• 2018 Meeting Schedule now posted

    Hope to see you there!
    See meetings  page for details.

AN UPDATE ON “GOVERNMENT AGENT” POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

In a post from July 2016 concerning “Government Agent” cards, I had noted that, thanks to the efforts of TPC members Wayne Curtis and Philip Francis, we knew of a total of 35 Government Agent postcards. To back up a bit, “Government Agent” cards are the western settlement promotional postcards, aimed primarily at English farmers, that sported the distinctive back design depicted below. In that July post, I referred to a short note in the Winnipeg Tribune for July 24, 1905 (also below) that was quite clearly referring to the publication of the postcards. The Tribune happened to describe the images on four of the cards, three of which are on Wayne and Philip’s lists, but the fourth of which — a Calgary bird’s-eye view — didn’t seem to be.

Well, in researching the publisher history of the Calgary-based H. Enida Olive Co., what should turn up among the images I found but a card (not by H. Enida Olive) entitled A Great Cattle Market, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Centre of Ranching Industry, number 6058 in the Images section of the University of Alberta’s Peel Prairie Provinces Collection. That is clearly the card in question. However, rather than being a new, 36th card, it turns out to be one from Wayne and Philip’s list. The title of the card, which I hadn’t seen until now, just didn’t suggest that the view was a bird’s eye. So we’re still stuck at 35 cards!

Here’s a look at this very rare Calgary view … 

A Great Cattle Market and a Great Postcard (PEEL COLLECTION, U OF ALBERTA)

POSTCARDS TO ORDER: THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT HALF-TONES

By Andrew Cunningham

Many of our members (like deltiologists everywhere) spend a lot of time trying to figure out who was behind the postcards we collect – printers, publishers, photographers, distributors and sellers. When it comes to photographers, for example, there were certainly some individuals who roamed the country taking photos for use on postcards. The brilliant new book on Reuben Sallows, written by TPC members Mike Smith and Larry Mohring, shows the incredible range of one gifted Canadian photographer who did just that.

[1] Rumsey & Co. sample card.

Just as often, however, the postcard views that we see were made from photos submitted to a publisher by a local seller, often the town’s pharmacist or general store owner. He (or, very occasionally, she) would order postcards in a certain style and price range from a publisher’s catalogue or from its travelling salesman when he passed through town. We know something about this process because a lot of “publisher’s sample” postcards are still around today. These cards help to give us an idea of the business side of the postcard industry. Sometimes, as in illustration [1], they include pricing (here, $7 for 1,000 copies of the card; $6.50 for customer-supplied photos). One of the problems with selling printed postcards (as opposed to “real photograph postcards (RPPCs)) was that you had to order a lot of them to make a print run economical. Here, Rumsey & Co. has tried to make the 1,000-card minimum order more appealing to its customer base of small-town retailers by agreeing to provide the minimum quantity into two colour tones: 500 green and 500 sepia (“almost as good as having two subjects to the 1000”). 

[2] Front of the Rumsey & Co. collotype sample postcard.

The quoted prices in this case were for collotype images. “Collotype” was a gelatine-based printing process used extensively in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to reproduce photographic images on a printing press. Used appropriately, it could create a pleasing result that in some cases is difficult to tell from a real photograph without a magnifying glass. The images were sometimes left as monochromes (black and white) or they could be “colourized” by the direct application of colour to appropriate objects and areas in the image (sort of like paint-by-numbers). A third alternative, used here, was to tint the cards, which required the application of a colour tint across the entire image – a far less time and labour intensive process than full-scale “colourization”. The front of this particular card, which shows a street scene in Fort Macleod, Alberta, is in the “green” tone mentioned in the advertisement (see illustration [2]).

If, as a retailer, you wanted something a little cheaper that could be purchased in smaller quantities, you could order a half-tone card rather than a collotype. Half-tone images (composed of ranges of little dots, as in a newspaper photograph) were easier to produce than collotypes. The down-side was that they tended to look less realistic and (truth be told) a bit dull. So, to gussy them up a bit, publishers often printed them on standard card blanks pre-printed with a “framing” image that supplied the colour and elegance that the inset half-tone images lacked. Illustration [3], “Presbyterian Church, Stayner” is an example of how a half-tone could be made more saleable by inserting it into one of these pre-printed frames – in this case the Toronto Lithographing Co.’s horseshoe design (which is classified as “patriotic” because the horseshoe is entwined with a garland of maple leaves).

[3] Presbyterian Church, Stayner [Ontario] (Toronto Lithographing Co.).

