You've Got Mail

Victorian Postcards for your Valentine

Ruth O. and Rammy S.

“If you are a marksman true, / Cupid will appear to you.”

“Hit the target, darling mine, / Then you’ll be my valentine.”


While these cheesy yet sentimental lines could easily turn up in any Hallmark card this Valentine’s Day, they are actually from a 1906 Vogue magazine (New York) courtesy of E. P. Dutton & Co. The tradition of exchanging cards on Valentine’s Day reaches back to the mid-19th century. The commercialization of this holiday can also be traced back to this period and to the establishment of the “Penny Post” in 1840. As the British postal industry adopted prepaid postage stamps that could reach anywhere in the country for one cent, companies began to mass-produce Valentine’s Day cards. The Penny Post made exchanging these holiday greetings affordable and convenient for all.

In 1886, sending Valentine’s gifts and cards became so popular that the Postmaster-General in London issued a notice requesting that individuals mail their Valentines early on the 13th to ensure timely delivery. One Post Office Notice encouraged gifts such as cut flowers or confectionery to be carefully wrapped “so as to secure them from injury during transit.”

By 1903, the trend was to send leather postcards to one’s sweetheart. The most popular leather cards were made by W.S. Heal. His cards contained humorous and romantic messages. Images were burned on these leather postcards with colour added afterward. Thanks to the thickness of these leather love-notes, the trend came and went quickly as they jammed postage machines. The US post office banned them in 1907.

The legacy of leather postcards and their romantic notions live on in Dalnavert’s collection. Here are some of our favourites:


While the phrase on this postcard might give you flashbacks of  Stacey Q’s 1986 one-hit-wonder  or one of  U2’s lesser-known tunes , let it be known that W. S. Heal said it first.

While the phrase on this postcard might give you flashbacks of Stacey Q’s 1986 one-hit-wonder or one of U2’s lesser-known tunes, let it be known that W. S. Heal said it first.

❤️🔥4️⃣ U

❤️🔥4️⃣ U

Who says shoe-related humour can’t be romantic and  punny ? (We’ll see ourselves out…)

Who says shoe-related humour can’t be romantic and punny? (We’ll see ourselves out…)

Hard pass.

Hard pass.

Reverse of postcard with the lucky lady’s address (that’s King Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son, on the stamps).

Reverse of postcard with the lucky lady’s address (that’s King Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son, on the stamps).

Worlds Made Miniature

Exploring Victorians Lecture Series

A Victorian Doll’s House: The Victorian Obsession with Miniatures

with Professor Vanessa Warne

Sunday, February 10 | 1:30 PM | General Admission $15 / Members $12

Event page

In this illustrated talk, Vanessa Warne explores the tiny homes that Victorians made and treasured. She also shares some magnificent examples of pre- and post-Victorian dollhouses from the impressive collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, which features a very early ‘baby house’ from the 17th century. We will visit these sometimes whimsical but often painstakingly accurate creations of miniature worlds with some guiding questions in mind: what can dollhouses, often misunderstood simply as toys for children, tell us about the values and the fears of their creators? What role have dollhouses played in literature and art, including Ibsen’s celebrated play A Doll’s House? And, how might dollhouses help us better understand the Victorian fascination not only with miniature worlds but with microscopic life? Join Vanessa for an engaging virtual tour through some very special and very small spaces.

Source:  Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood

Source: Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood

Source:  Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood

Source: Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood

The Speaking Tube

Chicago Auger


When you need the attention of someone in your house, how do you get it? Yell at them? Text them? Call them? In the Victorian era, in a house like Dalnavert, yelling wasn’t acceptable, and of course, they didn’t have cell phones. So what was the Victorian equivalent of texting or yelling, “SUPPER!”?

Before cell phones and intercoms, the solution for this dilemma was : voice pipes. In houses, they were referred to as “speaking tubes.” The very first production of the voice pipe consisted of two cones of wood or metal, one end shaped to fit the speaker’s mouth, connected to the other which flared to amplify the sound. For certain models, the ends of tubes were flexible for the user’s convenience. Think of it as a rudimentary phone cord…


The Macdonalds’ had a speaking tube, which is still there – and it still works! The mouthpiece is not original, but is true to the period. It is a very discreet model, no longer than four inches, no wider than one inch, and only a subtle inch off the wall. This type of speaking tube is also known as a whistling tube, because in order to obtain the attention on the other end, you blew into your end, and it produced a whistling sound at the other. Dalnavert’s speaking tube connects the kitchen to Lady MacDonald’s bathroom. We imagine that Lady Macdonald would have used it to ask her servants for things such as tea, warmer bath water, etc.

I became very concerned with our beloved speaking tube earlier this summer when I found the mouthpiece was no longer attached to the pipe! Of course, we repaired it fairly quickly, but it prompted me to do more research on the artifact.

To stop the continuous cries of “MOMMMMMMM” throughout your home, maybe consider installing your very own speaking tube.




