An Early Leporello Postcard from Prince Edward Island

Unless you ae a Mozart aficionado or a well-educated and avid post card collector the title of this posting probably will mean absolutely nothing.  Since I am neither, the term “leporello” sent me scurrying to Wikipedia where after some research the mystery was unravelled.

Marco Vinco as LOporello in the San Francisco Opera 2011 production of Don Giovanni. Photo by Cory Weaver from
Marco Vinco as Leporello in the San Francisco Opera 2011 production of Don Giovanni. Photo by Cory Weaver from

Let’s start with the Mozart because that holds the explanation for the name. Leporello is Don Giovanni’s manservant in Mozart’s 1787 opera Don Giovanni.  Don Giovanni, a young, arrogant, and sexually promiscuous nobleman, abuses and outrages everyone else in the cast until he encounters something he cannot kill, beat up, dodge, or outwit. Don Giovanni, is betrayed to a new conquest by his servant who tells her that he is unfaithful to everyone; his impressive list of seductions and conquests include 640 women and girls in Italy, 231 in Germany, 100 in France, 91 in Turkey and 1,003 in Spain. In displaying the conquests the manservant pulls the list out of the book in an accordion fold. The term leporello is applied to books and publications that use this endless page device. The leporello became quite common in the Victorian era. Panoramic scenes in travel accounts as well as images of culture and customs often used the device. After the development of photography it became an effective way to show very wide images, or a linked series of photographs.

In early postcards the leporello often takes the form of an album of mini images folded into the postcard itself. They were more commonly used in Europe but North American postcard publishers used the leporello as well although they are scarce if not rare. Because of the format the cards do not hold up well to handling. They have to have an inner pocket that protects the mini album and there is much folding and unfolding to see the images.

I hardly knew what to expect when I ordered the card from a German on-line dealer. The photos in the listing were not very good and it was obvious that the card was not in particularly good shape. The face image of the card was an uninspiring view of the winter steamer Stanley in ice but it was not one I had seen before. The photos on the sale site showed only two of the mini images and I would not have been surprised to see that any others had long since come loose and disappeared.

Front of the leporello. The latch pin can be seen holding the image pocket closed.
Front of the leporello. The latch pin can be seen holding the image pocket closed.

The card was pretty banged up. It had obviously been well handled and there were blemishes and folds that may well have been inflicted by the postal authorities or they could simply be from mis-handling over the years.

Leporello card back showing address in France
Leporello card back showing address in France

The back of the card showed it had been mailed from Souris East on P.E.I. on 23 July 1906 and sent to an address in Caen in Calvados district France and then re-addressed to Carteret in Manche.  Again the latch pin holding the mini album flap closed can be seen. As well in this photograph the cardboard core of the card which makes a pocket for the smaller images can be seen.

When I gingerly opened the latch pin I was surprised to find that the contents were not only intact they were in excellent shape.  A total of six images appeared in the folds: Legislative Building and Law Courts, Hillsborough Bridge, Charlottetown from Battery Point, General Post Office, Market Building, and South African Volunteers Monument.



All of the photographs, save one, were common postcard shots and in fact I had full-card images of all of them in my collection. The images appear to have been used by a number of different publishers but this card helps date them from 1906 or earlier. The remaining photo is one I had not seen before. It shows a still-unfinished Hillsborough Bridge with the swing-span open. Because the last of the spans was not put in place until June of 1905 this card must have been a recent publication when it was purchased and mailed.

I am unaware of any earlier leporello cards from Prince Edward Island and would be interested in knowing if there were other images from this period. It is unlikely that a publisher would have produced only one. Adding this unprepossessing item to my collection shows that cards from Prince Edward Island can run to some fairly exotic specialties.




Author: sailstrait

I am an archivist, historian and small boat sailor. Over the years have built several small boats, the most recent of which was a Medway Skiff. Since 2011 I have been skipper of "Ebony", a 1982 Halman 20. I sail in Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Member of the Charlottetown Yacht Club, PEI Sailing Association and the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association. I have also an interest in the history of the Charlottetown Yacht Club, Charlottetown Harbour, Northumberland Strait and the vessels that have sailed there over the years.

3 thoughts on “An Early Leporello Postcard from Prince Edward Island”

  1. Being, not to put too fine a point on it, an opera freak I was a little confused when I first saw the title and glanced at the photo of Marco Vinco (a singer I am very familiar with) – my first thought was “I don’t think he was born on PEI??” I had not realized that sort of postcard series was called Leporellos but it makes perfect sense.

    And what a find – a great souvenir of early Charlottetown with a fascinating travel history of its own. Just prior to my recent trip to Ireland I came across a Leporello of Dublin Street scenes that my Uncle sent my mother when he was on a short holiday from Ulster in 1945 just after the War. I did a bit of investigating into the photographer and only wish I could have tracked down the correspondence between him and my mother around that time. I did find out enough to write at some length about it:

    In the case of your find I am sure that it was only one of a series – it would be exciting to try and track down more.

    By the way I’m enjoying the new site very much.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.