• SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER – WE’RE TAKING THE SUMMER OFF

    September is also when postcard shows resume – in Merrickville (Sept. 9th) and Dundas (Sept 24th).

    Details on our show calendar page.

CANADIAN WORLD WAR I POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

The First World War, the “war to end all wars”, got underway just as the shine was coming off the Golden Age of postcards. While wartime demand extended the postcard’s lease on life, it also changed the nature of the medium. In Canada, at least, postcards after 1913 were less apt than previously to show off the growth of the country’s towns, infrastructure and agriculture. Instead, and not unexpectedly, they dwelt more frequently on the war and its associated sentiments. Those sentiments encompassed both the public emotions of patriotism and more private feelings of estrangement and sadness — in addition to simple curiosity about what the soldier’s lives looked like. Because Great War postcards were so popular, postcard collections are often significant repositories of images of the War, including many that are unusual or unique, as well as of accounts (brief ones, of course) of the experiences of soldiers, recruits, families and friends during and after the long conflict. We were recently contacted by a representative of the Imperial War Museum, the London-based institution, which is currently attempting to record accounts of the conflict that are found on postcards. TPC members and friends who wish to contribute should see their website for details. 

As Remembrance Day is approaching, I’ve assembled a number of postcards from my own collection. They reveal the war years as they appeared to the ordinary men and women of the time and cover some — but by no means all — of the range of what is available to today’s “Great War” collector:

field-ambulance-depot-lines-sewell-camp-1915

Field Ambulance Depot Lines, Sewell Camp, 1915. — Advance Photo Co.

There are countless Canadian postcards depicting life at the camps at which Canadian soldiers received their pre-departure training. Among the largest of these was Camp Sewell — renamed Camp Hughes in 1915. A century later, remnants of its trenches and fixtures are discernible in farmers’ fields along the Trans-Canada Highway east of Brandon, Manitoba. As thousands of recruits passed through Camp Sewell/Camp Hughes, the Advance Photo Co. of Winnipeg was on hand to produce and sell real photo postcards depicting camp life. The number of real photo postcards produced of the camp by Advance (and a handful of other photographers) is unknown, but it is likely in the many hundreds. Despite its momentary prominence in the field of Canadian military photography, almost nothing is known about the Advance Photo Co. It had a brief existence around 1915 and 1916 and produced dozens of real photo postcards of a major flood in Winnipeg in the spring of 1916, but otherwise (it seems) almost nothing else. The company’s unidentified principals are quite possibly the gentlemen in the image below, which (more generally) illustrates how postcard photographers would have operated in such a setting.

souvenir-of-sewell-camp-advance-photo-co-hq-and-staff

Advance Photo Co. office (or, more likely, darkroom) at the Sewell Camp (halftone image from a view book of Camp Hughes produced by the company)

Scenes of departure are another frequently encountered World War I genre. Such postcards are usually real photos, which could be produced virtually on the spot for sale to participants in the event. But they were sometimes considered of sufficiently enduring interest to warrant production as lithographed cards. The following example — depicting the soldiers’ send-off at the Intercolonial Railway station in Truro, Nova Scotia — is by Valentine & Sons, the most prolific producers of picture postcards in Canada (and likely worldwide as well).

troops-leaving-truro-n-s

Valentine & Sons card no. 111,920 adds colour to a scene that we normally see only in monochromatic real photo cards.

Postcards showing such scenes only occasionally include related messages. This, fortunately, is one of the minority that does. The card turns out to have been used by a departing soldier to thank a woman who had prepared a gift packet for him. As part of the war effort, ordinary people were asked to send “care packages” to soldiers, who would then be given their names and would write them to express their appreciation. The package in this case was received by Pte. R. Grant, “C” Company of the 40th Battalion, Valcartier, Quebec, who wrote his benefactor, Mrs. Appleton P. Anderson of Sydney, C.B., as follows: “Mrs. A. P. Anderson:- I, Pte. R. Grant was the recipient of your gift on Friday night to the 40th Battalion. The boys were pleased to see the interest the women of Sydney have taken in providing for their comfort. Yours truly, Pte. R. Grant.” The rather stilted first sentence was likely dictated but the second might represent more of a personal effort. 

