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Voting Yes To Political Postcards

(1) Rt. Hon. H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain (1908-1916) in a Valentine & Sons card posted at Pakenham, Ontario on 6 November 1914.

(2) Christian Kloepfer of Guelph, Conservative candidate for South Wellington, 1904. Warwick Bros. & Rutter card no. 616.

Don’t know why, but now seems like a good time to talk about political postcards. Canadian postcards promoting candidates for office can be found from the early 1900s right through the 1950s and 60s — indeed, some candidates may still be using them today. Many postcards also featured leading political figures of the time, whether in a reverent tone or in a negative one.

Reflecting the fact that the postcard’s Golden Age roughly coincided with the Edwardian era (1901-1910), the use of political postcards seems to have peaked around the time of the 1908 federal election. A majority of early election cards date to that campaign; cards from the preceding (1904) and subsequent (1911) elections are significantly less common. I have never seen a postcard from the 1900 federal election, although there must surely have been some.

For an example of a political postcard, we can look to the U.K. as well as Canada – Figure (1) shows British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith (1852-1928) in a patriotic “Men of the Moment” series. In those days it was still something of a novelty to be able to see what the leaders of one’s country looked like, and postcard collectors of the time collected series showing public figures. Some series of images would focus on leaders of one party while others were more inclusive.

Canadian Campaign Postcards

In a Canadian context, Warwick Bros. & Rutter produced many cards of this type. Whether the company decided which politicians would appear, or whether it was more of a “pay to play” arrangement, is not known. There is certainly a fascinating mixture of well-known politicians of the time and men who are now extremely obscure figures — learning the stories of the latter is definitely one of the most interesting side-benefits of this type of collecting.

The election of 1904

In Figure (2), we have an early Canadian example. Dating from the federal campaign of 1904, this Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard depicts Christian Kloepfer (1847-1913), “The Right Man With The Right Ideas” for the riding of South Wellington. Kloepfer, a Conservative, had been elected MP for the riding in 1896 but was edged out in 1900 by Liberal Hugh Guthrie (1866-1939), who narrowly defeated him again in the 1904 rematch (despite the appealing postcard). 

The election of 1908

(3) The Laurier-McIntyre postcard, with vignettes of the Liberal leader and the local MP printed on a pre-printed image of the original Centre Block.

As noted above, 1908 was the peak year for Canadian political postcards. Warwick Bros. & Rutter came out with a design in a popular format that featured headshots of a party’s national leader and a local candidate. Not a firm to play favourites, Warwick created election postcards in this format for both the Liberals and the Conservatives. Figure (3) shows a Liberal example, with Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919) featured alongside Gilbert H. McIntyre (1852-1913), MP for the Ontario riding of South Perth.

The prosperity that the Laurier Liberals wished to uphold as they sought a fourth term in office in 1908 was the theme of a series of anti-Conservative postcards featuring illustrations by popular cartoonist Lou Skuce (1886-1951), then of The Ottawa Journal. Skuce’s characteristic style, familiar from his many hockey-related illustrations, was the opposite of minimalist — highly detailed and witty.

In Figure (4), Jack Canuck — the personification of Canada — chooses the company of the dapper and dignified Laurier, who appears as the very picture of calm assurance alongside an image his signature project, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Far behind, the Conservative leader Robert Borden (1854-1937) struggles to catch up, dragged along by Tory stalwart George Foster (1847-1931) invariably depicted in these cartoon images as the power behind the throne of a hapless Borden (replete with Mephistophelean beard). 

(4) The steady leadership of Sir Wilfrid Laurier resulted in an uninterrupted tenure of 15 years as Prime Minister of Canada, a record unequalled before or since. However, the Grand Trunk Pacific, enthusiastically promoted by his government, ultimately proved to be one railway too many for western Canada.

Thematic Political Postcards

In addition to political parties and candidates, political subjects were frequently the subject of postcards. Laurier’s promotion of Reciprocity (free trade) with the U.S. was the dominant political issue of the era. A series of cards issued in the 1911 campaign, in which Laurier was finally defeated by Borden’s Tories, featured illustrations by Newton McConnell (1877-1940) of The Toronto Daily News. Figure (5) is a typical example, playing to longstanding Canadian suspicion of American motivations. 

The reciprocity debate

(5) This anti-reciprocity cartoon by Newton McConnell, likely produced around the time of the election of 1911, also features the latest in technology, the long-distance telephone call.

Another reciprocity postcard is shown in Figure (6), where the western provinces are depicted as showing leading Manitoba Liberal Clifford Sifton the door. Distributed by The Montreal Witness, the card is referring to Sifton’s break with the Liberals over the reciprocity issue in 1911. While he retired from politics at that point, he provided a vital endorsement to Borden’s successful Conservatives. The cartoon is signed by “Phil Drew”, a name (perhaps a pen-name) that appears to have been associated with editorial cartoons in other Canadian papers around 1912.

