Call – Holman’s Guarantee Satifaction – a DXers delight

Standard Novelty Manufacturing postcard of R.T. Holman stores Summerside and Charlottetown showing CHGS call sign and antenna. Card #431935. University of Prince Edward Island collection.

Summerside’s first radio station went on the air in 1925 using the callsign CHLC, later changed to CHGS which reportedly stood for Holmans Guarantee Satisfaction, and with a signal strength of 25 watts. The operation was owned by the R.T. Holman company, a wholesale and retail business with stores in Summerside and Charlottetown. A short time later the strength was increased to 100 watts.   The station was located in the store building on Water street in Summerside and had a roof-mounted antenna consisting of two wires strung between small masts on the building’s roof.

In the early 1930s the power was reduced to 50 watts but by the end of World War II had returned to 100 watts.  Initial programming was only 2 hours and 15 minutes each day but by the middle of the decade this has increased to nearly 10 hours per weekday and 7 hours on Sunday.  In the early years at least, the station did not include advertising although the ownership of the station by the R.T. Holman company was frequently noted.

Back of standard Novelty card used by CHGS as an acknowledgement of reception.

With relatively low power most of the listeners were in western and central Prince Edward Island but it could be heard regularly in nearby Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as well. The station was also occasionally picked up as far south as Pennsylvania and into Quebec when atmospheric conditions were favourable.

A Novelty Manufacturing and Arts Company postcard from the 1930s shows an image of the R.T. Holman stores in Summerside and Charlottetown, noting the CHGS callsign on the Summerside store. The images have been re-drawn with editorial changes. The Summerside store, which consisted of three sections – one of three stories, one of four and a link between the two –  is shown as neatly designed three story building. On the other hand the three story structure of the Charlottetown store has miraculously had a story added.

The back of the card is the standard Novelty back, easily identified by the wordmark. However, there was a special edition of the card which is very much related to the early radio industry. Stations prided themselves on how large their coverage extended but this was often difficult to ascertain unless listeners wrote to the station and some early newspaper coverage includes reports of distant locations where the signals had been heard.

Many stations, including CHGS, requested information from listeners asking for reports of reception of broadcasts and in response sent what became known as DX or QSL cards. Early radio listeners, often using home made crystal sets and long wire antennas, found radio stations few and far between. With the broadcast bands uncrowded, signals of the most powerful stations could be heard over hundreds of miles, but weaker signals required more precise tuning or better receiving gear. This became a hobby in its own right, the name of the hobby coming from DX, telegraphic shorthand for “distance” or “distant.” Stations began to broadcast special DX programming to solicit information about coverage. For commercial stations this became a selling point to advertisers. In the 1930s CHGS’s DX broadcast took place from 2:30 to 3:30 am during the winter season when reception was best.

CHGS postcard back with pre-printed DX message and station information.

The hobby became more refined when an American firm developed radio verification stamps. This became a big fad as broadcasters rewarded listeners by sending out stamp in response to reception reports.

Verified Reception Stamp from CFRB, Fredericton.

The stamps usually came on a card verifying the listener’s report since signal strength and coverage could vary widely depending on equipment and atmospheric conditions. Two firms out of Chicago were involved in making the stamps and albums for them. The more prominent was EKKO Company and the lesser known P.M. Bryant Company. CHGS bought stamps from EKKO and attached them to postcards verifying  receipt of the DX reports. Stamps came in a variety of colors including red, green, purple, brown, blue, gray and orange. The only CHGS stamps that have been located are red. More than 700 stations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Cuba participated in the promotion. Canadian EKKO stamps featured a beaver instead of an eagle.

CHGS postcard with Veriofied Reception Stamp affixed.

CHGS appears to have been the only station on Prince Edward Island participating in the promotion. By the mid-1930s, radio technology had improved to the extent that listener reception reports were no long needed for the conventional A.M. broadcast band. However DX hobbyists continued to send in reports. Holmans appears to have reverted to using standard postcards to respond as the interest in the hobby waned.

