Collecting postcards Part 2

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A lifetime of collecting - an antique postcard affair Part 2
By Mike Smith
When I first started collecting postcards many years ago, I diligently searched for cards with Canadian patriotic symbols, slogans or verses to help satisfy my appetite for Canadiana.
In many instances, the view or main image on the card was only a secondary consideration. As long as I could find that maple leaf, beaver, crest, etc. anywhere on a card, no matter how obscure, I had to have it! It wasn't until I started cataloguing postcards for my first book, The Canadian Patriotic Postcard Checklist 1898-1928, that I realized I had inadvertently amassed dozens of wonderful art postcards.
In postcard collecting circles, art cards are postcards with cartoons, caricatures, or reproductions of drawings or paintings, many of which are signed by the artist. For example, Figure 1 shows a circa 1908 Mountie postcard signed by artist John Innes (1863-1941). John Innes was, without a doubt, the most prolific frontier artist in early 20th century Canada. Born in London, Ontario and educated in Canada and at England’s Dufferin Military Academy, Innes excelled in design, drafting and painting. After many interesting “non-art” careers, which included running a ranch in Calgary and working as a correspondent during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), Innes painted an amazing series of frontier scenes while travelling from Ontario to Vancouver via pack train! Many of these paintings are known to today’s collector because they were reproduced as postcards by Toronto publisher W.G. MacFarlane.

Figure 1. A classic Mountie postcard by London, Ontario-born artist John Innes. Six series of John Innes postcards were published by W.G. MacFarlane of Toronto from 1906-1908.
For those interested in collecting scenes of our majestic western peaks, the Rocky Mountain series of postcards by F.M. (Frederick Marlett) Bell-Smith should do the trick (see Figure 2). Bell-Smith was born in London, England and lived there until his family immigrated to Montreal in 1867. After a stint in London, Ontario and art studies in Paris, he finally settled in Toronto where he would eventually become a celebrated Canadian landscape painter.
Bell-Smith was also a founding member of the Society of Canadian Artists, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Western Art League.W.G. MacFarlane published the Bell-Smith Rocky Mountain postcards in 1909. All six cards in the
series are very collectible.
Figure 2. “Fraser Cañon, B.C.” by F.M. Bell-Smith. The word “cañon,” with the accent over the middle “n,” is not a misspelled version of “canyon.” Believe it or not it's a legitimate synonym.

Another very popular artist whose paintings show up on early Canadian postcards is George Horne Russell (1861-1933). Russell was a highly trained artist who immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1889 and lived and worked in Montreal for most of his life. During the summers he painted in New Brunswick at St. Andrews and St. Stephen. He also accepted commissions from Canadian Pacific to paint Rocky Mountain scenes, which were reproduced on advertising posters, etc.

George Horne Russell painted in both oil and watercolour, and his postcards can be easily identified by the signature “GHR” (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. A beautiful postcard of a Quebec harbour scene, signed “GHR” (George Horne Russell). The card is from a series of four by the artist, all published by Valentine & Sons, Ltd., around 1910.

Anyone who attended elementary school in Canada in the 1960s will, with a little prodding, remember the artwork of renowned artist and illustrator C.W. (Charles William) Jefferys (1869-1951). Although an accomplished landscape painter, Jefferys is best known for his illustrations of historical Canadian events, which were reproduced in countless school textbooks, magazines and newspapers.

In addition to gaining fame as an illustrator, his landscape paintings (especially the prairie canvasses) earned him a stellar reputation both here and abroad.
Figure 4 shows a comic hockey postcard from a 10-card set by Jefferys, published by Warwick Bros. & Rutter of Toronto around 1906. Interestingly, I recently learned that Jefferys apprenticed as an illustrator with the Toronto Lithographing Company, which was one of Warwick’s local rivals in the postcard business.

A hockey postcard by renowned Canadian artist C.W. Jefferys.Warwick Bros. & Rutter of Toronto published several series of postcards showcasing art by C.W. Jefferys and other artists. This hockey card is one of my favourites.

Finally, if collecting early Canadian political cartoons is your passion, Brigdens Ltd. of Toronto published a delightful series of postcards in 1911 lampooning Wilfred Laurier’s attempt to negotiate a reciprocity (free trade) deal with the US. One of
the Brigdens’ cards, from an eight-card set drawn by Toronto Daily News political cartoonist E.N. (Elisha Newton) McConnell (1877-1940), is shown in Figure 5.

An anti-free trade postcard drawn by editorial cartoonist Newton McConnell. Anti-free trade propaganda, like that shown in this and other McConnell cartoons, contributed to Laurier’s defeat in the 1911 federal election. The lowly postcard was once referred to as the “poor man’s telephone.” A collection of artist-signed postcards would certainly qualify as a “poor man’s art gallery.”
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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