(6) Phil Drew cartoon from The Montreal Witness, 4 March 1911. Three postcards are known in this series, which appear to have been marketed by Witness publisher John Dougall to be sent out en masse in hopes of influencing political discourse.

Prohibition (“Banish the Bar”)

Other issues of the day were also dealt with extensively, including the women’s suffrage movement, which appears primarily in English and American cards, and the related temperance movement, which is better represented in Canada. The Warwick Bros. & Rutter card illustrated in Figures (7a-b), which features the Canadian “Banish the Bar” slogan, concludes our brief excursion into the political realm. We’ve only scratched the surface, however; a much wider range of political postcards may be found in the two volumes of Mike Smith’s The Canadian Patriotic & Heraldic Postcard Handbook 1897-1945 (2013-14).

(7a) Warwick Bros. & Rutter printed this “Banish the Bar” message on one of their standard “patriotic” card blanks (normally a photo would have been printed into the rectangular area). The “Banish the Bar” slogan was also overprinted on the back of the card, in order that there could be no mistaking the message.

(7b) The back of the Warwick card, with the BANISH THE BAR overprint. Likely circa 1905.

The Canadians Are Coming! Postcards of Our Great War Soldiers

As the hundredth anniversary of 11 November 1918 — the end of the Great War — approaches, we will take a look back at what postcards of the time tell us about the four long years that took such a toll on the people of Canada, Newfoundland and many other countries. Coincidentally, the war years brought down the curtain on the “Golden Age of Postcards”; while the medium continued to be popular, the postcard industry as a whole no longer exhibited the vitality and variety of its pre-war heyday.

Keeping the old flag flying

Postcards mailed in the summer of 1914 can provide us with insights into how ordinary people in the sedate turn-of-the-century world responded to the sudden intrusion of war into every aspect of life. Exhibit 1 is the Stedman Bros. “patriotic” shown below, which depicts departing Canadian soldiers while assertively proclaiming: “Canada Will Do Her Duty To Keep The Old Flag Flying”.

Stedman Bros. no. 2539, with an added photographic image.

On turning the postcard over, we find that it was posted at Toronto on 13 September 1914, barely a month after the state of war officially began. In fact, things had unravelled so quickly that the Canadian National Exhibition had no opportunity to re-think its 1914 theme of “PEACE YEAR”, neatly incorporated into the special CNE “slogan cancel” that we see here.

Verso image of the card as posted to Wimbledon, Surrey on 13 September 1914.

One might wonder how Stedman Bros. managed to print up World War I cards such as this so quickly. The answer is that they didn’t, really — this example, numbered S.B. 2539, was in fact an old Stedman card on which the small photograph of the departing soldiers was pasted (the card originally featured a coloured illustration of an R&O ship). To complete the metamorphosis, the caption about “doing her duty” was overprinted on the image in silver lettering. (Indeed, since Stedman Bros. are thought to have exited the postcard trade in 1914, it is possible that the refurbishment of these cards as World War I souvenirs was someone else’s handiwork.)

The message itself is, of course, another place where we might hope to find  reference to the big news from Europe. However, even though her words were destined for England, the writer didn’t acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary was going on. By the end of her note she had apparently run out of things to say — or so we might surmise, given that she filled the rest of her space in the time-honoured way, with bland observations about the weather!

The 79th Cameron Highlanders

The story of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada is well told on the regiment’s own website. The Camerons, from Winnipeg, were the first Highland regiment in the West, having been founded on 1 February 1910. It is unlikely that the original members would have anticipated the sacrifices that they and their mates would be required to make within just a few short years. Even at the Decoration Day festivities on 10 May 1914, as depicted in the Maurice Lyall real photo postcard below, it is unlikely that the kilted marchers imagined that before the summer was out, some of them would be halfway across the country, and then halfway around the world, fighting for real.

10 May 1914. The building in the background was the University of Manitoba. The Broadway Armoury stood directly across the street, on the site of what is now the Manitoba Legislature.

We encounter the Camerons again on the Valentine & Sons postcard below (106,330), which may well have based on a photograph taken the same day (and perhaps by the same photographer) as the postcard above. Posted on 22 September 1914 by a Royal Bank of Canada employee to a colleague who had evidently been transferred to the Bank’s Vancouver branch, its message does refer, indirectly, to the War:

To Mr. J. A. Noonan, Royal Bank, Campbell Ave., Vancouver, B.C.:

“Hello Mr. Noonan, Just to remind you we have not quite forgotten you in the exciting times we have been having. Glad to hear you have not much to do but don’t get too fond of doing nothing and forget all about Winnipeg. Every body happy in the R. B. of C.”

Valentine & Sons card showing the soldiers standing on Broadway, looking out from the Drill Hall.