The next thing you would have done as a soldier is to board a ship for England, and there are many postcards that depict such departures. Below is a particularly fine example – a real photo – showing soldiers waving goodbye at Saint John, N.B., as they begin the long voyage across the Atlantic. Many of them must have been imagining this moment as the beginning of a great adventure. Whether they continued to be of that view on their return (if they returned) is another matter. The ship is the Caledonia:

transport-caledonia-leaving-st-john-n-b-with-26th-battalion-and-r-column

Transport Caledonia, leaving Saint John with the 26th Battalion and “A” Column (undated) — photo by D. Smith Reid of Saint John.

While in England, solders of the Canadian Expeditionary Force underwent additional training. Postcards were naturally a hot seller; messages to friends and family in Canada were dispatched by the thousands each day. Many of Canada’s soldiers ended up at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent (a dangerous place in its own right as it predictably attracted enemy aircraft bombardment). The postcard below shows Canadian soldiers awaiting a visit from George V:

waiting-for-the-king-at-shorncliffe-c-e-f

“For Cecilie. Cecilie this is the camp where Frank Berry hung out all summer. This is the oldest camp in England. It’s the old original camp from the Beginning of history of war. The King’s favorite camp and where the burying ground [is] of all his fancy horses that die. DAD”

This was published by Upton Publishers of Folkestone, the town adjacent to Shorncliffe camp. “Dad” was correct about the historic nature of the location, as this recent BBC story about Shorncliffe’s uncertain future makes clear.

Once the soldiers had made their way across the channel, the most distinctive form of postcard they sent back was the “silk”, as we’ve recently discussed. This example, though showing signs of age now, is typical inasmuch as it incorporates flags and the current year into an attractive design:

1917-souvenir-from-france

These postcards, known as “silks”, were manufactured by the millions in France and Belgium for sale to soldiers.

This is only a sampling of the types of Great War postcards that can be collected — there are also countless examples associated with individual regiments, real photos of soldiers, images of postwar destruction, anti-Kaiser (and pro-German) propaganda cards and many other types. The final cards, chronologically at least, are those depicting the troops’ return home and the memorials that were erected to the dead. The example below, showing the interior of Montreal’s Windsor Station, nicely combines those two elements. We see a soldier in military dress, nearly alone in the cavernous hall, overwhelmed in the image by the names of the battles in which the C.E.F. fought. Those names were already etched in the country’s consciousness when the postcard was mailed on 24 July 1919 — even though many of those who had fought in the battles were only just then making their way home.

c-p-r-windsor-station-montreal

Ypres. Festubert. The Somme. Vimy. Hill 70. Passchendaele. Amiens. Cambrai. Drocourt-Quéant. Mons.

As the Great War is now passing out of the realm of direct human memory, postcards offer us a tangible connection to the people, events and ideas that defined it.

 

THE SPIRIT OF CHILDHOOD: A CANADIAN POSTCARD (AND AVIATION) MYSTERY

By Andrew Cunningham

Postcard collecting can take you to unexpected destinations. This post is about how postcards dragged me off into suburban Canada of the 1930s. A few years ago, as part of my collecting focus on my hometown of Winnipeg, I picked up an unused real photo postcard that seemed, initially, to be of rather minor interest. It depicted a little girl seated in a replica airplane, evidently designed for children. The craft was emblazoned with the words “The Spirit of Childhood” and “Winnipeg 1934”. The setting was the public sidewalk out front of a house of an exceedingly common local style: 934 something street; or maybe 334. Unidentifiable, in other words.

the-spirit-of-childhood-winnipeg-1934

The Spirit of Childhood, taking off from a Winnipeg sidewalk circa 1934.

