Antique Postcards in the White Border & Linen Era

In my earlier article on the postcard’s classic era (1900–1919), I mentioned that during this period the world was introduced to some of the most spectacular colour printing ever seen. In fact, postcards printed in Europe (especially Germany) dominated so much of the North American market before the First World War (1914–1918), in 1909 the Americans imposed a tariff on imported paper goods and other products to protect their domestic printing industry. As often happens when governments interfere with the marketplace though, the tariff caused price increases on both sides of the Atlantic and hurt the postcard trade overall.

With the absence of European-made cards in the Canadian market after the First World War, domestic publishers rose to the challenge. One of the earliest was the Heliotype Co. of Ottawa. Heliotype first appears in The Ottawa City Directory in 1915. The company began publishing military postcards during the war and by 1920 had added numerous city and town views to its repertoire. The earliest Heliotype cards have a monotone sepia finish, like the example shown as Figure 1. All Heliotype cards recorded thus far have four white borders, which was the norm for postcards printed in Canada and the US in the decades following the First World War (hence the era’s name).

Figure 1. A circa 1920 Goderich, Ontario postcard by Heliotype Co., Ottawa. An interesting card like this would easily sell for $10 to $15.

After 1920, Heliotype dropped off the radar and identical-looking cards began to appear on the market from another Ottawa company – the Photogelatine Engraving Co. (a.k.a. "PECO"). PECO was established in 1922 and by the look of its earliest cards, it appears to have bought out Heliotype, printing presses and all. Over a period spanning three decades, PECO published thousands of postcards of communities across Canada, even venturing as far afield as the British West Indies. And during the Second World War (1938–1945), it was one of the country’s most prolific publishers of war-themed cards (see Figures 2 & 3).

Figure 2. A postcard of the famous Dionne Quintuplets giving a patriotic salute. Published by the Photogelatine Engraving Co. (PECO), Ottawa, this card could easily fetch $20 at a postcard show.

Figure 3. Another PECO beauty, this one a Second World War anti-Hitler card drawn by artist Wilf Long. This example would easily sell for $20 to $25.

In late 1946, PECO moved to Toronto and duked it out with well-established publishers such as the Post Card and Greeting Card Co., Canadian Royalties Ltd., and Valentine-Black (previously Valentine & Sons). Interest in Canadian Royalties postcards has been growing ever since one of their earliest and most unusual series of cards was highlighted in the February 16, 2010 issue of Canadian Stamp News. In the late 1920s Canadian Royalties published a series of Ontario and British Columbia view cards mostly made from photographs taken by the railway companies. The cards are wider than the standard-size postcards of the day (6-1/8 in. versus 5-1/2 in.), are in colour, have a bevy of patriotic symbols on their backs (maple leaves, beaver, etc.), and don’t have the era’s typical white border. In other words, they’re intriguing enough to have caught the eye of many collectors (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. A circa 1929 Canadian Royalties Ltd. postcard of the Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario. This card, made from a photo taken by Canadian National Railways, would fetch at least $10 at a show.

One of the largest producers of white-border postcards south of the border was Curt Teich of Chicago. In 1931 this innovative German-born printer would soon revolutionize the North American postcard business with the introduction of the so-called "linen" postcard. Teich’s linen postcards were made on high speed presses using vibrant inks, a five-colour printing process, and a high rag-content paper stock. The rough texture on the surface of the cards had a linen-like feel, hence the name. The surface roughness was more than a cosmetic feature of the cards. It was actually developed by Teich to speed up the ink-drying process. This was an important consideration when using high speed presses.

With airbrushing, retouching and extensive colourizing, Teich was able to convert black and white photographs of main streets, storefronts, fairgrounds, hotels, etc. into little cardboard masterpieces. Teich’s artists and illustrators also created cartoon linens, the popular large-letter linens (see Figure 5), advertising linens and numerous other varieties. In fact, according to Linen Postcards, Images of the American Dream by Werther & Mott, 2002, Curt Teich manufactured over 50,000 different linen cards. And, if you check the Curt Teich Postcard Archives online, you’ll learn that the overall output of the company from 1898 to 1978 was approximately 400,000 different cards! This has to make it one of the most prolific postcard makers in history.

Figure 5. A 1940s "large letter" linen postcard folder of Niagara Falls (Canada & US) by Curt Teich of Chicago. Postcard folders with views, like this one, can usually be purchased for $5 or less. Understandably, folders with detachable cards can sell for much more.

Although both white border and linen postcards were still being produced and sold in the 1950s, many pundits consider their era to have ended in the 1940s. For in that decade, specifically in the years following the end of the Second World War, the photochrome printing process began to dominate the market. And that’ll be the subject of the next article.

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