The 79th trained first at Camp Sewell, near Brandon, and were then sent out to Valcartier, Quebec, just outside the city of Quebec. The following “John E. Walsh” postcard was acquired simply as a handsome Quebec “patriotic” but turned out to have some interesting Cameron Highlanders content on the reverse:

Grande Allée, Quebec City. Patriotic postcard published by John E. Walsh, a Quebec stationer.

The first thing to note about the back of the Grande Allée card is that it is cancelled with a slogan cancel for the Quebec Provincial Exhibition (31 August – 5 September 1914). Unlike Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition, the 1914 theme in Quebec was not “peace” but “health” (“l’année de la santé”).

Back of the card, with a message from “R. M.”, then in training at Valcartier. The message is transcribed below.

As the Camerons’ website notes, only a limited number of the 79th’s members were sent to Valcartier and then on to England in the summer of 1914. At Valcartier, the Camerons were merged with others from across the country as the 16th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. While it is brief, the card’s message provides at least some information about the Highlanders’ life at Quebec:

“E Company,
79th Cameron Highlanders
Valcartier Camp, Quebec


Having a good time down here up at 5:30 in morning. Drill all day. Getting quite thin. Remember me to Overseas bunch if you see them on Tuesday. R.M.”

As the sender is identified by initials (“R. M.”) only, the only significant clue is the recipient, J[ohn] France Hughes of the Great-West Life Assurance Co. of Winnipeg, who turns out to have been an actuary with Great-West. Hughes was born in England around 1885, had emigrated around the turn of the century, and by the time of the postcard was married and living at 609 Spence Street, a house that still stands at (what is now) the corner of Cumberland Avenue. The “Overseas bunch” sounds as though it might have been an informal weekly gathering of British immigrants — as R. M. probably was (although, given his regimental affiliation, he may have been a Scot rather than an Englishman like Hughes). From the handwriting and the fact that his social circles included a well-paid insurance professional, one might also conclude that R. M. was likely well educated.

In any event, this is a good example of what we can learn from postcard messages about the very earliest days of the Great War.

Canadian soldiers in other countries’ cards

Canadian First World War collections often include postcards from other countries that depict the Canadian war effort. One scarce example is this collotype showing the 48th Highlanders — cousins of Winnipeg’s 79th — as they leave “Torento (Canada)”. One supposes this scene to be somewhere in the vicinity of Union Station, with the departing men parading in the pouring rain. Produced by Le Deley, imprimeur et éditeur (printer and publisher) at 127, boul. Sébastopol in Paris, this particular example was not used.

A rainy day in Torento.
“And very good reason to be” … indeed!

Our final example is a British card celebrating “Canada’s Men”, poetically, as “the Bravest Men — we’ve seen of late / That have crossed the Atlantic Sea”. The quality of some of the verse suggests that the poet may have been working to deadline, but overall the expression of Britain’s appreciation comes through clearly enough and, I’m sure, was much appreciated by its recipients. The card — the British publisher of which is not identified — was posted within the U.K. on 26 December 1916.

Future posts

We’ll try to post some other World War I postcards over the next few weeks, as the hundredth anniversary nears. 

Andrew Cunningham

All In A Postcard: Go (North)West, Young Man!

Miss Columbia: “She Certainly is Attracting A Great Deal of Attention, And Though I’m Sorry They’re Leaving Me, I Do Admire My Fair Cousin.” (Government of Canada, 1906)

Entitled “The New Belle”, this postcard was one of 12 that are believed to have been published by the Interior Ministry of Sir Clifford Sifton in 1906. The Canadian Government’s design was to promote immigration — specifically, U.S. immigration — into newly opened agricultural districts of the “Great Northwest”, i.e. the newly formed provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The message of this particular propaganda campaign (essentially, that it’s time to abandon the U.S. for Canada) had to be delivered in strong and memorable way. But, at the same time, to the extent possible, the Canadian Government needed to minimize any offence that might be taken by its U.S. counterpart, which did not appreciate Canada’s (highly successful) entreaties to Midwestern farmers. The caption on this card represents an attempt to toe this very fine line.

The postcard was mailed at Forest Nook, Ontario (a long-forgotten P.O. on Ahmic Lake in Muskoka) to a man in Meadville, Pa., who had previously forwarded the sender a U.S. newspaper story about the size and potential of Canada’s wheat-growing region. Articles of that nature filled U.S. newspapers at that time, in no small measure as a result of the promotional railway tours that Canadian land companies were running for obliging American newsmen. 

As a final note, some postmaster somewhere along the way has gratuitously postmarked Fair Miss Canada’s noggin. To avoid fanning the flames of Canadian resentment, I can report that close examination shows that this rude strike at our lady’s dignity occurred at Burk’s Falls, Ontario and not south of the border!  — Andrew Cunningham, Toronto Postcard Club

“Many thanks for paper. Article on Canadian wheat fields very interesting.”


