How I got started in Postcard Collecting

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I never intended to collect postcards but once on the slippery slope there was no one to tell me of the dangers of addiction. As an archivist and historian I hadn’t paid much attention to postcards and they were often catalogued as ephemera.  One of my research projects was on a Charlottetown architect, Charles Benjamin Chappell, who was active between 1880 and 1920 and I noticed that many of the best images of his buildings showed up on postcards of the period.  In preparation for publishing an article on Chappell I began to gather cards as the archival collections had very few of them.  When I published the article and gave gallery talks the postcards were of great interest to the public.

This led to curiosity about the cards themselves and I noticed that many  of the best of them came from one publisher; Warwick Bros. and Rutter of Toronto. Mike Smith’s book on Warwick Bros. opened the floodgates and showed me how many of the cards I had never seen so I started looking out for the Prince Edward Island cards from just this one publisher.  I was not going to fall into the trap of trying to collect everything so Warwick & Rutter and P.E.I. were the ropes that would circle my collection and prevent me from falling into the trap of excess diversity.

As I became more familiar with the cards I began to find titles and variations that were not in the Smith book which was quite exciting for me.  Perhaps rather than just collecting I could help add to the information about these cards!  At the same time I noticed that these cards frequently had the name of the photographer which I have subsequently found was quite rare.  My research instincts kicked in and I was off on the trail of William S. Louson who is credited with about one third of the W& R’s P.E.I. cards.  I was able to find that he was a gifted amateur and a tireless promoter of the province.  This lead to another article on the man himself but since postcards were such a large part of his output these images were the ones I chose to illustrate the article. [“Our quiet but engaging scenery” W.S. Louson and the Picturing of Prince Edward Island  – The Island Magazine Fall/Winter 2016 pp 30-35] I have also been asked to do a gallery exhibition on his postcard images in relation to tourism promotion before WWI.

Louson’s work extended beyond what ever relationship he may have had with Warwick & Rutter and I began finding unattributed images by other postcard publishers. Carter, McCoy, MacFarlane, Pugh and Valentine all seem to have copied or used Louson photos in their P.E.I. cards.  So of course the ropes around my narrow collecting interests have again been relaxed. Now they take the form of a list rather than a line. Today I am interested in Pre WWI postcards of Prince Edward Island, particularly those of Warwick Bros. & Rutter as well as images that are, or might be from photos of W.S. Louson. But I have learned that my interests should not be not closed and narrow and so I continue to scan lists and catalogues and on-line listings for early P.E.I. material because tomorrow I might just widen the search a bit.     

If I had to select a postcard as the one that got me started it would have to be the one at the top of this page showing Warwick and Rutter image of one of C.B. Chappell’s buildings.   Today it is far from what I consider the best or most interesting card in the collection.  It is a good documentary item but hardly a great postcard.

Note: This page was originally prepared for a discussion at the Toronto Postcard Club which I was unable to attend in person. It was re-printed in Card Talk, the TPC journal,  Spring/Summer 2017 (Vol. 38 No. 1).