I filed it away and, I will admit, soon forgot all about The Spirit of Childhood. That is, until a few months ago, when to my surprise I came upon a second similar postcard. This one featured two girls in another replica airplane, which again proclaimed “The Spirit of Childhood”. But this time it wasn’t Winnipeg. It was “Vancouver 1934”.

spirit-of-childhood-vancouver-1934

Vancouver’s Spirit of Childhood has managed to attract a passenger and a co-pilot.

How odd. What was going on? Were these planes constructed from a kit ordered from (say) Eaton’s or the Bay? Not likely, it seemed — their construction and painted lettering were similar but not by any means identical. And yet it certainly appeared that they had been designed with reference to a common model and, one would presume, owed their name ultimately to Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Since then, I’ve discovered several more examples of The Spirit of Childhood online. The Peel Collection at the University of Alberta shows four postcards of this genre (for a genre it appears to be). One card is emblazoned with “Edmonton 1931” and there are also three Calgary examples, one whose date is not captured in the photo and two that respectively represent the years 1936 and 1937. The last image that my Googling uncovered shows a similar scene of a plane that doesn’t have a painted reference to a city or a year, but which apparently came from the Yukon Territory.

One useful result of this search was the revelation that the difference between “my” two planes does not, after all, mean that the designs were one-offs. In fact, if you look closely at the images linked above (plus my pair), it appears that there were two models of these planes. The “Vancouver” model appears virtually identical to Edmonton 1931, Calgary 1937, Calgary 193? and the Yukon plane, while the “Winnipeg” model looks the same as Calgary 1936. So now we are left with seven planes in two designs, dating from 1931 to 1937 and each being the subject of photographic postcards in a similar style. By that I mean that every single one of the photos has been taken on a sidewalk in front of a house — a natural place for the plane to be, I suppose, but you’d think that the odds would be that at least one out of seven photographers would have decided on some other equally good location. To speculate: could the photos have been intended for submission to an organization — to the manufacturer or a retailer, for example — as part of a contest the rules of which specified how the required photo was to look? Frankly, I haven’t a clue.

Another thing to note is that — going by what shows up in the first few results returned by Google — there don’t seem to be any U.S. examples, or examples from eastern Canada. Surely that must mean something….

But all I have at this point is that these planes were made from some sort of plan or kit, that there were at least two designs in use, and that these were distributed across Western Canada in the 1930s. They may have been intended to represent something about Canadian aviation, but — if that’s the case — I’m not sure what.

Anyone who might be able to shed some light on this aviation mystery is welcome to submit a comment!

 

POSTCARD DIGITIZATION (AND SOME STARS OF YESTERYEAR!)

By Andrew Cunningham

The Winnipeg Public Library is engaged in a major postcard digitization project, based (thus far) on the collections of two TPC members – Rob McInnes and the late Martin Berman. The postcard images that have been uploaded so far are available on the Library’s impressive Past Forward website. In the course of working on the collection, one of the librarians, Christy, unearthed a great story after finding a postcard written from Winnipeg by an early twentieth-century actress who went by the stage name Ruth Maycliffe. Ruth’s story, together with some context from Christy about to the Library’s impressive project, is recounted in this post on the Library’s “Readers’ Salon” blog. It’s well worth reading.

Postcards of popular stage personalities were collected with great enthusiasm at the height of the postcard craze (roughly 1905-1910). However, because the names are rarely recognizable to us, today’s collectors often don’t show much interest in the cards that depict them. That’s unfortunate, because with a little online research performers’ publicity postcards often yield up interesting stories. Not infrequently, the careers of the vaudeville-era actors who appeared on early 20th century postcards carried on right into the television era. As a random example, one very Edwardian-looking music-hall actress whose postcard somehow ended up in my collection turned out, on further investigation, to have been a guest star in several episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (playing a very old lady, of course!)

Below is a typical card of this genre, a “Philco” effort showing the (once) famous Dare sisters — Phyllis (1887-1975) and Zena (1890-1975) — together with their mother, Harriette Dones. These cards were especially popular in England, with major publishers constantly issuing new series featuring West End actors, sometimes (as below) in the fashions of the day and sometimes as they had appeared in their most recent or most famous roles:

the-misses-zena-phyllis-dare-mother

By the way, we’re always interested to hear about postcard digitization projects from anywhere in Canada (or anywhere else if the subject-matter would interest our members). Please send us a note if you know of any that aren’t mentioned on our site.

