Antique Postcards by Warwick Bros. & Rutter, "A Canadian Original"

Antique Postcards by Warwick Bros. & Rutter, A Canadian Original

In my July 2007 handbook on Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcards, I referred to the company as "A Canadian Original." Not only did this amazing Toronto firm buck the trend and print almost all of its golden age (1900–1914) postcards in house, it presently reigns as Canada’s most prolific golden age publisher. At last count, Warwick Bros. & Rutter issued more than 7,400 different postcards in Canada before the First World War. This trumps its closest Canadian rivals, Stedman Bros. and W. G. MacFarlane, by about 1,500 and 3,000 cards respectively.

In its early history Warwick Bros. & Rutter benefitted from the hard work and farsightedness of its founder, Montreal-born William Warwick (see Figure 1). Warwick started his first business, a book and stationery shop, in Woodstock, Ontario in 1847. A bookbinding enterprise was added in 1848, and by 1868 he moved the entire operation to Toronto to take advantage of its larger economy. Alfred Rutter, who eventually became a company partner, joined the firm in 1873 and in short order was promoted to Head of Manufacturing. Without a doubt, 1880 was a watershed year for the firm. On the plus side, Warwick secured the Ontario government printing and bookbinding contract, which his company held for decades. On the minus side, he was mortally injured in a carriage accident at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (now CNE) on September 3, 1880. He died 17 days later.

After his death, Warwick’s widow and a succession of sons ran the firm, which was renamed Warwick Bros. & Rutter in 1893. Exactly 10 years later, the company introduced its first picture postcards. As mentioned earlier, while other golden age publishers in Canada relied on imports from abroad, Warwick Bros. & Rutter was a domestic trailblazer in the three and four colour printing processes. From its factory at 68–70 Front Street West, the firm released some of the most attractive postcards ever seen in Canada (see Figure 2). And just to show how resilient the company was, after being completely destroyed in the Great Toronto Fire of April 19, 1904, it rebuilt, modernized, and was operating out of new buildings at 401 King Street West and 57 Spadina Avenue that summer.

One of the most interesting of Warwick Bros. & Rutter’s early postcards is a colourful patriotic-type showing the factory after its destruction in the 1904 fire (see Figure 3). The sales pitch on the front says, "Our new range of School Goods and Paperties is the best we have ever shown." On the right-hand side of the card it states, "The Picture Shows we have no Old Stock." Now that’s chutzpah!

Although it would be quite a challenge to build a "complete" Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard collection, there are precedents. For example, in the latter decades of his life the late Bill Buchanan of the Toronto Postcard Club (TPC) made it his mission to collect and record every Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard he could find. Before he sold his collection in 2011, this great collector (and dear friend) had amassed about 6,500 of the 7,400 Warwick’s he’d documented. Buchanan’s typewritten records, by the way, were the genesis of my 2007 handbook, and have been transcribed onto an Excel spreadsheet viewable on the TPC website. As a testament to Buchanan’s diligence, less than 100 unlisted Warwick’s have turned up in the 10 years since the handbook was published. One of the newbies is shown as Figure 4, and it’s a humdinger.

Although I’ve only shown patriotic and advertising postcards up to this point, from 1903 to 1912 Warwick Bros. & Rutter’s published an astonishing amount of colour view cards. Understandably, Ontario scenes (2503 cards) dominate the group, followed by the Maritimes (980 cards), Prairies (572 cards), British Columbia (226 cards), Quebec (145 cards), Yukon (18 cards) and Newfoundland (11 cards). There are also many scenes of Canadian cities and towns incorporated into Warwick Bros. & Rutter’s series of "special" postcards, such as the patriotic types shown earlier.

One of the more interesting postcard series published by the company in 1906 is titled "Actors & Actresses." The series is made up of real photos of some of the world’s most iconic stars of stage and screen – Sarah Bernhardt, William Gillette, Maude Adams, etc. When Bill Buchanan first showed me these cards in the 1990s, the actress I recognized right away was Ethel Barrymore (see Figure 5). For the film buffs out there, Ethel Barrymore (1879-1959) was a celebrated stage and screen star and member of the legendary Barrymore family, which also included famous actors John and Lionel (her brothers) and John Drew (her nephew). Modern film buffs are undoubtedly familiar with her grand-niece, movie actress Drew Barrymore.

In the first paragraph, I mentioned one of Warwick Bros. & Rutter’s key rivals in the trade, Stedman Bros. of Brantford. With almost 6,000 different cards recorded so far, Stedman Bros. is nipping at Warwick’s heels with respect to collector popularity.

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