There’s Always Another Postcard

Mike Smith

Legendary Irish author and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “A cigarette is the perfect type of perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?” As an ex-smoker I know exactly what he meant. As a postcard collector, I’d be inclined to make postcards the subject of the Wilde quote. Don’t get me wrong, postcard collecting would never leave me unsatisfied in a negative sense. But after more than 40 years in this wonderful hobby, I’ve learned never to be too sure that I have all the cards associated with a particular set or series. For example, when I began collecting postcards in 1981, one of the first patriotic series that caught my eye was published by London, England’s C. W. Faulkner & Co. during the postcard’s golden age (1900–1914). At the time, this very attractive series was known to have a dozen cards. Well, it took me a few years but I eventually had all of them in my collection. For my money, the best of the original 12 is shown as Figure 1.

Figure 1. General James Wolfe and crests from Canada’s four original provinces are shown in this patriotic postcard by Britain’s C. W. Faulkner & Co.

I had to say “original 12” in the previous paragraph because by the time I finished compiling my first patriotic postcard handbook in 2003, the series quantity had increased to 16. And when I wrapped up my second patriotic postcard tome 10 years later, four more cards had been added. So that makes 20 in total, right? Nope, I’ve added two more cards to the series in the recent past (see Figure 2), boosting the quantity to 22. That said, given that most postcards were sold in packets of six during the golden age, I fully expect to add two more cards to this series at some point. Or maybe there are 30 of them, or even 36? Eek!

Figure 2. Admiral Jackie Fisher, Canada’s Blue Ensign and other British Empire flags are shown in this “newbie” C. W. Faulkner & Co. patriotic postcard.

The point I’m trying to make here is that most of the antique postcards sitting in collections today were made by private sector publishers whose production records have never turned up, if they existed at all. In other words, with few exceptions one never really knows if a postcard collection is complete. And funnily enough, this is why I find this hobby so alluring. There’s always another postcard surprise.      

Here’s another example. Most postcard collectors are familiar with England’s iconic Raphael Tuck & Sons. The Tuck firm, which in the years before the advent of the postcard had received a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria for its fine greeting cards, became one of the world’s leading postcard publishers once private postcards were authorized in Britain in 1894. Adolph Tuck, son of company founder Raphael Tuck, and managing director of the firm in the heyday of the postcard, hired many prominent artists to design postcard series. Harry and Arthur Payne, Lance Thackery, Norah Drummond, and R. Caton Woodville were just some of the artists that helped launch the now famous “Oilette Series” of Tuck postcards in 1903. As the name implies, Oilettes were high quality postcards reproduced from original oil paintings.

One of the first Oilette postcards I acquired was made from a terrific Harry Payne oil painting with the caption “Defenders of the Empire 1914–1915.” Because Payne’s very detailed artwork included several Canadian soldiers, I was very excited to add this little gem to my First World War postcard collection. Well, a few years later I was delighted to learn that a version of this classic card had been issued with a “Victory” overprint (see Figure 3). Needless to say, I’ve been watching for overprints on Tuck postcards ever since.

Figure 3. The “Victory” overprint on this classic Raphael Tuck & Son’s postcard by artist Harry Payne created a completely new collectible.

“One for the ages” is how I’d like to describe my most recent and spectacular postcard discovery. While cataloguing the postcards issued by Toronto’s Pugh Manufacturing Co. for a new handbook, I came across a completely unknown patriotic postcard with an image of the Jarvis Street headquarters building occupied by the firm in 1909 (see Figure 4). To say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. When I sent its image around to fellow collectors and half a dozen dealers for comment, they were just as stunned. How could such a fantastic Canadian postcard remain hidden until now? One dealer speculated that this card may have been issued as a salesman’s sample and not released to the public. Regardless, it’s the latest surprise addition to the hobby. And as Oscar Wilde said, “What more can one want?”

Figure 4. A recently discovered, 1909 patriotic postcard with the Pugh Mfg. Co.’s new Toronto headquarters. The building has a huge “Picture Post Cards” sign

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