Your Photo is in the Mail – Review of October Presentation

Mike Smith by Robert Lansdale

Mike Smith by Robert Lansdale

TorontoThe Postcards of Reuben R Sallows is a talk by Mike Smith on Reuben Sallows of Goderich and the use of his photographs in magazines and on postcards. The short talk preceding Mr Smith is a brief overview of Orillia’s Street Alive summer art featuring columns of cameras (story poles) as described by Mark Singer. After his talk on Reuben, I gave Mike a lift to the Mississauga Bus terminal at Square One. I have a tenuous connection to Reuben Sallows – my eldest daughter contributed code to the designer of the Sallows web site.

Mike explained that he became an authority in postcards after discovering just how inexpensive rare postcards could be. He has written many definitive books on postcards all carefully illustrated. Each postcard is given a valuation not unlike McKeown’s guides for cameras. Mike mentioned that Sallows was an unsung hero with beautiful photographs depicting life in Southern Ontario and Canada in the 1900s. He felt Sallows was an inspiration to many artists including the American, Norman Rockwell. Mike currently lives in Goderich.

Mike illustrated his talk with a Powerpoint slide show. He did extensive research on Sallows and his photographs. Sallows was born in Colborne Township, miles east of Toronto in 1855. Mike noted that Sallows was born with the single first name “Reuben”, adding the letter “R” years later. Sallows bought the Thompson Photographic Studio in Goderich in 1881 after apprenticing with Thompson for three years. The studio was on the main street of the village overlooking the town square. Mike showed Sallows to be a prolific photographer with many views of the Goderich area in the late 1880s.

In those days, both magazine and postcard printers didn’t usually credit the photographer. In fact many photographs were identified with various locations to sell magazines and postcards locally. Mike illustrated examples of Sallows’s photographs being identified as both Canadian and American in magazines. In one anecdote, Mike told of a Maple Sugar bush identified as photographed in Quebec but  actually taken in Ontario.

Much of his research was tracking down Sallows’s photographs and verifying their authenticity. He listed eight American publishers and even more Canadian printers who used Sallows’s photographs without crediting them to Sallows. It was a lengthy exercise to track each photo and identify who took it and where. Mike offered many slides comparing photographs and magazine illustrations obviously based on Sallows’s work.

During the time Sallows was most proficient, postcards were cheaper to send than a letter. The end of the postcard era began a bit after the turn of the century. In 1909, America, the primary user of postcards decided to charge duty on any printing in Europe. Mike commented that one German postcard printer went so far as to move his business and equipment to New York to avoid this duty. The last straw seemed to be the added cost of a penny tax to postcards and letters in 1915, just before the outbreak of war in Europe. This doubled the postage for postcards – still less costly to mail than a letter. But people got the hint – sales of postcards plummeted.

A number of Sallows photographic postcards were very popular and sold as a series. At one point his daughter was featured as a model in many of the photographs. Today Sallows’s work exists only on the web site and in the Goderich city hall. Mike wrapped up his talk by announcing he and Larry Monring would co-publish a book titled “The Reuben R Sallows Picture Postcard Handbook 1900 – 1925” in November of the year. The talk was obviously a hit with our members as shown by the lengthy question period at its conclusion. RAC.


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