A Rare Real Photo Postcard: Commissioning the Earl Grey

Although I have tried to limit my collecting to postcards with Prince Edward Island scenes, sometimes an item comes along that is too good to exclude. Such is the case when I discovered a card recently offered in the Toronto Postcard Club members auction.

Unlike most of the items in my collection this one is a “real photo postcard” (RPPC). There are not many real photo postcards from Prince Edward, especially from the period before the Great War and this card proved to be a treat both from a technical and a subject perspective.

Real Photo Postcards were made through a photographic process rather than by conventional printing. They put many photo studios and a number of amateur photographers in the postcard business.

Commissioning of the H.M.C.S. Earl Grey in Halifax 1914. Note the iceboat on the stern davits. While the hull appears to be painted in a dark colour, in reality it was white as can be seen in other photos, taken in Halifax and on arrival in the White Sea, posted on my Sailstrait pages noted below.

Although some RPPCs exist from the late 1890s the creation of Velox photo paper by Kodak in 1902 was the real beginning of the RPPC. This paper came with a pre-printed postcard back. That, coupled with a new folding camera design, launched a year later, which produced negatives in the postcard format, made the production of postcards a simple process. A few cards or even a single card could be produced from a photographic negative and could be sent through the mails without an envelope.

Real photo postcards were often created to record local events or places of local significance because they could be produced in small quantities unlike printed cards which required the creation of printing plates and a press run and so were not economical unless a larger quantity came off the presses. More technical information about Real Photo Postcards can be found on the excellent Metropolitan Postcard site 

Because it was difficult to add information to the photo negative, and the back of the card came pre-printed, most RPPCs have no identifying information which can pinpoint the subject, the scene or the publisher.  This makes them both attractive and frustrating for collectors. Sometimes the card message holds the only clues as to the subject of the card.  Such is the case with my latest acquisition.  Although not mailed the original owner has recorded the event pictured: “Hoisting the British ensign, when we commissioned the H.M.S. Earl Grey at Halifax”  The inscription suggests this was a souvenir retained by a member of the ship’s crew.

Back of the Earl Grey card.; The information dates the event.

Even without the inscription I was able to name the vessel. She was quite familiar as in my blog Sailstrait I had done two long postings, one dealing with the Earl Grey’s Canadian history and the other concerning the ship’s adventures after she was sold to Russia in 1914.

The real photo postcard neatly bridges the two chapters as it captures the ship in the process of being transferred to the Russians. On 1 August 1914 the ship was transferred to the Canadian Navy. Four days later she became H.M.C.S. Earl Grey of the Royal Canadian Navy. The postcard is the picture of the official raising of the Royal Naval ensign symbolizing the commissioning of the ship. The postcard shows the ratings in their naval whites assembled overlooking the stern of the vessel while the officers in darker uniforms salute the ensign.

While the card was obviously produced in Halifax and is not technically a P.E.I. card the content is related to a vessel which was very important to the Island. I trust that purist collectors will forgive me.

Note – an earlier version of this page suggested that the vessel was commissioned as the H.M.S. Earl Grey of the Royal Navy rather than the Royal Canadian Navy.

 

 

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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.

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