The radio station was a particular interest of one of the Holman brothers, Robert Claude Holman who had trained as an engineer  and who lived in the U.S. before returning to Summerside after WW I. Family lore tells of at least one occasion when Claude, after an evening of illicit imbibing on prohibition-era P.E.I., wandered down to the store, turned on the station and broadcast an uncensored diatribe which very nearly lost the station its license when a few listeners complained. Operations of CGHS ceased on 31 March 1948 when R.T. Holman Limited exited the broadcast business. Over the nearly quarter century of operation programming had included musical renditions, sports reporting (including live coverage), talks, and broadcasting of church services.  Summerside was not long without a station as a number of former CHGS employees and local investors started CJRW which still broadcasts from Summerside.

Strait Steamers on Cards

One of the more popular areas for topical postcard collection is the depiction of ships on cards. While the ports of Prince Edward Island were hardly major destinations for steamers the fact of being an island meant a dependence on vessels for connection to the mainland and there are a number of interesting cards showing these essential vessels.

One group of cards centres on the unique needs of the province for “continuous steam communication” sought by the Island Government in 1873 as a condition for confederation. The struggle for links across the winter ice-bound Strait of Northumberland gave rise to a series of ice-breaking steamers and later car-ferries whose images are captured on early postcards. Ships such as the Stanley, Minto and Earl Grey are frequently shown imprisoned in the ice. The irony is that many of these cards were sent by summer visitors who had no direct knowledge of the difficulty and boredom of the winter passage.

These tourists and residents were much more likely to have reached the Island on one of the ships of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company which provided service while the strait was ice-free, usually between April and December of each year. The Company had been incorporated in 1890 but was successor to the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company, formed in 1863, and so had a near-monopoly for decades before the postcard boom.

One of the earliest cards showing Steam Navigation Company steamers was one printed in Summerside by the Journal Publishing Company

At the turn of the 20th century the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company had two vessels; the S.S. Northumberland, launched in 1891 and the S.S. Princess, built five years later.  Increased passenger travel and freight led to the sale of the Princess in 1905 and the launch a new vessel, the S.S. Empress the same year. The Northumberland normally served the Charlottetown-Pictou route while the Empress travelled between Summerside and Point de Chene  New Brunswick. Schedules of both vessels were linked to railway timetables to provide good communication to Halifax, Boston and Montreal. On my companion marine history blog, Sailstrait, I have provided details about the Princess, Northumberland, and Empress.

Although the Princess may well have been the subject of a postcard as it was still in the service in 1905 I have not been able to find any examples and indeed any photographs of the vessel are scarce. This was not the case with regard to the Northumberland and the Empress.

Although built fifteen years apart the two ships were of a similar appearance and size. Indeed, as shown below, in at least one case a card shows one ship incorrectly identified as the other. A clue to help determine the correct identification may be found by examining the smoke patterns of the two ships in the galleries below. One additional key to sorting them out is that the Empress had more lifeboats than the Northumberland.

Anticipation at Summerside P.E.I. Photo by W.S. Louson, Garden of the Gulf Series. Warwick Bros. & Rutter card#2620

Almost all the major publishers that had cards of Prince Edward Island had at least one showing a ship of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company and some publishers such as Valentine and Warwick & Rutter had images of both. Often the cards drew on the same photographic imagery although the photographer is not identified – with one exception. The Summerside image of the Empress at dock is noted as a W.S. Louson image on a Warwick Bros. & Rutter card and although the ship is not identified in his card titled “Anticipation” the Empress was the steamer servicing the Prince County port.

“S.S. Empress” Summerside, P.E. Island C.& Co. [Carter]
The identification is confirmed by a Carter & Co. “red letter” series card showing the same scene and undoubtedly taken at the same time (there are differences in the placement of the boy fishing and the spectator). These two cards are also an excellent illustration of the different treatment given to similar images by publishers. Title, cropping and most particularly shading, clarity and colour can result in cards that initially appear to be quite different  but in reality are almost identical.

An action photo of the Empress steaming is the most commonly seen image as it is used in cards from at least three publishers. Indeed Warwick Bros. & Rutter uses the same image on two cards with different titles. The image is also used on a card by McCoy Publishing and another produced for Maddigan.