CARD TALK – FALL 2016 HIGHLIGHTS

By Andrew Cunningham

The Toronto Postcard Club publishes a 24-page magazine, Card Talk, thrice annually. The latest issue, Fall 2016, is on newsstands now! Well, not exactly on newsstands, because the only way to get a copy — quite literally, as we can’t afford to print any extras — is to join the Club. Just to rub it in a bit for those of you who haven’t yet joined, here’s a little summary of what you could be reading right now if only you had! (Of course, there are more great issues to come, so all is not lost if you become a member today!) For current members, you’ll find some of the links mentioned in the articles in this edition here, so you don’t have to search for them or type them out yourselves.

Dominion Land Office, Moose Jaw, Canada

A Lewis Rice postcard from Moose Jaw, posted in the summer of 1911.

First up is an article written by your editor, the second in our series of short pieces about Canada’s local postcard photographers. Last issue we featured Donald Buchanan of Arcola, Saskatchewan. This time around, it’s Lewis Rice (1863-1913), one of Canada’s better known independent producers of lithographed postcards on account of his prodigious output of images of the Moose Jaw district of Saskatchewan (occasionally ranging as far away as southern Alberta). This article, however, focuses on his less well-known earlier career in Nova Scotia, where he produced view books and postcards in and of the Town of Truro and surrounding areas. Looking at Rice’s pre-Saskatchewan life, we find that he was from a Cape Breton family that had produced many professional photographers, including a brother George who gained fame — unfortunately posthumously — as photographer to the ill-fated Greely expedition to Canada’s Arctic in 1883-84.

The second article is an expanded account of our May 16, 2016 meeting on printing techniques. This was one of our best meetings ever, with a great talk by Stephen Sword on the history and technical details of the printing techniques that allowed our little treasures to exist. Beginning with the story of Alois Senefelder‘s invention of lithography in late 18th century Germany, Stephen proceeded to talk about the development of chromolithography and other processes such as the collotype (a gelatine-based process that gave us some of the most attractive monochrome postcards). The article summarizing his presentation, written by the TPC’s Barb Henderson, notes a number of sources for further information, such as Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on the halftone process and a website called “Legion of Andy”, which has a number of very useful posts (such as this one) on halftone screens and “Ben Day dots” in the context of comic-book art.

After an account of recent postcard shows in Montreal and London (U.K.) by long-time TPC member Bob Atkinson, including a real photo postcard obtained by Bob showing a patriotic parade in an unknown Ontario city (below left — any guesses as to where this is?), this edition of Card Talk moved on to an article based on another excellent talk from earlier this year, member Ian Robertson’s carefully researched account of the history of the International Stationery Co., a prodigious postcard producer based in Picton, the historic seat of Prince Edward County in Ontario. Ian recounted the tale of his 35-year quest to find out everything there is to know about this well-known company and its founder, James Livingstone, who owned a chain of small department stores in Picton and other towns, each trading as “The Fair”.

PAGES 10-11 - Postcard Shows - Figure 8 (Celebration in unidentified city)

Which city is this? (Click to enlarge)

The quintessential International Stationery card, illustrated here (below, at right) by an example showing a scene in Windsor, Ontario, is a collotype on a sepia coloured card stock. While this would have been ordered from a manufacturer in Germany, as the majority of Canada’s printed postcards were before World War I, it is strongly associated with Livingstone’s International Stationery Co. because this design was rarely if ever used by other Canadian postcard producers. One of the strong points of Ian’s research is simply that he had the good sense to get started early. As a result, back in the 1980s, he was able to interview several people with first-person memories of how postcards were ordered and sold at “The Fair”. Sources who directly recollect that era have long since disappeared and it has sadly become impossible to do similar research on “Golden Age” postcard companies in the 2010s. But Ian’s discoveries, as set out in the article, include information about production and distribution that would likely apply to many other Canadian producers and sellers.

