Canadian Postcard Publishers Loved German Printers

Mike Smith

Canadian Postcard Publishers Loved German Printers

In my previous Wayback Times article I stated that my interest in golden age (1900–1914) postcards was and continues to be fuelled by the quality of the colour printing. And as I got more and more involved in making handbooks on the bigger Canadian publishers, I learned that almost all of them imported their colour postcards from Germany. For the record, one important exception was Toronto’s Warwick Bros. & Rutter. This firm was one of the very few domestic publishers savvy enough to do its own three- and four-colour printing.

One of the major importers of German-made cards was Brantford’s Stedman Bros. This iconic retailer and publisher started bringing postcards into Canada as early as 1905. By 1908 it had established a solid relationship with one of Germany’s largest and most prolific printers, Emil Pinkau & Co. of Leipzig. With the obvious exception of the First World War years (1914–1918), Stedman Bros. imported Pinkau-made postcards continuously until the 1930s. One of my favourites is the Leamington card shown as Figure 1. According to automotive historian Bill Vance, the vehicle in the foreground is a rare Ford Model K. Succumbing to pressure from one of his wealthier financial backers, Henry Ford reluctantly introduced the large, upscale Model K in 1906. But in 1908, it was displaced by the famous Model T, which Ford made for the masses.

Figure 1.  A rare Ford Model K is shown in this terrific circa 1908 Leamington postcard by Brantford’s Stedman Bros.

Another huge importer of German-made cards was Toronto’s W. G. MacFarlane. Jumping on the postcard bandwagon in 1901, by 1907 MacFarlane had imported so many cards that he could rightly claim to be “Canada’s Greatest Post Card House.” Mostly known for his very popular patriotic and heraldic postcards, MacFarlane also introduced Canadians to many beautiful artist-signed series. Two of the series that I’m very fond of were made from original still-life paintings by talented German artists Catherine Klein (1861–1929) and Clara von Sivers (1854–1954) respectively. At the German printer’s plant, the artwork was reproduced on postcards with a silver background for a very dramatic effect (see Figure 2). Alas, I haven’t yet figured out what German printer or printers were used by MacFarlane, but I keep looking for clues.

Figure 2.  This beautiful W. G. MacFarlane 1907 red rose postcard with an Oshawa overprint was made from an original painting by German artist Catherin Klein.

Although the Catherine Klein and Clara von Sivers still-life postcards imported by MacFarlane from Germany are very attractive, my favourite of MacFarlane’s artist-signed series is one made from paintings of horses by another talented German artist, Alfred Schönian (1856–1936). Although Schönian also painted portraits, fantasy scenes, and worked as an illustrator, his animal paintings truly endear him to today’s collector as they were reproduced in numerous postcard series by various publishers. The card shown as Figure 3, which has a plug for the “Galt Horse Show,” is from a very attractive horse series by Schönian imported by MacFarlane in 1907. 

Figure 3. Another German-made, artist-signed gem imported by W. G. MacFarlane in 1907. The artist here was Alfred Schönian.

With respect to view cards, for the longest while I considered those printed by Emil Pinkau & Co. for Stedman Bros. to be the nicest. In other words, I didn’t expect to find any view cards from any province or territory better looking than those illustrated in my Stedman Bros. handbook. Well, after about 10 months of compiling yet another handbook, this one on the postcards published by Toronto stationer Rumsey & Co., I now have a new favourite German printer – Leipzig’s C. G. Röder. I don’t know what it was about Leipzig, but the printers in this city sure knew how to conjure up some wonderful postcards.

Rumsey & Co. imported its first cards from C. G. Röder around 1909 and continued to do so for the next 20 years. As you can imagine, the lion’s share of Rumsey-published views are of Ontario cities and towns. This makes perfect sense given that Rumsey was in Toronto and, according the 1911 Canadian census, Ontario was our most populous province at over 2.5 million inhabitants. That said, with so many Röder-made Ontario view cards to choose from, it certainly was a challenge to find the best example for this article. But I think the Figure 4 postcard of North Bay’s Queens Hotel fits the bill nicely. This first-class card, whose image was recently emailed to me by good friend and fellow collector Jack de la Vergne, checks all the right boxes.

Figure 4. This scene and colours in this 1911 Rumsey & Co. North Bay postcard are darn near perfect. Germany’s C. G. Röder did the printing.

Finally, don’t miss the 42nd annual Toronto Postcard Club Show at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre on Sunday, February 25th. I’ll have my usual book table there so please come over and say hi.

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