W. G. MacFarlane, "Canada's Greatest Post Card House"

W. G. MacFarlane, Canada's Greatest Post Card House

In our previous articles, we promised to introduce collectors to some of the big kahunas in the trade during the postcard’s golden age (1900–1914). These are publishers whose cards are found in the majority of today’s collections usually because of their prolific output. There are exceptions to this rule of course. Some early publishers such as J. C. Wilson of Montreal make the big kahuna category even though this firm issued only 13 different postcards from 1897 to 1902. As discussed in an earlier article, Wilson is widely collected because he is credited with producing Canada’s first patriotic postcard series. This publisher is also popular with stamp collectors as he issued a companion set of patriotic covers (envelopes) with the cards.

From an output perspective however, one of the most important publishers during the golden age was Toronto’s W. G. MacFarlane. W. G. (William Godsoe) MacFarlane was born in Fairville, New Brunswick in 1870. The son of a medical doctor, by his early 20s he was an accomplished writer and author. In Toronto in 1899 he started an "illustrated publishing" business that specialized in the production of souvenir view albums, and other stationery products. Within a few years he became one of Canada’s most prolific postcard publishers. The August 1905 Bookseller and Stationer, an early trade periodical, said this about him: "As an apostle of the picture post card in Canada, Mr. MacFarlane occupies a foremost position. About five years ago, in conjunction with Grip Limited, Toronto, he started out to publish cards and souvenir books. He assumed all the publisher’s risks, taking care of the details of manufacture. The business grew rapidly, and in February of this year Mr. MacFarlane took the business over from Grip, Limited, and located in the Westwood Building, at 72 Bay Street, these premises offering exceptional advantages for offices, sample and warerooms. A month or two later it was deemed advisable to open a branch office in Buffalo to take care of the rapidly-growing American business." Figure 1 is a MacFarlane advertisement extracted from the March 1907 issue of Bookseller and Stationer.

In addition to Buffalo, MacFarlane soon had branches in New York City, Berlin, Leipzig, Munich and Vienna. The earliest MacFarlane postcard known was mailed at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia on 16 July 1902 (see Figure 2) and he appears to have ceased publishing sometime in 1910. It’s not known why the postcards dried up but 1910 turned out to be a watershed year for all publishers. A year earlier, more specifically on 05 August 1909, the USA passed the Payne-Aldrich Act which imposed a tariff on all imported cards to protect American printers. Since America was one of the world’s largest importers of European-made postcards, the tariff had a negative impact on the entire industry. At the time, MacFarlane’s postcard business depended almost entirely on imports so he would have been hit hard. On the bright side, during the golden age MacFarlane published some of Canada’s most collectible cards.

Besides publishing thousands of view cards with scenes from coast to coast, MacFarlane is well known to collectors for his special postcard series. For example, he issued at least 30 different Canadian patriotic & heraldic series, in addition to some classic artist-signed sets and a huge hoard of novelty cards. MacFarlane’s heraldic postcards, which have embossed images of colourful crests and flags, are arguably his most sought-after items (see Figure 3). And there are certainly enough of them to go around. According to the late Wally Gutzman in his The Canadian Picture Post Card Catalogue 1988, "The great majority of the early heraldic cards were published by W. G. MacFarlane in Toronto . . ."

In the artist-signed category, MacFarlane released six very collectible sets by artist John Innes (1863–1941). Innes was, without a doubt, the most prolific frontier artist in early 20th century Canada. Born in London, Ontario and educated in Canada and at England’s Dufferin Military Academy, Innes excelled in design, drafting and painting. In the 1880’s he joined a survey team as a cartographer and headed for the Rockies. Settling in Alberta, he bought and ran a cattle ranch, drew cartoons for the Calgary Herald and published his own newspaper in Banff. Back to Ontario in the 1890s, he worked as a writer and illustrator for Canadian Magazine, exhibited with the Ontario Society of Artists, and eventually found himself involved in the South African War (1899–1902) either as a war correspondent or soldier, depending on the source you read. After the war he returned to Canada and was soon headed to Vancouver via pack train, painting scenes of Canada’s frontier along the way (see Figure 4). From 1907 to 1913 he worked as a staff artist for the Hearst newspaper chain in New York before finally returning to Vancouver as a cartoonist for the Vancouver Sun. Because the scenes in many of his frontier paintings are often mistaken for the American West, Innes is often misidentified as an American artist in U.S. postcard publications.

Finally, we wanted to show at least one postcard from an incredible MacFarlane novelty series only discovered within the last decade. All the cards have images of pretty ladies mounted in spectacularly-designed frames that are either embossed, stuffed with padding or both (see Figure 5). These postcards are little works of art in their own right.

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