Corner King & Yonge Sts., Toronto, Canada (Nerlich & Co.)

Harbor, Toronto, Canada (Nerlich & Co.)

The Fall 2017 edition of the TPC magazine Card Talk is now out: our members should be receiving their copies in the next day or two. Because July 1st represented the 150th anniversary of Confederation (“Canada 150”), the issue has several articles of a “patriotic” nature, beginning with some reflections by veteran member Joe Rozdzilski on what Canada means to him as a son of immigrants who came to Toronto in the 1930s. Joe provided us with some illustrations, including a couple of lovely patriotic cards from Nerlich & Co. This design, which is embossed and beautifully printed, must surely be the single most elegant of the large and common series of lithographed Canadian cards published by the major manufacturers after the turn of the century. These Nerlich cards recall familiar Toronto scenes of the early 20th century — the corner of King and Yonge streets downtown and the busy (and very industrial) harbour. 

Shields and Arms

The provincial shields on these cards are of some interest. Nova Scotia’s, at the extreme right, isn’t the familiar blue cross of St. Andrew on a white background, but the province’s older design centered – understandably enough – on a fish (salmon?). Also, because they are post-1905 (likely not by much), the cards show Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces, but at this point Alberta was still using the shield of its predecessor – the North West Territory – which featured a polar bear (rare in Alberta!) over four sheaves of wheat. Saskatchewan was apparently more on the ball, as it had already come up with its own exclusive design, featuring a more modest three sheaves of wheat. 

Curiously, the coat of arms depicted at lower left is not that of Canada but rather the United Kingdom’s coat of arms (which was of course that of King Edward VII, who was also King of Canada – so not at all inappropriate). 

Granary of the World

Also (partly) on a Canada-Britain theme, Barb Henderson has contributed an article on postcards with the theme “Granary of the World”, “Britain’s Granary” or the “Granary of the Empire” … that sort of thing. Among these are several of the ceremonial arch that the Dominion government erected in London in 1902 at the time of Edward VII’s coronation. There is also a fine example (see below) from the well-known series of twelve postcards issued (seemingly) by the federal government around 1906 to encourage immigration from the U.S. The illustrations on these cards originally appeared in a pamphlet published in 1903 by the Interior ministry of Sir Clifford Sifton.

The Granary of the World. (Government of Canada, c. 1906)

Repatriation of Lost Treasures

In another article, long-time member Bob Atkinson writes of his latest travels to postcard shows far and wide. This time his journeys took him to Vancouver and Nottingham, where he met organizer Brian Lund, for many years publisher (with his wife Mary) of the British periodical Picture Postcard Monthly and still at work on the Picture Postcard Annual. As usual, Bob was on the lookout for hidden Canadian treasures and (having forewarned dealers to his visit) came back with quite a handful. Below is a photo of Bob (at right) with his English cousin Malcolm Henderson and Mr. Lund in the middle. 

Malcolm Henderson, Brian Lund and Bob Atkinson at the Nottingham (U.K.) show. (courtesy R. Atkinson)

 Theatre Cards from New York City

In not-specifically-Canadian news, we have accounts of some of our club talks, including Kyle Jolliffe’s “Broadway Ballyhoo”, an examination of New York City theatre postcards from 1900 to 1916. Kyle’s many postcards include the Korean comic opera “The Sho-Gun”. Many of the cards were produced by the Rotograph Co. as publicity for upcoming shows. Kyle, who focuses on New York postcards, also highlighted rarely-seen sets of Canadian cards by Warwick Bros. & Rutter – the “Celebrated Actor” series, which featured 36 or 37 cards – and by W. G. MacFarlane, who used Rotograph images in another hard-to-find series of cards.

And Much More…

Other articles recount a talk by Ralph Beaumont – author of Heckman’s Canadian Pacific, an outstanding volume of early 20th century railway images not no Canadian history buff (or railway buff) should be without – and our own Mike Smith’s talk on his (and Larry Mohring’s) equally fascinating volume on the Canadian photographer Reuben Sallows, whose photographs were used on hundreds of Canadian postcards illustrating “scenes from ordinary life” in the young country of 1900-1910, in addition to numerous covers of the Canadian magazine Rod & Gun and illustrations in many U.S. periodicals of the day as well. Mike’s book may be ordered here

John Sayers contributed articles on the ongoing TPC auction and the Canadian National Exhibition, while Andrew Cunningham added an article about the use of Esperanto in postcards and postcard exchanges. 

 Join Us!

As always, we conclude by noting that Card Talk is not available on newsstands – it’s only to be had by joining our Club (or, I suppose, by craftily befriending someone who already is … but in that case why not join anyway and stop being such a mooch?!) Sign-up details are available here. We hope everyone had a happy “Canada 150”!

(By Andrew Cunningham)