Recipe, Menu and Other Postcards from a Master Collector

By Mike Smith

One of the great things about long-established hobbies like coin, stamp and postcard collecting is that these wonderful pastimes usually have one or more clubs associated with them. With respect to postcards, I’m aware of four major clubs in Ontario, at least one in Quebec, and one in British Columbia. I mention this because club membership has not only contributed to my knowledge of postcards, it has also allowed me to make friends with some of Canada’s greatest collectors. Ontario’s Wayne Curtis, Bill Angley, Bill Buchanan, Steven Hilditch and Andrew Cunningham come to mind, as well as Quebec’s Wally Gutzman and British Columbia’s Philip Francis. These gentlemen, and other magnanimous club members, have not only shared their expertise with me, they have been the source of many of the illustrations in my postcard handbooks.

Of all the collectors mentioned above though, I have to single out Wayne Curtis. Wayne was one of the few collectors I knew (he passed away in 2015) who specialized in darn near every important postcard subject. I actually don’t think there was a card he didn’t like. In his home in Oakville, Ontario there were two large spare bedrooms almost completely filled with album-laden bookcases. For me, entering each room was like stepping into a postcard archive at an important institution. And unlike the protocol at an institution, Wayne always let me take home as many albums as I needed for my book projects. 

Figure 1. An attractive 1930s CNR postcard with the recipe for “Chicken à la Stanley.”

One of the albums I discovered in Wayne’s “archive” contained some really attractive recipe postcards published by the Canadian National Railway (CNR) in the 1930s. As you can see in Figures 1 & 2, the cards show the interior of a CNR dining car and either have a vertical recipe card or an angled recipe card held by a chef. Since only one of the many CNR cards in Wayne’s collection was actually postmarked, I’m not sure if these two card styles were published simultaneously or in sequence. My guess is that the series with the chef came later as it’s an improved design.

Figure 2. Another 1930s CNR postcard with a chef holding the recipe for “Braised Duck with Olives.” 

  For the record, the backs of Figures 1 and 2 each have an image of a CNR train engine, with the Figure 2 design indicating that the engine is a “6100 Class.” And just when you thought these cards couldn’t get more interesting, there’s a series of each card type completely in French. As to the origin of the “Chicken à la Stanley” recipe in Figure 1, alas it appears to have nothing to do with our beloved Lord Stanley of Stanley Cup fame. I found it online in the 1918 edition of Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

In another one of Wayne Curtis’s jam-packed albums, there were numerous advertising postcards issued by Canadian Pacific Air Lines.  For those old enough to remember, at one time Vancouver-based Canadian Pacific Air Lines was Air Canada’s most robust rival. Rebranded as CP Air in 1968, by the 1980s the airline was in financial trouble. According to Wikipedia, in 1986 it merged with St. John’s-based Eastern Provincial Airways (EPA), and merged yet again with Dorval-based Nordair and Calgary-based Pacific Western Airlines (PWA) in 1987. Thirteen years later this venerable airline was purchased by long-time rival Air Canada and disappeared from the landscape.

Figure 3. A 1950s-60s Canadian Pacific Air Lines postcard with a breakfast menu. Due to its patriotic theme, this card is collectible on several levels.

Among the Canadian Pacific Air Lines cards in Wayne’s album were two pretty little menu cards whose patriotic theme caught my eye right away (see Figures 3 & 4). Although the cards were not postmarked, they have a 1950s-60s look about them and do sport the pre-1968 “Canadian Pacific Air Lines” moniker. 

Figure 4. A similarly-designed Canadian Pacific Air Lines card, this one with a bilingual dinner menu. 

Finally, one of Wayne Curtis’s biggest collecting passions was Canadian artist-signed postcards. For those not familiar with the term, these were cards made by publishers from original artwork. One of the most important publishers in this genre was Britain’s iconic Raphael Tuck & Sons. This firm introduced its famous “Oilette” series of postcards in 1903, which at the time were described as “veritable miniature oil paintings” and the “aristocrats of picture postcards.” Although there was no Raphael Tuck & Sons equivalent in Canada at the time, we did publish a fair amount of artist-signed postcards during the golden age (1900–1914) and beyond. And I’d like to cap off this article by showing one of the pleasant surprises I found in one of Wayne’s albums. It’s a card published by J. C. McClymont’s Wholesale Smallwares of Huntsville, Ontario (see Figure 5). The card’s publisher may be nondescript, but the artist/illustrator was none other than Francis (later Franz) Johnston, a member of Canada’s famous Group of Seven. 

Figure 5. This circa 1915 artist-signed comic postcard was drawn by famous Canadian Group of Seven artist Franz Johnston

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