Some of the most popular postcard types in Canada were “frame view” cards. These were cards whose “frames” really were frames (pretend ones, at least). Frame-views were offered by a number of Canadian publishers, but are most commonly found under one of three imprints: Atkinson Bros., Stedman Bros. or Pugh Manufacturing Co. (based in Toronto, Brantford and Toronto, respectively). While the quality of the images is not especially high, these cards are often highly interesting because they tend to show events and views that would have been of interest only locally, and which are therefore of great interest now because of their rarity and (often) naive charm. In that sense, their content can resemble real photo postcards, which were expensive but which could be produced in very small quantities (even just one), and which are therefore prized because they tended to be used to show more personal or local scenes, or short-lived events and “news stories” (notably including fires, floods, tornadoes, train wrecks and other “disasters”). 

If we look at a frame view sample (illustration [4]) from Stedman Bros., who seem to have been the most prolific publisher of this type of card, we can see why these cards would have been popular for images with relatively limited (short-lived and/or merely local) appeal. The price of 1,000 Stedman frame-views was lower than Rumsey’s 1,000 collotypes ($5.50 vs. $6.50) and you could also order just 500 if that was all you wanted (albeit at a higher per-card price). For someone who couldn’t really hope to sell more than a few hundred of a given postcard, the Stedman frame-view might indeed have seemed “a good proposition”. The images would usually be tinted, most often blue. While not spectacular, the result was not without aesthetic appeal.

[4] Stedman Bros. frame view back (McLeod District Wheat Field).

In illustration [5], we see the front of the sample card; coincidentally also illustrating a scene from the Fort Macleod area. This one boasts of crop yields and may have been part of an advertising campaign sponsored by a local land company or chamber of commerce, such that only limited numbers and quality were required. Mike Smith’s guide to Stedman postcards lists about 140 postcards in the frame-view style, with many others having come to light since the book’s publication in 2011.

[5] McLeod District [Alberta] Wheat Field (Stedman Bros.).

Another series of frame views that can easily be confused with the Stedman versions was published by Atkinson Bros. The example in illustration [6], showing the asbestos mine in Thetford Mines, Quebec, is highly unusual in that it came with a piece of red cellophane (not shown) that fit into a slot in the frame to make a sort of “flap” that (for some unknown reason) covered up the image. The Atkinson frame views are recognizably different from their Stedman counterparts in virtue of their glossier appearance and the light effects on the frame. (I find the Stedman “look” more authentic myself!)

[6] Thetford Mines, Que. – Johnston’s Asbestos Co. (Atkinson Bros.).

Another variety of frame view is the “gold frame” of Pugh Manufacturing Co. These were also common in small-towns across Ontario and the West, with the example in illustration [7] being fairly typical. One can imagine that the Neepawa Methodist Sunday School produced just enough potential customers to make the production of the card economical. Examples such as this could also have been used for fund-raising.

[7] Primary Dept. Methodist S.S. 1908, Neepawa, Man. (Pugh Manufacturing Co.).

The W. G. MacFarlane Co., under its later name of (just) “MacFarlane Co.”, also got into the gold-frame game, but probably less successfully than Pugh, given the lack of examples in my own experience. Confirming this impression, Mike Smith’s MacFarlane guidebook (2010) lists only six examples. One reason that the MacFarlane gold-frame cards might not have succeeded is that they were very pricey for what you got … the sample back in illustration [8] shows that they cost much more ($12  per 1,000) than Stedman Bros. were charging for their two-tone collotypes (albeit perhaps not at exactly the same time). 

In conclusion:

  • Much of the fancy design that we see in Canadian patriotic cards, and even in the “frame views”, was an attempt to make up for the visual weakness of the half-tone images that they framed. The “frame view” cards were probably preferred for customer-supplied photographs because the rectangular space in them would “work” for just about any photo (while a more complex “frame”, such as Toronto Litho’s “horseshoe”, would require a photo of a particular shape and orientation to “fit” and thus was better suited to images that the company could choose itself).
  • The half-tones were economically desirable because they could be cranked out in large or small quantities and at relatively low cost. Those were their advantages over collotypes, which involved a fussier process that was not easy to use for either small or very large quantities and generally had to be outsourced to sophisticated German printers. However, the collotype process produced a more realistic reproduction of photography than did the half-tone process, and was therefore much preferred on “ordinary” view cards in which the image took up an entire side of the card and needed to stand on its own.

[8] MacFarlane Co.’s price list for its gold-frame halftone “local views”.

 

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.