Publishers with Northumberland Strait steamer cards to their credit include Kennedy, McLellan, McCoy, Maddigan, Valentine, Journal Print, Pugh, Stedman and Warwick & Rutter. I have been able to find only one card showing both vessels, the Stedman card #2572 probably published for J.D. Taylor and shown to the right.

The cards depicted in  following galleries do not exhaust the possible varieties of Northumberland Strait steamer cards but offer a representative sampling of the cards most often seen. Clicking on any of the cards will show an enlarged image.

Cards showing the S.S. Northumberland


Cards showing the S.S. Empress

The activity of the two vessels coincided with the golden age of the postcard. With the beginning of the ice-breaking rail-car ferry service in 1917 both ships were sold and the company wound up. Henceforth postcards detailed the loading, unloading and sailings of the S.S. Prince Edward Island and her successors.

Postcard of the Northumberland on Lake Ontario after WWI.

Both of these vessels continued to be the subject of postcards after they left Prince Edward Island waters. The Northumberland sailed on Lake Ontario until destroyed by fire after World War II and there are many cards showing the vessel. An excellent history of her life on the lake can be found here. The Empress was put on the Saint John to Digby route across the Bay of Fundy and there are a number cards of her in this role.

As always, I would be interested of learning of other postcards which show the Northumberland Strait steamers, especially the Princess.



Drugs…and Postcards

It seems that many of the small merchants who were early to take advantage of the postcard craze were booksellers or stationers or those already selling souvenirs or perhaps all of the above.  For them it was an easy fit and postcards seemed to be a logical extension of the existing business lines.  At least that seems to be the case in Charlottetown  where firms such as Taylor’s Bookstore, Haszard and Moore, Maddigan, and Carter’s all had cards produced under their names.

Lighthouse, Summerside Harbor
Lighthouse, Summerside Harbor, P.E.I. – published for P.D. Enman, Druggist, Summerside P.E.I. card #732 A/22

Things appear to have been a little different in Summerside. In the Prince County capital druggists and drugstores were the ones to cater to the postcard enthusiasts with local products.  Perhaps in the smaller community the pharmacies served then (as they often do today) as mini-departmental stores carrying a variety of small goods in addition to the medical supplies which formed the core of their activities.

Of course many of the national publishers such as Warwick & Rutter, Pugh, Stedman, and Valentine all had postcard images of Summerside and the surrounding communities and these would have been available from a variety of sellers in the town. However some of the merchants in Summerside also placed orders with publishers in Ontario and elsewhere and had cards published under merchant’s names with cards identified either as “published by” or published for.”

P.N. Enman was a Summerside druggist. In 1904 he took over control of a firm that had been founded in 1881 and accordingly was one of the oldest pharmacies in Prince County. The Enman name continued to be carried by a Summerside drug store for decades after Enman’s death in 1931.  Percy Enman was also involved in the Summerside Improvement and Tourist Association and served in 1904 as the chair of the organization’s Tourist Committee. He probably recognized the value of postcards as tourism advertising. Enman appears to have been a customer of the Nerlich Company of Toronto because the postcards published for Enman and bearing his name also carry the Nerlich wordmark. While I have found only three cards of this type it is likely that a number of other images exist.

P.D. Enman Cards – click on any card to enlarge

Enman was not alone in having postcards printed by Nerlich. The Red Cross Drug Store was in operation during the same period. It was operated by the McLellan family until 1915 when J.E. Gallant, formerly of Tignish purchased the business.  Most of the Red Cross Drug Store cards carry the Nerlich logo while several cards for which the publisher is not identified were published for M. J. McLellan or Mrs. M.J. McLellan.

Red Cross Drug Store & McLellan cards – click on any card to enlarge

I am indebted to collector Phil Culhane of Ottawa who alerted me to the Nerlich cards from Summerside and for sending images of several cards in his collection.

Several of the Nerlich card appear to have a code or catalogue number which suggests there are several additional images for the series which have not yet been located.

Additional note – 29 August 2017.  Since posting this item I have discovered a couple of cards which show a continuation of this drugstore/postcard link. There is one additional Enman card puiblished by Nerlich & Co. and a new-to-me drugstore, Wm. Kennedy, which also had cards under its name. See the posting here

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