A Friendly Call, The Bishop Barker Co., 1919.
As well as curating the Canadian and Caribbean collections here at the British Library, the other thing occupying my time at the moment is finishing my PhD. One of my thesis chapters is about the substantial holdings of Canadian postcards from the early twentieth century that are held at the Library, so I thought I’d share some insights into this collection.
Now, in many ways postcards are not show stopping items in libraries or museums (although they did have a section in the Points of View exhibition), especially because we generally see them as something cheap and ephemeral. However, it is precisely because of this characteristic that the postcard deserves our attention. In the early twentieth century the postcard was a means of communication between friends, relatives, associates and even enemies near and far, and the scale on which they were consumed dwarfs how many postcards are bought today, even with the huge growth of the tourist industry. As a result of this the images placed on postcards became an important way for individuals, especially those who could not travel, to see and experience different worlds.
In the Canadian context the rise in popularity of the postcard coincided with a period of major political, social and technological change. Therefore many Canadian postcards produced in the ‘golden age’ of the form’s popularity (1895-1920) are important windows onto Canadian history. Our collection of postcards contains an extensive set of aerial photographs (some of the first taken from a plane in Canada), postcards of the Tercentenary of Quebec and commemorative cards for the death of Queen Victoria, to name just a few subjects. There are also a number of postcards of stereoscopic photographs, which were the subject of one of my previous blogs.
When our Canadian postcards are combined with the Library’s wonderful Philatelic holdings, their research significance is only enhanced.
[P. J. H.]