A Tough Series of Riverdale Zoo Postcards

by Mike Smith

For postcard nuts like me, there’s always another card to collect, and every year or two another handbook to compile. Every now and then I’m loony enough to try to author two handbooks in the same year. For example, right after delivering the second edition of my Stedman Bros. postcard handbook to the printer this year, I starting working on the second edition of my Warwick Bros. & Rutter handbook.    

I’m sure it’s safe to say that most postcard collectors in Canada have heard of Toronto’s Warwick Bros. & Rutter. This iconic publisher was one of the few in the postcard business during the golden age (1900–1914) that printed most of its own cards. The company was founded by Montreal-born William Warwick in 1848 and by the early 20th century was expert at three- and four-colour printing. Although William Warwick (see Figure 1) was killed in a tragic accident in 1880 at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (now CNE), his widow, sons and their heirs successfully ran the company for decades. 

Figure 1.William Warwick (1833–1880)

Most of what we know about Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcards is due to avid Toronto collector Bill Buchanan. As one of the volunteer archivists at the Toronto Postcard Club when it was founded in 1977, Bill began a decades-long mission to collect and record every Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard he could get his hands on. As a testament to his diligence, before his death in 2012 he managed to record more than 7,300 Warwick’s! One of the tougher series that Bill brought to light had black and white images of various animals housed at Toronto’s Riverdale Zoo (see Figure 2). The cards are numbered on the back from 5770 to 5779, and at least three were reprinted with no numbers. When you do the math, this means that 13 postcards from the zoo series have been recorded thus far. This is an unlikely total for a series so I expect more will turn up over time.   

Figure 2.According to Toronto’s Richard Costello, who provided the image, this Warwick Bros. & Rutter elk postcard is one of the hardest to find in the series.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Warwick Bros. & Rutter’s zoo postcards are tough to find today is that during the golden age they weren’t collected as passionately as the firm’s colour cards. As mentioned earlier, Warwick Bros. & Rutter was very adept at colour printing. As a result, the firm issued some of the most collectible local view and patriotic postcards in Canada before the First World War. While many domestic publishers relied on colour postcards from German companies, with few exceptions Toronto’s Warwick Bros. & Rutter printed all its colour postcards at its plant on 68-70 Front Street West, and later at 57 Spadina Avenue. (The Spadina Avenue plant was part of a huge King-Spadina complex built after the Front Street plant was destroyed in the Great Toronto Fire of 1904.) So even though I find the polar bear postcard shown as Figure 3 very attractive today, maybe golden age collectors would have been happier had the series been printed in colour.

Figure 3. This Warwick Bros. & Rutter polar bear postcard would look great in any postcard album.

Another reason for the relative scarcity of the Riverdale Zoo series could be attributed to how they were retailed. For example, if they were a special order from the zoo itself and only available to visitors on the zoo grounds, this would certainly limit their sales to a captive audience. Again, I’m only speculating here. 

In addition to their relative scarcity, there’s another interesting feature about the zoo postcards worth noting. On the backs of four of the cards it states, “Published by B. M. Woodward, 381 Broadview Ave., Toronto.” Was B. M. Woodward affiliated with the zoo somehow? For the record, B. M. Woodward’s four cards show an alligator, eagle, kangaroo (see Figure 4) and tiger.

Figure 4.“Published by B. M. Woodward” is written on the back of this Warwick Bros. & Rutter kangaroo postcard, and three others in the series.

My favourite Riverdale Zoo postcard is the one showing the Indian elephant (see Figure 5). As a young child, the first live elephant I’d ever seen was at the wonderful zoo in Buffalo, New York. At the time, my parent’s best friends lived in Buffalo, which was just a short drive from the Smith homestead in Niagara Falls. Every time we made the family trip to Buffalo my sister and I would plead to visit the zoo. And I’m happy to say were often accommodated. Suffice to say that the elephant card brings back oodles of happy memories.

Figure 5.  This Warwick Bros. & Rutter elephant postcard is my fave! 

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