University of Saskatchewan
  Postcards & Mailings


Wish You Were Here is the traditional salutation inscribed on illustrated postcards mailed from tourist destinations around the world.  When the postcard has been provided at no cost by the pictured attraction, it becomes less a souvenir or means of communication and more an effective example of direct mail advertising.

McKinnons Limited Weyburn, Sask. [1913].The postcard developed as an important vehicle for concise communication in the era before telephones and email. A revolution in printing occasioned advances in colour lithography permitted the mass production at low cost of brightly coloured illustrated cards in the 1890s. Many of the earliest illustrated postcards were in fact intended as advertisements. It was only later during the golden age of postcards (1900-1914) that they were produced primarily as souvenir-collectibles.

Although most early view cards of Western Canada do present the region positively they are not strictly advertising because they do not directly seek to promote the purchase of a good or service. However any large collection of historic cards will likely contain some examples that might properly be considered advertising. The Canadian government, railroad and land companies all distributed postcards as part of their immigration and settlement campaigns. Department and dry good stores, and many hotels and motels, produced cards to promote their businesses.

An early form of direct mail marketing was practiced by prairie physicians, dentists and optometrists who mass mailed notices of upcoming visits to smaller rural communities.

Stamp Out Syphilis in Saskatchewan. Pamphlets, being small and lightweight, were easily adaptable to mailings. The eagerly awaited catalogues or wish books of Eaton’s and Simpson’s were distributed by mail. Much less anticipated are the hundreds of grocery flyers, coupon packages, and pizza promotions that end up in today’s mail boxes. Some of this advertising, derisively labeled junk mail, is actually delivered by Canada Post. Much more is brought to mailboxes or at least doorsteps by other private sector distributors.

A less familiar form of mail-related advertising are special postal cancellations authorized by the government to promote official initiatives, such as the sale of savings bonds, or to highlight pressing public issues. Illustrated here is an envelope cancellation which raised public awareness about the high rate of venereal disease in Saskatchewan during the Second World War.

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
Mark Twain (1835-1910), American novelist and humorist


University of Saskatchewan Archives Copyright© 2008. All Rights Reserved.