Monday, July 4, 2016

Soldier comments on Mackain’s “Out on Rest” series

Fergus Mackain’s sketches are well known for their accuracy and attention to detail, with latter day commentators often referencing his postcards when describing day to day experiences of the regular Tommy. It is notable therefore when we come across a soldier who actually served in the Great War attesting to the veracity of Mackain’s works, as we are able to see just how well the cards were received by the allied forces.

In this case, a soldier (initials “E.A.Y.”) provided his comments on the rear of a short set of Mackain’s “Out on Rest” postcards. The penmanship and style of writing seems to indicate that EAY was a more educated man, perhaps a professional of some sort. There is no address or date on any of the cards, so it is likely that the soldier sent them home altogether as a package of cards. Strangely, card #1 of the set (“A wash up in the rest trenches…”) has no comments, even though it is from the same set variant: Short (A). Perhaps it was lost and replaced later.

The seven used post cards from the set are presented here with EAY’s original comments on the reverse, alongside a portion of the picture from the front of the card.


Have frequently felt like this”. (OR#2)


Have more often than not carried on like this, out here”. (OR#3)


When we came back to civilization we did exactly the same”. (OR#4)


This is one of the truest pictures of life I have seen. It is not exagerated in the least”. (OR#5)


Quite true”. (OR#6)


Have written ‘umpteen’ letters to you, like this. Note the candle gutting away”. (OR#7)


After the retreat, about 2 a.m. one morning we landed into a village & I got into a barn & dropped down on a bed similar to this, dead beat. Never undressed”. (OR#8)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Uncovered – Somme sketch for Nurse Olive Swanzy

An article in today’s issue of the Belfast Telegraph profiles the life of Nurse Olive Swanzy, who served at Rouen Hospital during the Somme campaign. Nurse Swanzy collected a treasure trove of pictures, poems and other documents created by the soldiers she cared for. One of her patients was Fergus Mackain, who was wounded at the Battle of Delville Wood on July 27th, 1916, while serving with the 23rd Royal Fusiliers:

“Among the artwork is a sketch by Private Fergus Mackain, an illustrator by trade, from New York, who designed humorous postcards for soldiers to send home to their families. The postcards, which became known collectively as the Tommy's Life series, provide a vital document of real life in the trenches.”

The picture, titled “Last Lap”, shows Mackain being chased around a tree by a German artillery shell. The caption reads “Pte. F. E. Mackain busy capturing Delville Wood July 27th 1916”.

The illustration is very much in Mackain’s style, and provides another perspective of his experiences while “Up the Line”:


The article accompanies an episode of the BBC TV program “The Arts Show” about the role of artists during WW1.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Another Mackain "Kaiser" card discovered

Another previously unknown Fergus Mackain postcard has been discovered by a collector. The card, a cartoon of Kaiser Wilhelm being kicked by a horse, is very similar in style and content to Mackain's "Kamarad" and “Boule-Dogue” propaganda postcards. Unusually, this one does not feature Mackain’s signature, but the artwork, coloring, and use of both English and French language are consistent.

A literal translation of the French is “When you see this, peace will be close”. The horse’s legs have the words “AMERICA” and “EUROPE” on them, and its body is in the shape of a world globe.
The date on the reverse of the new postcard – 20-11-17 – is the same as the other “Kaiser” cards, and all are printed by Gaultier, which continues to indicate that a series of propaganda cards featuring the Kaiser was created by Mackain. Whether this a series of 3, 6, or more is still unknown.

Details from the three “Kaiser” cards discovered so far.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

More “Sammy In France” cards discovered!

Another exciting day for FMSketches as two previously unknown Mackain postcards have been discovered by the well-known collector John Place. The cards, one of which shows an American “Sammy” talking to a French “Poilus” in a pleasant village setting, and the other of a Sammy admiring a French windmill, are part of the “Sammy In France / Les Américains en France” series catalogued under “Other Postcards”).

It remains to be seen whether this now completes a six-set of cards in the “Sammy In France” series, but for now we believe there are no others (but we would love to be proven wrong!).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Rare wartime sketch by Mackain discovered!

It’s an exciting time for FMSketches as a previously unknown Mackain postcard has been discovered by a collector. The card, a cartoon of Kaiser Wilhem at the start and end of the war, is similar in style and content to the “Boule-Dogue” propaganda postcard OP2 (catalogued under “Other Postcards”).

The date on the reverse of the new “Kamarad” postcard – 20-11-17 – is the same as OP2, and both are printed by Gaultier, which may indicate that a series of propaganda cards featuring the Kaiser was created by Mackain. However, in the absence of a numbering sequence, or without other similar cards to compare, we have to assume for now that these are one-off cards.

The new card will be added to the online catalog soon. If you have any more information regarding these cards, or if you have another Mackain card similar in style, please let us know by adding a comment to this blog or by sending an email to

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What is the meaning of “Visé Paris”?

