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Yesterday's email: it was cheap, it was pretty, and it was fast--for its time little wonder the humble postcard was so popular in its day.

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In an age of instant messaging, a handwritten postcard delivered to your door stands out as a quaint but welcome reminder of another time. It wasn't so long ago when sending postcards was part of almost everyone's vacation routine. And there was a time when the postcard ruled as the preferred method of communication. In fact, Canada has had a long love affair with the postcard.

The pioneer era for postcards in Canada was ushered in on June 1,1871, when the Canadian Postal Service issued its first postal stationery card. Pre-stamped with a profile of Queen Victoria, it was otherwise pictureless, sold for one cent, and could be delivered anywhere in the Dominion. The address was written on one side; the other side was used primarily for messages of a business nature, such as an advertisement or confirmation of an order or delivery date. Canada was the first country outside of Europe to issue postcards.

Until the 1890s, only the Canadian post office could produce and sell postcards. In 1897, an amendment to the Post Act allowed private companies to create picture post cards. This led to an explosion of private mailing cards with sketches, photo vignettes, and business logos appearing on the reverse, leaving minimal space for a message. Some senders completely wrote over the images.

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Post office regulations initially did not allow for a message to be on the same side as the address. In Canada, :this rule was changed in 1903 and the divided-back postcard came into being. This is the same basic format that exists today. The divided back gave correspondents the space to write of family matters, social events, health concerns, community activities, and celebrations. Today, these messages from the past provide insight into a bygone way of life.

The divided-back formal ushered in an era in which deltiology (postcard collecting) surpassed stamp collecting as a worldwide addiction. In 1900, Canadians sent about 27,000 postcards. By 1913, that number had shot up to sixty million, postcards sent by a population of 7.6 million people. (The post office actually kept track of those things then.)

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Postcards remained popular long after their heyday

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The reverse of the divided-back postcard could now display fine art (with less likelihood of a message being scribbled over it) and permitted a high standard of professional scenic photography This attracted discriminating buyers and international collectors, creating a demand that publishers in Continent Europe and Great Britain were hard-pressed to fulfill. British companies commissioned Canadian photographers, whose work was then sent to Germany to be lithographed and hand-tinted. The finished products were returned to Canada as postcards. Tragically, the practice of using toxic lead paint to add colour to the black-and-white photos came to an end after many of the mostly women workers on the assembly lines fell-ill.

The golden age of postcards ended with the outbreak of World War I. The high-quality art cards being produced in Germany became expensive, then impossible to import. This situation, combined with an increase m the cost of ink resulted in the production of cheaper-quality art cards. Cards with white borders started appearing because they took less skill to print and they also saved on ink.

As art cards grew more scarce, photo cards gained in popularity. The subjects included fashionable family portraits that are today deeply treasured by the descendants of the people in the photographs. Many unknown but talented Canadian photographers documented settlements, architecture, activities, and historic scenes for postcards, creating an authentic pictorial record of Canada in the early twentieth century.

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The quality of photo cards gradually improved. Linen type paper stock, which resulted in brighter colours, started appearing in the early 1930s. So-called chrome postcards which used a modern colour process invented by the Eastman Kodak Co.--came into being in. the United States in 1939 but did not become widespread until after the Second World War.

Postcards remain popular even in today's era of instant communication. Many people still send them and postcard collecting is a lively pastime. Serious collectors pay hundreds of dollars for vintage postcards featuring exquisite artwork, vivid colour, and superior reproduction. Meanwhile, historians value them for their scenes of turn-of-the-century, driers and towns.

Postcard treasures Can be found among the collections of antique shops and used bookstores. They bear the names of Canadian publishers such as Toronto's Watwick Bros. & Rutter, Nerlich & Co., Rumsey & Co., as Well as F.H. Leslie of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Stedman Bros. Ltd, of Brantford; Ontario, and Toronto.

As a record of social history it seems that the postcard has the kind of lasting value that is unlikely to be replaced by the ephemeral email of today.
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Author:Fear, Barbara Pritchard
Publication:Canada's History
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Words:798
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