Snapshots of the Past

Blairmore, Alta. - Crow's Nest Pass (ca. 1905-1910)

Blairmore, Alta. – Crow’s Nest Pass (ca. 1905-1910)
(click image for larger view)

I always enjoy looking at old photographs such as those found on vintage postcards. When viewing them, it can be like going back in time. The images on these postcards can reveal a lot of historical information, whether it’s about people, places, or events. These snapshots of the past can also help us to better understand what daily life was like, back in the day.

Deltiology is the study and collection of postcards. According to Wikipedia, it’s the third largest collecting hobby after stamp and coin collecting. Like many other hobbies, there are clubs devoted to collecting, trading, and selling postcards. Among these are the VancouverToronto, and New York City postcard clubs. In addition, there are numerous websites dedicated to postcard enthusiasts.

1897 Postal Stationary Card (front view) - T. Eaton Co.

1897 Postal Stationary Card (front view) – T. Eaton Co.
(click image for larger view)

Before postcards, there were postal stationary cards. First introduced in Austria in 1869, these cards were a forerunner to the modern day postcardOther European countries, including Great Britain, started using them in 1870. Canada became the first non-European nation to issue postal stationary cards, in 1871. The United States followed two years later. These postal cards were pre-stamped and did not have pictures or images on them. They could be purchased at the post office for one cent. The cost included the card and delivery to any address within the Dominion. The stamped side of the card could only be used for the address and nothing else could be written or printed here. The opposite side was reserved for messages.

1897 Postal Stationary Card (back view) - T. Eaton Co.

1897 Postal Stationary Card (reverse view) – T. Eaton Co. (click image for larger view)

These cards became popular with people as a way to communicate with family, to place orders with merchants, and for companies to advertise their products. In 1897, the use of designs, illustrations, portraits, sketches, and other forms of advertising, were permitted on the address side of the postcard. More changes followed in 1903, when the divided back postcard was introduced. The stamped side of the card was divided by a vertical line, providing a space on the right for the address and a space on the left for communication. This allowed for an image to take up the entire space on the front of a card. It’s the same format in use today.



Turtle Mountain - Frank Slide Divided Back Postcard (ca. 1930s)

Turtle Mountain – Frank Slide Divided Back Postcard (ca. 1930s)
(click image for larger view)

Turtle Mountain - Frank Slide Divided Back Postcard (ca. 1930s)

Turtle Mountain – Frank Slide Divided Back Postcard (ca. 1930s)
(click image for larger view)







By the early 1900s, postcards were being mass produced and mailed by the millions. Postcard collecting became all the rage during this time. Between 1907 and 1908, more than 600 million postcards were mailed in the United States alone. That’s an astonishing number, considering the population in the U.S. was around 89 million at the time.

Nowadays, scientists and researchers sometimes use old postcards, and other early photographs, when studying environmental changes that have occurred to the landscape over an extended period of time. By comparing now and then photos, they can better evaluate the extent of these changes.

I’m not a serious collector of vintage postcards or photographs, but I have acquired a few interesting ones of southern Alberta, including some from Crowsnest Pass dating to its early years of settlement. Some of the places on these postcards and photos have changed little over the past one hundred and some odd years, while others are very different now, compared to how they appeared back then. From time to time, I’ll post some of these images here, along with their current views, for comparison.

Crow's Nest Mountain - Canadian Pacific Railway (ca. 1905)

Crow’s Nest Mountain – Canadian Pacific Railway (ca. 1905)
(click image for larger view)

The time-old tradition of mailing postcards while on vacation, via snail mail, is not as popular as it once was. Today, we usually do it electronically with email or on social media. It’s never been easier (or faster) to share a photo and message with a family member, friend, or the entire world, for that matter. You can send anyone a virtual postcard, or eCard, whenever you like. Posting your travel photos on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, is something you can do in an instant, anytime of day, from almost anywhere, providing you have an Internet connection. The digital postcard of the 21st century may seem a bit impersonal to some people, and I tend to agree. Sitting down and writing a personal message on the back of real postcard is becoming a dying art. When was the last time you mailed a real postcard to someone, or received one yourself?

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  1. Terry Maurer August 16, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

    I’ve always been fascinated w/ postcards & over the years – as both antiques dealer & collector of things – have handled / sold / purchased many.

    The ones I’ve kept for my personal collection are all family.

    My gradmother & grandfather courted (at least in part) with postcards.

    He was a railroader – a fireman … and her family ran the ferry boat that took train cars and engines across the Columbia River at Kalama, Washington State.

    I’ve a number of cards from their courtship … of about 1914-1915. Not particularly sentimental by modern standards. They mostly carry messages from him like “I’ll be crossing with # 47 at 5:30 on Tuesday.”

    And she – who was the cook on the ferry’s little diner – would write back “I’ll have some biscuits put aside for you.”

    Mail must have been quicker back in those days – as both of their cards seem to have had no problem being delivered the next day.

    This was in the “split-back era” of American postcards, and the scenes on the front of those cards between the two of them range from a little boy hoisting a huge salmon at Astoria, Oregon to a photo of downtown Tacoma.

    I haven’t much esle from my mother’s parents and treasure these. Of course, from a value standpoint, the marketplace thinks they’re work nothing at all. The marketplace doesn’t know priceless when it sees it.

    • Vic Bergman August 17, 2016 at 10:37 am #

      I’m sure the postcards you have of your grandparents are a real treasure and keepsake. To be able to read notes they made to each other is special. Sometimes, I find the messages scribbled on the back of a postcard as interesting as the photo on the front. Thanks for your comments!

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