Ferry Landing, Windsor, Ont.

Ferry Landing, Windsor, Ont. (posted 1914). Its sepia-toned look is common to most postcards published by the International Stationery Co.

A couple of shorter pieces about the First World War are also to be found in this issue. One of them, written by TPC executive member John Sayers, brings to light the very interesting story of the False Armistice. While today we often think of November 11, 1918 as the day when a seemingly interminable war crashed to a sudden stop, in point of fact rumours of the impending end of hostilities had been rampant for quite some time. On November 7, it turns out, a false alarm went out to the whole world in the form of an erroneous United Press newswire story out of Paris. Newspapers around the world joyfully reported that the war had ended, in some cases issuing their already-printed “The War Is Over!” special editions — when in fact the war was still “on”. In the Ontario town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the happy celebrations were recorded in real photo postcard form, four days early! John happened to see these postcards while visiting a local museum and has kindly shared them, and the story they represent, with us.

PAGES 17-19 - Border - Figure 02 (Treaty of 1818)

The Historical Calendar Advertising Co. of New York published a series of postcards featuring historical lessons for each day of the year. This card commemorates the Treaty of 1818 that established the 49th parallel as the U.S.-Canadian boundary west of the Lake of the Woods.

Finally, your editor contributed an article on postcards depicting the Canada-U.S. border. From cards showing border markers, to historical/educational cards commemorating the anniversary of the historic Treaty of 1818, to images of such “border oddities” as the split U.S./Canada post office in the Quebec/Vermont border town of Beebe Plain, to cards championing U.S. immigration into the Canadian prairie provinces, images of the border are plentiful in Canadian postcards, and collectively form a worthwhile area of sub-specialization.

In addition to these stories are smaller notes on postcard happenings and the usual calendars of events, advertisements and other regular features that make Card Talk such a great value.

EMBROIDERED SILK POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

Among the most beautiful collectible postcards are embroidered “silk” cards, the vast majority of which were made in France and Belgium during the First World War and sold mainly to British Empire and U.S. troops. The cards featured colourful imagery, such as the butterfly in the example below. Most of the designs — although by no means all of them — incorporated militaristic or patriotic elements, such as the four national symbols embroidered into the butterfly’s wings in our example. Because so many “silks” were produced, and because they were usually retained as keepsakes, they are more common than one might expect (and not always quite as valuable as those who find one or two in “Grandma’s album” tend to hope).

As the website of the Imperial War Museum in London notes, the most sought-after cards tend to be rarities with imagery specific to particular regiments (including many Canadian examples, as TPC member Mike Smith recently discussed in the Wayback Times). Also worth checking out is this site featuring choice examples from the collection of a British deltiologist. World War I silk postcards, including those with Canadian themes, are a terrific collecting area that, with a little time and effort, could produce a beautiful and historically informative collection at a relatively modest cost.

[WW I butterfly silk]

Butterflies were one common motif on World War I silk postcards, typically with flag elements worked into the stitching of the wings.

HOCKEY-PLAYING FELLERS…

By Andrew Cunningham

Just to follow up on John Sayers’ baseball mystery, I thought I’d tell a tale of my own that shows how much fun it can be to solve a postcard puzzle of just that sort.


Mine is about the boys of winter, not the boys of summer, though. A few months back, I acquired a rather ragtag group of ice hockey postcards, most of which seemed to date from 1910-1940. They weren’t early NHL or Stanley Cup treasures or anything as desirable as that. Instead, they mostly seemed to depict school and local players (or entire teams) from Quebec and New Brunswick. A smaller number were from Ontario and a scattering of U.S. border states, and still others were simply unidentified and, so far at least, unidentifiable. (Actually, I should add — if only by way of warning — that many of them had been misidentified, possibly deliberately, by a past seller who seemed to have decided to “identify” the cards with the name of a randomly-chosen school or town whose first letter conveniently matched with the letter in the monogram on the team’s sweater. Hockey sweaters in those days almost always featured either a large plain letter or an artistic “monogram” design made up of a letter or letters — think the “CH” of the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins’ spoked-“B” — both are survivors from that period.)

