoarding, but at one point in their lives, they
became serious collectors.
My serious collecting started at age 12, and by the time
I was 14 I had managed to assemble respectable Canadian coin
and stamp collections. By my 20s, it was all stamps. My dream
at the time was to have a complete Canadian collection
all 600 or so different stamps as listed in the current Scott
Catalogue. Alas, not all dreams come true.
Most stamp collectors remember the huge price increases for
Canadian material that shocked us in the late 1970s and early
1980s. I won't get into details, but let's just say that unless
Conrad Black had a daughter I could marry, there was no way I
could afford the 20 or so stamps needed to complete my collection.
As they say, when a door closes often a window opens up.
While complaining about the high cost of stamps to a dealer friend
of mine in Holyrood, Ontario, (Reg Powell of Queen's Bush Stamps),
I was shown a wonderful circa 1910 patriotic postcard (see Figure
1). The design was intriguing, the colours were
spectacular and it was as Canadian as a hockey stick.
I had found a new hobby (deltiology) to satisfy my collecting
bug without having to marry into money. I soon learned that there
was a staggering amount of beautiful antique postcards available,
they were relatively inexpensive (the Figure 1 card was only
$5 at the time) and covered any subject you could imagine.
Figure 1. A beautiful,
multi-coloured and embossed circa 1910 postcard with the Ontario
Red Ensign, twig munching beaver and maple leaves.
Postcards weren't always so pretty. Invented in Austria in 1869
as a novel way to send messages through the post without an envelope,
the first postcards were usually buff coloured, had an imprinted
stamp and very little artistry.
Canada's first postcard, issued June 1, 1871, (see Figure
2), was a little sexier than most of the European versions, but
still quite drab. By the way, Canada was the first country outside
Europe to issue postcards. The USA's first postcard was issued
May 12, 1873.
Figure 2. Canada's first
official postcard, issued June 1, 1871. It was a nice looking
card at the time, but postcard design had a long way to go.
Until the 1890s, the Post Office in Canada had a monopoly on
the manufacture, distribution and sales of postcards. Privately
produced cards could be mailed as "printed matter,"
but could not be called postcards and take advantage of domestic
and international postcard rates. The monopoly ended on New Year's
Day 1895 when Post Office regulations finally allowed privately
produced postcards. This New Year's gift did come with a catch
private postcards had to conform to a restrictive set
The most noteworthy restriction was the ban on putting anything
other than the sender's and recipient's name and address on the
stamp side of the card. By 1897, some of the restrictions were
relaxed and soon pictures, ornate printing and advertising began
to pop up on the stamp side.
The year 1897 was a watershed year for postcard design in Canada.
Every year after, designs got better and better as private publishers
competed for what was becoming a huge business in Canada and
throughout the world. In the days before the telephone, postcard
sending, receiving and collecting was unbelievably popular. Even
after phones were introduced, postcards were nicknamed the "poor
man's telephone" and continued to flourish.
When the Post Office finally amended regulations to allow
the "divided-back" postcard in late 1903, the design
floodgates really opened up. Inaugurated by Britain in 1902,
the divided-back design effectively split the stamp side of a
postcard into two halves. The left half could be used for the
sender's message; the right half was reserved for the recipient's
address (e.g., the postcard in use today). This freed up the
entire flip side of the card for some amazing early 20th century
designs (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. A very attractive
Newfoundland postcard with a painted scene of St. John's harbour
and portrait of Sir Robert Bond, Newfoundland's Prime Minister
from 1900 to 1909.
With the advent of the divided-back postcard, the Golden
Age of postcard collecting in Canada (1904-1914) began. Although
collecting waned significantly after 1914 because of the horrors
of WWI (see Figure 5) and the embargo on German-made cards, the
Golden Age yielded enough cards to satisfy every modern collector.
(Before WWI, German chemistry and printing techniques made her
the most popular manufacturer of postcards for export to the
Thanks to the postcard collecting craze in the Edwardian
era, there is almost a limitless supply of these "miniature
works of art" available to collect and enjoy today. Pick
a theme, a location, publisher or artist and get started!
Figure 4. A British-made WWI postcard commemorating
Canadian battles and victories, including Ypres, Vimy Ridge,
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