If you are like me, you love postcards – especially old ones. There’s something about the combination of a phototograph, sometimes coloured, and a personal message on the back that intrigues me. It’s a window into a time, relationship or event, that gives a hint to the larger public and personal events in the lives of our communities, ancestors and neighbours.
So when did postcards come about? In 1871, pre-paid government issued postal cards were introduced in Canada. They were printed on plain card stock and included postage. The backs were exclusively reserved for addresses and the other side for message. In the days before the widespread use and availability of telephones, postal cards enabled people to communicate with quick, efficient, and low-cost exchange of short messages, without the need of fancy stationary, envelopes and postage stamps. In large cities with multiple daily postal deliveries, recipients might receive and reply to a card on the very day of its dispatch. For several decades, these cards were the most popular and easy way to arrange meetings, advertise products and services, place orders with merchants, and keep in touch with family and friends.
In the 1880’s, European publishing companies started including small illustrations on postcards, in conjunction with fairs and exhibitions. A new industry grew to fill the demand for these ‘private’ decorative postcards. In Canada, private postcards were accepted at a reduced postage rate of one penny starting in 1895. As time went on, the inclusion of pictures and photographs started to dominate the production of postcards.
German companies were known for their high quality cards and illustrations and were a major player in the North American market until 1914. In Canada, companies such as James Valentine & Sons, Warwick Brothers & Rutter, W.G. MacFarlane of Toronto, Cloke and Son of Hamilton and International Stationery Co. of Picton were major publishers of postcards. Divided-back picture postcards, where the image is on the front and message and address sections on the back, were widely adopted in the early 1900s.
With the development of camera for the masses, people were able to create their own postcards using their homes, families and communities as subjects. These postcards served to document and share personal and community histories, tourism and events. The ‘golden age’ of the picture postcards was from 1900 to 1920.
So what do postcards say about the history of Kitchener? Local historian rych mills will tell us at his upcoming talk called “Postcards Then and Photographs Now”. Come join me on Thursday March 31st at 7pm at the Central Library as rych explores Kitchener history by postcards then and modern photographs taken by fellow history aficionado and Waterloo Historical Society member, John Glass. It’s a free talk, but registration is required. Details about the talk and registration link can be found here. You can also call InfoLink at 519-743-7502 to register during library hours. If you have Kitchener postcards, please feel free to bring them to the talk for rych to identify.
I hope to see you there!