This particular card was one of several teams whose identities I was able to pinpoint, eventually, and (in this case) after having learned a lot about a little known corner of Canadian history.

[Baptist hockey team]

The card shows what is clearly a high school team, with its gentlemanly teacher-coach. A noteworthy feature of the card, which would have required a bit of photographic expertise and effort to achieve, is that one player is shown in an inset photo. There is nothing to say which team it is and the monogram visible on the team’s sweaters is one of those that isn’t easy for the modern eye to interpret.

But … there was a big clue. The names of the players — all but one — had dutifully been recorded on the reverse:

Back Row:

Hamilton
C. Cook
Nel. Auclair
Mr. Massé, pastor
M. Larivière
L. Brouillet
E. Jones

Front Row:

Groundwater
B. McCann
J. Derrick
[not named]
J. Hughes

The boy in the inset photo — who proved to be the key to solving the mystery — was named in full: Leslie Isaacks. 

A search on Ancestry.ca quickly revealed the sad news that a Leslie Raymond Isaacks, schoolboy, had died at Kingston, Ontario on 16 June 1931 at the age of 16. Leslie was a son of Charles and Sophie Isaacks, English immigrants who were Baptists — an important detail, as it turned out.

The information about Leslie Isaacks was interesting, but something didn’t fit. If this was a high school in Kingston, why were so many of the surnames French-Canadian? Another curious fact struck me: “Mr. Massé” is described as “pastor”. Not a priest but a pastor. It sounded as though, very unusually for someone who was (presumably) French-Canadian, he might have been a Protestant … and quite possibly a nonconformist Protestant, such as a Baptist (Leslie Isaacks’ religion, as I’d just discovered).

Hmm… I checked online for the next most complete and distinctive name: Nelson Auclair. Ancestry.ca yielded up the lad’s birth registration, which was in Marieville near St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Sure enough, young Nelson was also a Baptist. Moreover, he had been baptized in 1913 by none other than G. N. Massé, pasteur.

Searching for G. N. Massé on Google brought to light the interesting history of French-Canadian Baptists in Quebec and particularly of the Feller Institute (or College), established in the 1840s in what was then Canada East by Baptist missionaries from Switzerland. An old history of Quebec’s French-speaking Baptists found online (in a very poorly OCR’d version) tells the interesting story of the Swiss Baptists’ arrival in Lower Canada and the not always welcoming response of local Catholics. It also makes reference to G. N. Massé and his brother, Arthur Massé. Wikipedia recounts the later history of Feller College, which was located in the village of Grande-Ligne south of Montreal (since renamed St-Blaise-sur-Richelieu), down to 1967, when it closed for good.

So, the pastor in the photo is one of the Massés, or perhaps a son who followed them in a life of service to the church. And that hard-to-interpret monogram is an “F”, for “Feller”.

Why then is Leslie in an inset? Well, it appears from his death certificate that he had been undergoing treatment in Kingston, his hometown, for two months prior to his death in June. So perhaps he had had to leave his mates behind in Quebec before the team photo could be taken and, not wishing to forget him, they had the photographer insert a photo that had previously been taken of him in a track or basketball uniform. If so, that would plausibly date this image to the winter or spring of 1931.

Another mystery solved. And here’s to Leslie and his friends, the Feller College hockey team. They’d have to be at least 100 years old to be alive today, but I’d be willing to bet that for as long as they may each have lived, not one of them ever forgot their lost teammate.

BALLPARK MYSTERY

By John Sayers

We love baseball. We love our home team (except occasionally when they blow it in the 9th inning!). We have friends that have travelled to every ball park in the majors – plus a half a dozen that are no longer being used! They have even been to some of the Double A and Triple A ballparks.

