Postcard collector Nick Russell uses a magnifying glass to look over one of his postcards of Victoria.

Postcard collector Nick Russell uses a magnifying glass to look over one of his postcards of Victoria.

Postcards from the edge of history

Victoria author Nick Russell writes a new book on postcards

Victoria author Nick Russell has always been a collector.

He’s collected stamps, coins, antique tools and, yes, postcards.

So it’s not surprising that when he was looking at writing a new book on Victoria history, he turned to his collection of postcards.

“After living in Victoria for a few years and researching the city’s history, I was seeing a lot of nice, old postcards,” said the author of Glorious Victorians.

The idea for Russell’s newest book Victoria Then and Now: Postcards from the Past germinated as he was finishing Glorious Victorians three years ago. From, there he began collecting and researching for his new book.

Part of the research involved searching estate sales, thrift shops, antique stores, online and old newspapers for postcards. He even found one postcard in the wall of a heritage house being demolished in James Bay.

The book includes 35 pre-First World War postcards. Each heritage scene is complemented with an updated photo taken by Russell. He estimates he took more than 1,000 pictures for the project over a two-year period. There is also a small written piece on each site and, if appropriate, what was written on the back of the postcard.

“Victorians and Edwardians were great collectors of postcards,” Russell said. “They kept albums, they collected cards when they went on trips, asked friends to collect cards for them. A whole sub-culture of exchange took place.”

Russell chose the period before the First World War for his book because that was the height of the postcard era, when hundreds of thousands of postcards were made and mailed. It was the period of a lot of prosperity in the region and tourism was booming.

Following the war, the economy slowed and the enthusiasm for postcards began to fall.

Russell has about 150 postcards in his collection, but dating the documents is a challenge. A legible stamp cancellation is a great help, but only indicates the card was probably then available. It may have been printed years before. Messages were not permitted on the earliest cards.

Another difficulty for Russell was trying to determine exact spot where a photo was taken. He was able to triangulate most shots but one was simply impossible. The problem? New buildings (or the lack of landmarks) even vegetation overgrowth. With some shots he had to go back five times or more to get proper lighting, depth of field and even “to get the trees right.”

But this labour of love was worth it.

“I really like putting things out there and sharing them. It’s not for the money, heaven knows. I like contributing something to the community, so that it’s a little richer,” he said.