Memorable Postcards from Previous Articles

By Mike Smith

It’s always a little stressful for me when Sandy Neilly, the Wayback Times’ editor/publisher, pokes me with a stick and asks for a new article. It’s not that I don’t love contributing to her terrific periodical, but I always have trouble coming up with a subject. Even if I wanted to narrow down the field and just discuss Canadian patriotic postcards in every issue, I could spend my whole life writing about them and not even scratch the surface. You see, during the postcard’s golden age (1900–1914) thousands of publishers worldwide printed billions of cards on every subject imaginable. The Edwardians loved these little “text message platforms” so much that one British publication went so far as to call postcard collecting a “mania.” 

Figure 1. This Raphael Tuck & Sons brightly coloured gem with the Ontario flag and 1910 postmark was the first antique postcard in my collection. 

When Sandy mentioned that this would be the Wayback Times 25th Anniversary issue, for obvious reasons I wanted to write something special. So, with a little nudge from her, I decided to peruse all 55 of my previous Wayback Times articles and showcase the “best” five cards of the bunch. Note that these cards aren’t necessarily rare or valuable, or both. What they do have, or rather have had, is a significant impact on me as a collector. For example, I purchased the Figure 1 postcard at a stamp store in Holyrood, Ontario shortly after leaving the navy in the spring of 1981. At the time, I was only interested in adding stamps to my collection but when the affable shopkeeper, Reg Powell, showed me this brightly coloured gem, I was smitten. It became the first antique postcard I ever owned.  

Figure 2. A spectacular First World War propaganda card made in Germany in 1915. Here, a proud German eagle confronts an evil British spider bent on devouring Europe. 

Regular readers of my Wayback Times articles will know that I always mention the years of the postcard’s golden age at some point (e.g., see first paragraph). For obvious reasons, when the First World War began in 1914, recreational pursuits like postcard collecting nosedived. There was, however, one mini “growth spurt” in the hobby during the war. Namely, governments and private publishers went into overdrive producing oodles of very collectible propaganda postcards to motivate citizens and demonize the enemy. Although the Allied Powers (British Empire, France, USA, etc.) won the propaganda war in addition to the war itself, one 1915 German-made postcard series stands out. And I can proudly say that thanks to a surprise birthday gift from my daughter, the best card in the series (see Figure 2) has been sitting in my collection for about a decade.

Figure 3. Canada’s first picture postcard was published in 1895 by Barrie, Ontario’s Alexander Scott. This one was mailed in July of that year.

At first glance, the Barrie, Ontario card shown as Figure 3 doesn’t have a lot of curb appeal. It’s monochrome, grubby and the recipient’s name has been carelessly erased.      On closer inspection though, you’ll notice a nicely engraved vignette, a crisp Queen Victoria stamp, and clear 25 July 1895 postmark. As postmarks go, this is very early considering that private postcards weren’t authorized in Canada until New Year’s Day 1895. You can imagine my excitement when, in an online issue of the June 1908 Bookseller and Stationer magazine, I read that this particular card, published by Barrie’s Alexander Scott, was Canada’s first picture postcard! According to the write-up, “Mr. Scott got the idea from seeing some English cards, had a plate made and the printing was speedily executed . . . Mr. Scott may, therefore, be styled the pioneer in the Canadian picture post card trade, which has developed into such great proportions.”

Figure 4. Goderich celebrity Eloise Ann Skimings is shown in this circa 1905 real photo card made by renowned photographer Reuben R. Sallows.

As a big fan of late 19th and early 20th century colour printing, I don’t collect real photo postcards as a rule. However, one circa 1905 example I’d love to own is of Goderich, Ontario celebrity Eloise Ann Skimings (see Figure 4). Among other things, multi-talented Miss Skimings wrote and taught music, composed a book of poetry, Golden Leaves, in 1890 that was expanded and reprinted in 1904, and worked as a correspondent for the Clinton News Record.  Sadly, as a single woman back then with no family money, she couldn’t support herself as she got older and died in Clinton’s House of Refuge (poorhouse) in 1921. When I first read her story, I was very moved. On the bright side, because of her close relationship with photographer Reuben R. Sallows, you’ll find Miss Skimings on several very collectible golden age postcards. And all the captions proudly call her “The Poetess of Lake Huron.”

Figure 5.  Toronto’s Warwick Bros. & Rutter published this terrific Pembroke Hockey Club postcard around 1904. The players’ names are part of the caption.

Although we officially have two national sports, lacrosse and hockey, I think it’s safe to say that nothing excites Canadians more than hockey. Since we’ve been starved for the sport lately, I thought I’d cap off this article with a classic Pembroke, Ontario hockey postcard (see Figure 5). Cards like this are why it’s hard not to love antique postcards. 

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