Impressionism in Canada

Impressionism in Canada

with Inés Bonacossa

Sunday, January 27 @ 1:30

$15 Admission | $12 Members

Event page

The term “Impressionism” was coined in 1874 when critic Louis Leroy accused Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise of being simply a sketch (or “impression”, as its title suggests) rather than a finished work. In “The Exhibition of the Impressionists”, a particularly biting review of Monet’s painting, Leroy wrote that “wallpaper in its embryonic state is more labored than this seascape”. Impression, Sunrise was part of a Parisian exhibition that displayed the works of independent French artists, including Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Despite Leroy’s criticism, “Impressionism” became a favourable term to recognize not only this particular group of artists, but also an artistic style characterized by depictions of contemporary life, rapid brushstrokes, bright colours, and an emphasis on capturing light.

As an artistic movement, Impressionism was not restricted to France alone. In fact, it influenced many painters working within Canada’s art scene and generated a distinctly Canadian form of Impressionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So how did Impressionism take hold in Canada? How was it received here? And how did Canadian Impressionism distinguish itself from its French counterpart? Find out the answers and join in on the discussion this Sunday at “Impressionism in Canada”, Dalnavert’s lastest lecture with Inés Bonacossa. Join Inés on a journey from the origins of Impressionism in France to its development here in Canada and take in plenty of beautiful paintings along the way. For full details on the lecture, visit the event page here.

While our lecture doesn’t take place until Sunday, you can get a head start and acquaint yourself with the Impressionists right now! Below are a few examples of both French and Canadian Impressionist paintings. Do you notice any similarities or differences in style between the two groups (ie. lighting, brushstrokes, colour)? Is the subject matter the same? What makes the Canadian landscape so distinct?

Soap, Race, and Cleanliness

Raminder Saini


“The Fairbank ‘Darky Twins’ on the ‘Gold Dust’ package are as familiar to the average housewife as the face of the family clock.” Maine Farmer, April 1, 1897

The “Gold Dust Twins” were a pair of African American caricatures displayed on a popular box of washing powder from the 1880s to the early 1900s. These twins, grotesquely referred to as “the Darky Twins” by the Maine Farmer in 1897, symbolized racial attitudes that Victorians often held at the time. But who were the twins? And why should we be talking about washing powder?

Soap in the late 1800s represented more than the physical aspect of “getting clean.” The Victorian idea of cleanliness became tied to the concept of imperialism and Victorian superiority. Many Victorians, as it is well known, felt superior to the people they colonized (from Africans and Indians to Indigenous communities in Canada). Victorians also came to associate whiteness with cleanliness and blackness with dirtiness – a notion co-opted rather successfully by soap manufacturers in racialized advertisements. Take for example an advertisement for Pears’ Soap:



This ad plays on the themes of imperialism and racial stereotypes that were common to the Victorian era. In the image to the left you have an African child being placed into a tub and about to be washed with Pears’ Soap, which is held in the hand of the white child. In the next image, the African child no longer has black skin. The child has been scrubbed clean of its “dirtiness” and has thus been “civilized” (or so it is implied). As the ad reads, “I have found PEARS’ SOAP matchless for the Hands and Complexion.” This rather horrific advertisement plays on the Victorian mission to “civilize” colonized peoples.

At Dalnavert, the laundry soap on display is “Gold Dust Washing Powder.” “Gold Dust” was an American soap, manufactured by the N.K. Fairbank Company in Chicago. This company had factories in both North America and Europe. According to The New York Times (March 17, 1895), this soap was the leading washing powder at the time. It is only fitting then that a box of it lies in the laundry room at Dalnavert.


More of an all-purpose cleaner than strictly laundry soap, “Gold Dust” was meant to make the life of a housewife easier. How? Well, the sides of the box depict two African American twins who appear to happily be doing household chores. The twins, incidentally, represent the power or strength of two cleaners in one, efficient washing powder. For middle-class Victorians, the less work a housewife could do with her hands, the more time she could devote to leisure activities that would better allow her to mimic the lifestyle of the upper classes. As it stood, one main division between middle and upper class families was that the upper classes never had to sully their hands with simple household chores—that’s what servants were for!


This image, though, of African American twins happily doing housework is yet another expression of contemporary racial attitudes. Since the washing powder is American, it is a different kind of advertising from that of the Pears’ Soap Company. Arguably, the image of the “Gold Dust” twins align better with slavery in America and the use of Africans for domestic labor than simply Victorian ideas of cleanliness and civilization. But regardless of the difference, racial soap advertisements enforced widespread ideas of late-nineteenth century imperial and racial superiority. Worse, people literally bought into these stereotypes by buying products from N.K. Fairbanks and Pears. Accordingly, the soap on display at Dalnavert goes beyond merely displaying a common household item and instead showcases a connection to the larger forces at play in both North America and the British Empire when it came to cleanliness.