Photo: Marty Sheffer

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“This view of Toronto looking north from one of the small parks on the waterfront shows two of the city’s newer tourist attractions, Commerce Court and the Toronto Dominion Centre–both of which offer a magnificent view of Toronto.”

“Photo: Marty Sheffer” are familiar words to Canadian deltiologists. Postcards of his photographs were sold in convenience stores and souvenir shops from Newfoundland to British Columbia. He shot the Fredericton Playhouse, the Lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, and a giant five cent coin in Sudbury called The Big Nickel. He photographed Magnetic Hill, and downtown Toronto before its transmogrification into a tinted glass behemoth.

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Photographers were identified on a limited number of postcards, on the back or on a white strip across the bottom of the front. Sheffer shot fishing boats in Cheticamp Harbour for C & G MacLeod in Sydney, and the rock formations at Hopewell Cape for Lewis & Nugent Ltd. in Moncton. Toronto’s Royal Specialty Sales published his pictures on their wonderful Plastichrome prints. Some of the postcards of Sheffer’s work were never mailed; they turn up in boxes at shows or on auction sites, trickier to date than cards with stamps. All appear to have been shot in the mid-1970s.

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Sheffer made unique choices. He shot the Trans Canada Highway across a bed of marigolds and the Magnetic Hill Inn framed by branches of pine trees. He stood farther back than most postcard photographers, and left a lot of room for the sky in the frame. It’s impossible to look at his photographs and not eventually wonder about the man who took them; standing apart from the action, checking the light, and recording the earth around him.

Royal Specialty Sales has sold souvenirs in Canada since 1937. The company is owned and operated by Ken Feldbloom and his son David. I phoned Royal Specialty Sales to inquire about Sheffer and spoke to the kind and helpful Ken Feldbloom. “I believe Marty passed away a few years ago,” he said. He remembered Sheffer’s address, a townhouse in North York. “A very nice fellow,” Feldbloom recalled.

I had imagined a nice fellow. Contemplative, and appreciative of the beauty of ordinary things. Every year his work becomes a little rarer, and more precious. The subjects and ancillary details of his images– clothes, long, wide cars, and Adirondack chairs on the side of a dusty road– are a trail of breadcrumbs forty years into the past.

Postcards by Royal Specialty Sales and Lewis & Nugent Ltd.

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