Even though we don’t collect that subject ourselves, we get entranced when we find an image like the one shown here. It looks like a ball park, but there doesn’t seem to be a backstop behind home plate. There is a player in a white shirt who seems to be hitting practice balls to the infield – and maybe the outfield that we can’t see. There is a film camera behind home plate. And there’s a police officer on horseback, and other officers on foot for ‘crowd control’.

Ballpark Mystery (Sayers)

There is a big crowd. It looks like 1920s – or maybe 1930s. The few women spectators are wearing hats. The men spectators are wearing an assortment of hats – including fedoras, caps, and ‘pork pie’ hats. Are the men on the field playing ball – or making a baseball film?

This was a very good sized stadium for its day, and so must have been in a major American city. But which one was it?

O.K. you ball fans out there. Where the heck is this?

CHEER UP!

By John Sayers

CheerUp

It seems that even a hundred years ago many people needed cheering up. This Canadian Pacific postcard was produced and created in 1910. On the face of this card Canadian Pacific suggested some reasons for their readers to ‘Cheer up’. One of them was ‘Wheat Growing’. The other was ‘Money Flowing’. Hey, that’s not too different from today! The farmers are watching the skies intently for the needed rain to nurture their crops. And the rest of us are looking at our VISA statements and our bank accounts hoping that money will flow from somewhere to deal with the costs of our surprise expenses – or our spending excesses.

You’re thinking that it’s only a postcard – how can that cheer you up? Well, it tells you that over the intervening hundred-plus years, you aren’t the only one who has had to grapple with difficult crops or daunting debts. And you probably won’t be the last. But if they survived – and most did – a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work will help you to smile through it all. So cheer up!

GOVERNMENT AGENT CARDS – A CLUE TO THEIR ORIGIN

By Andrew Cunningham

Twice in its illustrious history — in 1981 and 2013 — the TPC’s magazine Card Talk (free to Club members!) has featured an intriguing set of Prairie postcards known as “Government Agent Cards”. These postcards are so called because their distinctive backs reveal them to have been part of the Dominion Government’s effort to promote immigration to the newly opened farming districts of the Canadian West, with recipients of the cards being urged by the printed text to obtain more information “from any Canadian Government Agent”. Here are the front and back of one of the series of 35 known cards, entitled “Home of Mr. Nelson Bedford, Glengross Manitoba, Canada.”:

Home of Mr. Nelson Bedford, Glengross, Manitoba, Canada

Mr. Bedford’s well-established farm may have been in operation for 40 years by the time of this image, making it an attractive candidate for “immigration propaganda” use. This might have been one of the oldest farms on the Prairies outside the immediate vicinity of Winnipeg.

Home of Mr. Nelson Bedford, Glengross, Manitoba, Canada [back]

The postcard may have been handed out as a “freebie” by the Devon Shipping Bureau in an effort to drum up business.


As is still the case, giveaway postcards were often not valued by their recipients and would often end up being used for minor notes such as this. A distinguishing feature of most of the Government Agent cards, illustrated by the Nelson Bedford example, is that they depict specific farms and actually name the owners. In this case, Mr. Bedford turns out to have been one of the earliest (1870s-era) settlers in the Morden, Manitoba district, just a few miles up from the North Dakota line. The reference to “Glengross” should read “Glencross”, but even with that correction the name might not mean much to those in the area today as the Glencross P.O. closed for good in 1909 (by which time Mr. Bedford himself had been dead for two years, after a life that was apparently marked by tragedy).

In my experience, these cards tended to be collected rather than actually mailed, making the well-used example above somewhat uncommon. Of the 28 Government Agent cards in my collection, only 7 were posted — 5 in England and 2 in Canada. An eighth card was presented to a pupil at a school in Oxfordshire as a prize for composition. The predominance of English uses suggests that (as we might have expected) the cards were produced primarily for overseas distribution to potential emigrants.