The phrase “Visé Paris” (sometimes spelled Vise Paris or Visa Paris) frequently appeared on postcards printed in France during WW1, often on the reverse. Usually - but not always - it was followed by a number, or it referred to a number on the front of the postcard, and was preceded by some information about the editor, publisher or printer.
For example: Imp. P. Gaultier, Boulogne-s-Mer. – Ed. P. G. Visé Paris 800 was printed on the reverse of Mackain's Out on Rest postcards by Gaultier:

Whereas Visé Paris 800 appears by itself on the front of the same set of Mackain cards by Savigny:

It has been suggested that “Visé” was the name of a publishing house or printer in Paris, but the weight of evidence is that it is more likely some sort of official stamp of approval by the military authorities. Vise can mean “endorsed”, “stamp” or “authorization” depending on the context (as in a travel visa) and Gaultier was a printer based in Boulogne while Savigny was in Paris.The numbering following “Visé Paris” appears to be chronological - Mackain's card sets are numbered 713, 763, and 800, and were “authorized” late in 1917.
Savigny (Long)
Savigny (Short)
Greetings Cards
Imp. G. Savigny, Paris. – P.G. – Visa Paris 713
Paris. – Imp. G. Savigny, 80, rue de Cléry.
Visé Paris 713
In Training
Imp. P. Gaultier, Boulogne-s-Mer. – Ed. P. G. Visé 9-10-17
Imp. G. Savigny, Paris – P.G.
Paris. – Imp. G. Savigny, 80, rue de Cléry.
At the Base
Imp. P. Gaultier, Boulogne-s-Mer. – Ed. P. G. Visé 1-11-17
Imp. G. Savigny, Paris – P.G.
Paris. – Imp. G. Savigny, 80, rue de Cléry.
Up the Line
Imp. P. Gaultier, Boulogne-s-Mer. – Ed. P. G. Visé Paris 763
Imp. G. Savigny, Paris – P.G.
Visé Paris 763
Paris. – Imp. G. Savigny, 80, rue de Cléry.
Visé Paris 763
Out on Rest
Imp. P. Gaultier, Boulogne-s-Mer. – Ed. P. G. Visé Paris 800
Imp. G. Savigny, Paris – P.G.
Visé Paris 800
Paris. – Imp. G. Savigny, 80, rue de Cléry.
Visé Paris 800
Cheerful Tommy
Imp. P. Gaultier, Boulogne-s-Mer. – Ed. P. G. Visé 18-1-18

Non-Mackain cards with lower numbers appeared in 1914 and the numbers rise in line with time.
Was there a central “approval process” during WW1 for cards to be reviewed by the military authorities in Paris prior to publishing? If so, did they assign a unique number to each card (or set of cards) in ascending order? And what were they reviewing for content ... military secrets? Whereabouts of troops? Seditious content? Or does “Visé Paris” mean something else entirely?
If anyone has any thoughts on this, or evidence to support it (or a better theory), please share!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Progress report, and some news

Two more pages have been completed, which is why the "*" has now disappeared from the associated links on the left. "Greetings" Set includes examples of all the Fergus Mackain festive illustrations published by Savigny in both long (10) and short (8) sets. This page took a little longer to construct as it includes a detailed table of all known permutations of captions and banners. Emphasis on "known" because it is very possible there are some Greetings cards that have not yet been identified (and so if you spot any errors or omissions, please do let us know). Hopefully this information will be helpful for Mackain collectors.

Somewhat simpler was The Cheerful Tommy, published by Gaultier as a short set of six cards. Many thanks to collector Marika Pirie for providing examples of all six cards. Usefully, Marika's complete set contains used cards that were all written with a message for home within days of each other by the same soldier. In the absence of numbering or a helpful wrapper, this is the best indication to date that these are the same six cards advertised on the Tommy's Life cover wrapper.

On the subject of used cards, if you haven't read it already, Marika's introduction to this blog does a great job connecting Mackain's cards to the very human experiences of the soldiers who purchased and wrote on them, providing a glimpse into their state of mind. For example, Marika writes:
Standing out from the usual patriotic type with fearless heroes, as produced in quantity by other artists, another drawing showed Tommy behind a row of sandbags. The caption was: “Waiting for the barrage to lift. It makes you feel small and sort of lost!” (Up the line – No. 8). Before Tommy is a fierce bombardment, shells flying, explosions and destruction. Mackain has coloured the card with muted colours – pinkish sandbags, orange red flames, and a bright blue sky. This soldier stares bewildered into the face of the recipient of the postcard. The sender has marked his name on the back of the card, S. W. Doney, and just one word - France.
Staying on this subject, the table "Earliest and Latest Known Dates of Use" has been updated. There are still quite a few gaps, so please let us know if you have any cards with dates on them before or after the ones in the table, whether they were handwritten, or stamped by the Army Post Office.

The website First World War Postcards has very kindly added a link to this blog from their Fergus Mackain page, and as a result traffic to FMSketches has increased, so it seems only appropriate to return the favor.

Speaking of traffic, in the last month visitors have been landing at FMSketches from all over the world, notably: Canada; UK, USA, Austria, New Zealand, France, and Germany. It's very exciting to know that there is global interest in Fergus Mackain and his cards. If you'd like to be notified of updates, a gadget has been added to the right of the web page so that you can receive email notifications or subscribe to changes. 

Last but definitely not least, one reader from the UK sent in a previously unknown Fergus Mackain card, which will be included in a future post. One of the primary goals for this site is to locate and catalog rare Mackain cards, so we are truly grateful when this kind of thing happens!

Regards to all, and stay warm!