Valentine & Sons of Dundee were Scotland’s most successful commercial photographers. In the early 1900s, at the height of the postcard revolution, they published photographs showing scenes from around the world. Remembered today primarily as postcard publishers, Valentine & Sons actually produced images in various formats, including fine early photographic prints.
The Dundee-based company was founded in 1825 by John Valentine. After learning the daguerreotype process in Paris in the late 1840s, in 1851 Valentine’s son James added portrait photography to the family business. By the 1860s the company had begun to cater to the growing tourist industry by producing photographic prints with views from around the country. After James’s death in 1880, his son William Dobson Valentine took over the ever-expanding business. Valentine & Sons first printed postcards in 1898 and by 1907 (according to an article in the Canadian Druggist, a trade publication) its factories in Dundee and Edinburgh employed 700 people and were turning out 3,000,000 postcards every week.
The firm’s Canadian business began between 1903 and 1906 when its Canadian subsidiary, Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Ltd., opened in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. In 1908, at least, the Toronto office appears to have been small — a room at 69 Adelaide Street East and a handful of employees — possibly just an order-taking operation for its British parent (although it must have grown in subsequent years).
The earliest Canadian postcards published by Valentine & Sons were uncoloured collotypes of scenery along the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway north of Lake Superior and in the Rocky Mountains. Typically, Valentine postcards have a 6-digit number (###,###) on the view side with J.V. in a circle adjacent to that number. The main series of numbering begins with a Halifax card as no. 100,000 and ends (as far as we know) with a postcard of Toronto as no. 115,981. There are also two short runs of numbers in the 400,000 range that are on found on some cards from the Yukon Territory and a longer run of views from various parts of Canada that begins at 600,000 and continues past 602,000. Other ranges belonged to Valentine & Sons’ branches in other countries, as follows: USA – 200,000s; Australia – 300,000s; and South Africa – 500,000s. Valentine & Sons produced postcards of all Canadian provinces, although there were only a handful from Newfoundland & Labrador, which was not a part of Canada in that era.
Speaking very generally, the earlier Valentine & Sons cards — numbered from the 100,000s through the 105,000s — tend to be more common, while the later, higher, numbers are significantly more likely to be scarce. It is important to realize that the Valentine number refers to the image on the postcard and not to the card itself. In other words, if (for example) an image was published once, then re-published on a card with a different border design and then issued in a “moonlight” version (i.e. a card coloured to look as though the photo was taken at night, in the moonlight), all three of those cards will have the same Valentine number. That is one reason that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to say with certainty how many Canadian Valentine & Sons cards were printed. Even if we succeeded in associating all of the numbers in each of the sequences with an image, it would be nearly impossible (in the absence of company records) to know how many “variants” were produced from each of those images. Moreover, some Valentine postcards are unnumbered, e.g. the “multiviews” — essentially collages of multiple images — that the company produced in relatively large numbers.
Around 1920, Valentine & Sons of Dundee experienced financial difficulties, with the result that its international branches were spun off into independent, locally-owned companies. In Canada, the Toronto branch of the company became Valentine Black and the Winnipeg branch became Valentine Edy. The two companies continued to reproduce some of the existing images, but Valentine Edy, in particular, adopted new numbering systems in its later years. It should also be noted that the U.K. Valentine & Sons company published a number of cards with Canadian subjects as well. The Valentine Edy Co. existed as late as 1957.
Valentine & Sons cards are by far the most common “Golden Age” postcards found in Canada. Because “familiarity breeds contempt”, these attractive cards are not always given the credit they deserve. Many of the cards are inexpensive, primarily because they are so common, but others are quite scarce and relatively valuable. Thanks to the prolific production of Valentine & Sons, it is possible to assemble a sizeable collection of good-quality postcards from nearly any region of Canada quite inexpensively. The advertisement below, which appeared in the Canadian Druggist in 1907, gives a sense of Valentine & Sons’ strong position in the market and multitudinous offerings.
Gradually, the greeting card gradually replaced the picture postcard and what remained of the original Dundee-based Valentine & Sons card making empire was sold to Hallmark Cards Inc. in 1980.
As a rough guide, the following list gives some idea of the time period represented by the main Canadian Valentine & Sons series, divided into “thousands”. The dates indicated are those of the earliest postmark in a small sample of Valentine & Sons cards. There is no claim that the dates in the list are the earliest, but in many or most cases, they should be close to the earliest date:
- 100,000 – 1906 (July)
- 101,000 – 1907 (March)
- 102,000 – 1907 (September)
- 103,000 – 1908 (August)
- 104,000 – 1909 (September)
- 105,000 – 1910 (January)
- 106,000 – 1911 (April)
- 107,000 – 1911 (December)
- 108,000 – 1913 (one card only; month illegible)
- 109,000 – 1913 (January)
- 110,000 – 1914 (May)
- 111,000 – 1914 (August)
- 112,000 – 1919 (February; here we begin to see white border cards and cards by Valentine-Black)
- 113,000 – 1934 (July; a Valentine-Black card)
- 114,000 – no postmarked cards found (only cards in sample are two Valentine-Black cards c. 1930)
- 115,000 – 1922 (July; all in sample are Valentine-Black)
- 600,000 – 1908 (March; many of these are published for other publishers or don’t indicate a publisher)
- 601,000 – 1910 (September; ditto)
- 602,000 – no postmarked cards found (only card in sample is a Valentine-Edy card that is likely c. 1920)
Anyone who can supply more information for the list above is asked to contact us.
The most complete list of Valentine & Sons postcards is on our “lists” page. Click here for more information.
Valentine & Sons on Wikipedia
University of St. Andrew’s (Scotland) Photographic Archive
Edinburgh Photo History
Luminous Lint- a web-site with a James Valentine biography and photo archive