But when were these cards actually produced, and for how long did the Government distribute them? The postmark dates in my collection suggest fairly specific (if tentative) answers to each of those questions:

Canadian uses

INDIAN HEAD, ASSA. – Sept. 12, 1905

WINNIPEG, MAN. – Nov. 18 [year not readable]

English uses

ROCHESTER, KENT – Oct. 30, 1905

DERBY – Nov. 14, 1905

MELTHAM – Nov. 25, 1905

BANBURY (Hornton National School, prize card) – Dec. 1, 1905 (ink-stamped date)

EXETER – Dec. 19, 1905 (the Nelson Bedford card)

OXFORD – May 9, 1906 (sent by someone actually departing for a 3 month tour of Canada)

Amazingly, all but one of the dated cards from the U.K. were used within a period of about 50 days in 1905. Assuming that the missing year on the Winnipeg card was 1905, the Sept. 12 and Nov. 18 dates of the two Canadian uses suggest the entirely unsurprising possibility that the series was distributed a little earlier in Canada. But it seems that we can date the production of the cards, if only tentatively, to the spring or summer of 1905.

Fortunately, a piece of corroborating evidence has emerged, in the form of a short item published in The Winnipeg Tribune on July 24, 1905. The note appears to refer to a set of cards that is surely these selfsame Government Agent Cards — if only because three of the bird’s-eye views mentioned match the three known examples of bird’s-eye images in the Government Agent set.

The article suggests that this “innovation” may have been the product of the Winnipeg branch of the Dominion immigration department:

Immigration Department cards WT 240705p12

Note that the Calgary bird’s eye view doesn’t appear in the list provided by Philip Francis and the late Wayne Curtis in the 2013 Card Talk article, so perhaps that is the 36th card in the series. [ed. Alas, no! See our update post!]

Besides the identity of the printers and the exact number of cards in the series, two great mysteries remain about the Government Agent set: who took the photos and why these particular farms? To these questions I have no answer, other than a very small piece of evidence that Alfred J. Sutton (later of the postcard publisher Gowen Sutton in Vancouver) might possibly have had some involvement. But — to look on the “glass half full” side — we now know that the cards were printed around June or July of 1905 and can further hypothesize (with some “poetic licence” and all due caution) that, after a few had leaked out around Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the bulk of them were shipped off to England for distribution mainly in relatively prosperous counties in the southern half of the country (perhaps with a view to attracting “the right kind” of farmer). Getting the cards into circulation in England must have involved a fairly intensive and concentrated effort by someone over a few weeks in late October and early November 1905.

If anyone can fill in more dates and more places in England and Canada (or elsewhere), we can test and, as warranted, correct the hypothesis! Please feel free to leave a comment if you can help.

THE DEAD ONES MYSTERY

By John Sayers

Sometimes postcards are the leading edge of trends. Sometimes you just can’t be sure. And that’s the case with this postcard featuring ‘Dead Ones’. What’s it about?

Dead Ones (front)

What’s this card about?

The card is postmarked from Osceola, Nebraska in 1908. “Where the heck is that”, you ask? A reasonable question, since a bit of internet research shows that Osceola’s population peaked in 1920 at 1,200 people and by 2010 that number had declined to 880. So it’s a small, unimportant town in Midwest America.

Reportedly Osceola had a major fire in 1895 which left only two buildings in town standing. But that was a full 13 years before this card was sent, so it would be a little late to have anything to do with the fire. The mystery must have had another solution.

These two people are in an automobile. Was the postcard memorializing a fatal car crash? I don’t think so. There are postcards of major disasters, but not of automobile fatalities. Let’s look again. If you looked carefully, you would have seen what I did when I bought this card several years ago – even though it had nothing to do with what I collect.

Mystery solved. My thesis is that this is an anti-smoking postcard. Ironically, it would be just as timely today as it was 108 years ago. The message makes no reference to the image on the front, so presumably the belief was that this card would speak for itself. It’s certainly a long way from the ‘pretty’ card that the sender reports receiving from the addressee, but it’s an amazing piece of social history.

Dead Ones (back)

Reverse of the postcard, posted 20 June 1908 at Osceola, Neb.