William Ritchie & Sons Limited
– a Reliable Guide
When he was 19, William Ritchie (1824 to 3 September 1900) opened his bookshop “The Edinburgh Bible Warehouse” in St Andrew’s Square1. Later his business centred on a warehouse at 16 Elder Street that had such a wide range of stock that he was known as “Wullie A’thing”. In 1857 he became a member of the Photographic Society of Scotland. In 1865 he became a member of the Edinburgh Photographic Society2 which had been formed in 1861 as a result of dissatisfaction with the Scottish club3.
Ritchie’s sons carried on the business after his death and they had certainly entered the card market by July 1901 when my card of Glasgow University was posted.
The company was an affiliate of the American News Company during the first two decades of the twentieth century. They published artist-signed postcards of watercolours in their “Waterette” series that the American News Company printed using tricolor printing4.
The undivided backs in my collection of about 60 can be divided into different categories:
The ONLY cards
These are black and white photographs of places in Scotland taking up some but not all of the photo side with the location in italics below the image. The reverse has words printed in dark red:
- POST CARD in serif font
- THE ADDRESS ONLY TO BE WRITTEN ON THIS SIDE
- A HALF-PENNY STAMP TO BE PLACED HERE [in the stamp box]
Two [only] of these cards have the words RELIABLE and SERIES either side of the WR & S shield. The earliest postmark is July 1901 on a Victoria stamp.
The Glasgow cards
These cards have views of the fair city but are otherwise like the ONLY cards except that the word ONLY is omitted from the back. There is no indication of publisher. None is postally used or otherwise dated.
The POSTAGE cards
These are like the Glasgow cards except that they have views from all over Scotland and as far into England as Bridlington. Where visible, the stamp box has the wording POSTAGE INLAND ½d FOREIGN 1d. Most but not all identify the publisher. The earliest postmark is August 1902.
The Colour series
These are colour photographs with CHROMOTYPED IN HESSEN down the left side of the photograph and the address side beside the publisher information. POST CARD and THE ADDRESS TO BE WRITTEN ON THIS SIDE are in the same style as before but in brown. The other lettering is grey and not italicised. One used in October 1903.
It seems that the styles were adopted in the order I have set out. I conclude that not all of the earliest Ritchie cards specified the publisher but that the style of the cards allows us to be confident of identification. The key points are:
- black and white photographs of places in Scotland taking up some but not all of the photo side with the location in black italics below the image;
- The reverse has words printed in dark red:
- POST CARD in serif font
- THE ADDRESS ONLY TO BE WRITTEN ON THIS SIDE or THE ADDRESS TO BE WRITTEN ON THIS SIDE
- [in the stamp box] either A HALF-PENNY STAMP TO BE PLACED HERE or POSTAGE INLAND ½d FOREIGN 1d.
1Picture Postcards and their Publishers Anthony Byatt 1978 Golden Age Postcard Books page 232