• POSTCARD EVENTS

    ‘Tis the season for a pause but you can often find postcards at stamp shows or antique shows.
    Use the links to search for one near you.

    Next Meeting Sat. Jan 12th, 1pm  – AGM & Meet ‘n Greet Social Details here. 

     

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. 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.


Addendum, November 5, 2017

Barb Henderson of the TPC sends along a great image of a leather “Dead One” (back and front), postmarked at Toronto in 1906. She comments that, with the information we learned from this discussion, postcards of this odd type now make more sense… 

Where do postcards come from, Mommy?

By John Sayers

Where do postcards come from, Mommy?

Hey, that’s just one of the delicate questions from their children that Mommy or Daddy has to answer! In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words – and a lot of embarrassed er…uh…mumbling.

They can tell Julie – or Johnny – that many, many years ago postcards came from shops like this one in Paris. See the youngster looking at the choices? Well, you will also note the serious woman watching him closely, in this era well before video surveillance! Video was not known, but theft was.

Postale Galérie

POSTALE GALERIE. 186, Rue de Rivoli.   “Paris, France – 1906”

How will he decide on which card to purchase? Well, it’s not unlike when you have to decide what you’re going to select from Netflix or other video providers. It isn’t easy.

Today’s postcards are fewer in number, but we still have the survivors of the billions of postcards printed in the era of this picture as well as today’s production. Great images. Great history. Great hobby!

P.S. In case the 1906 date on the postcard makes you think you’re a bit late to get your postcards, it appears that some may still be available! Click the link – 186, rue de Rivoli seems to be the address of the first two or three shops in the Streetview image.

 

Soldier Stan (1916)

By Andrew Cunningham

Borrowing an idea from the Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge Regional Post Card Club‘s informative newsletter, we are going to feature postcards dating from exactly 100 years ago (we’ll make it 110 years, or some other round number, if there’s a good candidate from an even earlier era).

Given that we’re the Toronto Postcard Club, let’s start with a card with a great local postcard from a relatively rare publisher. The chief interest of this card is its message about a recent First World War enlistee whom the writer regarded as just about as unlikely a warrior as there could ever be.

Postcard published by H. H. Tammen Co. Ltd., Toronto (No. 5141)

Early Morning on the Water Front, TorontoPublished by H. H. Tammen Co. Ltd., Toronto (No. 5141)

On July 18, 1916, a young lady named Florence, resident at 506 Dundas Street in Toronto, posted this card to Miss Lizzie Kinmond of Tiverton, Ont., with the following message:

Dear Lizzie, I know you will feel very sorry to hear my news. Stan our old friend has enlisted. I saw him in Kahki [sic] last night + it was a great shock. Perhaps you knew all about it though. But you can imagine him sailing off in one of these boats. Do you suppose he will take his opera glasses? He may sing The Gold Fish when he gets to the trenches to entertain the Germans on a cold night.

“The Gold Fish” may refer to the romantic song of that name by the Russian composer Mily Balakirev (1837-1910); perhaps the unfortunate Stan was known to be partial to it. However that may be, it is certainly interesting that at this stage of the War, when many Canadians had already been killed in action, Stan’s forthcoming departure for the front would be treated with the insouciance exhibited in Florence’s message.

The card, by the rarely encountered publisher H. H. Tammen Co. Ltd., presents an evocative image of steamboats on the Lake Ontario waterfront, preparing for their first customers of the day. The Toronto skyline is reduced to a silhouette, effectively focusing the eye’s attention on the ships.

 

 

Postcards from Arabia

By Andrew Cunningham

St John Simpson, Middle East specialist with the British Museum, has posted an article on the Academia.edu website on the history and significance of postcards from the Middle East. Much of what he says with respect to the social significance of postcards in that region of the world would apply generally. It’s great to see the increased academic interest in postcards as mirrors of historical moments that are otherwise lost to view. Read the article here.