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The Postal-Card Craze (1902)


reprinted from Cosmopolitan, volume 32: 421-6, F. '02.

Being impressed with the number and variety of the souvenir postal cards on sale in all the cities of Europe, I determined to write an article about them. After that it was a natural thought that such an article would be most entertainingly illustrated by reproductions of a few of the postal cards themselves. It will give some idea of the number of differing cards if I say that at the low prices at which they are sold—a cent and a half to twelve cents each—I found that the outlay necessary to obtain anything like a representative collection would reach a really considerable sum of money.

In one celebrated German watering place, where all the shops are upon a single long street, every third window displays these cards for sale, yet I do not remember that any two shops showed similar cards. Only a few displayed cards of a similar class or order. I speak of classes or orders in this wise because these souvenirs are of varying descriptions: the comic, the sentimental, the purely artistic, the scenic, the architectural, the heraldic, the coarse; those illustrating classic poetry, classic fiction, fairy tales and local legends; those forming galleries of the famous heroes of the past and present, of royalties, of the musical composers, of the poets and authors, of copies of the masterpieces of of art, of the celebrities of the stage, of the reigning beauties, and of many other general types, scenes and subjects.

To instance merely classes or kinds of postal, I counted in a shop in Vienna one hundred and seventy-nine sets. Had I been able to count the different cards in each of these series, the sum would have run high into the thousands.

The Germans are fondest of these souvenirs, the French much less so, the English still less. The French outside Paris make a comparatively thin exhibit of these instructive, amusing or purely artistic trophies for tourists, and one seldom sees the French people using them. I fancy that the masses there are too thrifty to spend double as much as is actually necessary when writing a message for the post. In England one see pictures of St. Paul's. the Tower. the Tower Bridge, Temple Bar, and indeed of all the notable landmarks; a collection of military types; and an especial type seen nowhere else—"illuminated cards" that show buildings and streets which, when the cards are held against the light, appear to be suffused with the glow of many lamps. The Marquis of Salisbury said in the House of Lords last summer that "the English are not an artistic people," and naturally one does not look for such a variety of beautiful, often truly artistic cards as the Germans, the French, the Dutch and the Italians produce.

But Germany is the land of the souvenir postal card, and the Germans and Austrians appear to use these cards almost as freely as the foreign tourists. I spent two months of the past year among the Germans, and I saw them writing on these cards everywhere—in the railway cars and stations, in the beer-halls and restaurant-gardens, in the shops and, indeed, in any place where pen or pencil could be had.

They have as much variety of size as of subject. Some are of the width of an ordinary postal card but are a yard in length; and others are the size of four copies of this magazine laid side by side so as to form a square. They show photographs of the entire waterfront of cities like Paris, vienna or Amsterdam, and can be mailed only by paying letter-postage.

The cards themselves are treated in every way in which it is possible to produce pictures at popular prices in great numbers. Indeed, some that I saw in Vienna were touched over with water-colors so as to produce the effect of original paintings. But the majority are either simple reproductions of photographs or wood-engravings.

In a word, then, the souvenir postal cards of Europe have the same scope and variety as was embraced by our St. Valentine's cards when the 14th of February was very popularly celebrated, a dozen or fifteen years ago. What we had in the way of valentines then, the Europeans enjoy in the form of souvenir postal cards to-day. But the European cards outnumber our valentines in the proportion of more than a hundred to one.

As I glance over my collection, I find that the first at hand are the celebrated character series of heroes and heroines. The reigning beauty of Paris is close to Charles I of England and the present Emperor of Germany. Actresses, led by Edna May, whose portrait is everywhere on the Continent, and beauties of the ballet and the various nobilities press close against one another; and then appears the grim head of the Iron Chancellor. There must be fully one hundred Bismarck cards that show his face, figure, country home at Friedrichshof, his great dogs, his statues, and so on. Queen Wilhelmina smiles at me above her gorgeous court costume. Columbus turns upon me those wide, aspiring eyes, the most hopeful pair that portraiture has ever shown; our latest martyred President is in this great gallery of tiny portraits; and so, of course, are Paulus Stephanus Johannes Krüger and the ever-mysterious General De Wet.

One of the portraits of Berlin manufacture, is that of an actress whose photograph is pasted in place in an elaborate colored lithograph. Its design is an example of the so-called Secession school, or L' Art Nouveau—a graceful complexity of the stems, leaves and blossoms of the water-lily done in red and gold and blue. This card forms a connecting link between the portraits and the reproductions of the world-famous masterpieces. Of course, the collection contains the waitress, by Liotard, whom we call "the chocolate girl"; the Countess Potocka, by Anton Graff; Greuze's beautiful head of a girl; Mignard's portrait of Maria Mancini; the famous Queen Louise in the Cologne gallery and more of similar ones.

One A…mann, in Munich, has done even finer work in reproducing modern German favorites of the painter's art, while from Leipsic and Munich come some very dainty, fanciful pictures of esthetic young women carrying flowers or blowing hearts in chains with the smoke of their cigarettes. Nuremburg issues a dainty set of cards with Watteauesque men and women for adornment, also a highly popular and robust series of full-sized flowers, each containing the beautiful face of a girl in its heart. An equally rich collection, seen everywhere in Europe, depicts types of the young womanhood of southern Europe in strong but well-chosen colors. Holland sends forth the never-ending never-tiresome water and sailboat scenes with which she has so long decorated her chinaware.

And here let me pause to say that there is little space left for writing upon any of the postal cards yet mentioned. Thus have they outgrown their original use and purpose and become merely souvenirs and works of art.

The French postal-card makers enrich this scattered gallery of tiny wandering pictures by an interesting series showing the costumes of the women of France in all ages. They also publish a Watteau series of printed woodcuts faintly colored after the exquisite manner of the early tinted engravings which are now so rare and costly. As one might expect, they do not disdain to publish a series of "les étoiles des cafés-concerts de Paris," showing the dubious "beauties" of such places as the Moulin Rouge at their hard and poorly paid work of amusing the tourists. These leave a space in which the masculine youth who knows no better may write the words "I've been there" before posting the cards to Terre Haute and Kalamazoo.

The Austrians, Germans, Prussians, Dutch, and French have all seized upon a photograph disseminated by the pro-Boer agitators showing an old burgher of the veldt and his ten sons armed and carrying cartridge-belts. Nothing that I have seen in the way of postal-card illustration equals the Vienna series called "Wiener Typen." This pictures the street arabs, loafers, peddlers, laundry girls, hackdrivers, laborers, and others of the humbler folk of the gay capital of Austria. The faces and costumes are true to nature, and one sees in those pictures such a set of "family likenesses" to the same folk in London and Berlin and New York that one is driven to conclude that the modern capitals are stamping their street children and work-children with very similar sets of faces. Such postal cards as these tell a story to those who receive them at home, and will always be popular and interesting.

The rudest pictures I have seen on any postal cards are also of human types—the peasant folk of the Austrian Tyrol. It is impossible to reproduce or even to suggest them in this magazine (if one had the hardihood to wish to do so), for they are built up like a dressmaker's dummy. First there is the rough outline-drawing carved so deep as to raise the lines high above the surface of the card. A second and a third printing puts on the colors. bits of gaudy velvet are then pasted in the proper places to make the dresses and the breeches of the peasants, and after this, the men's buckles and the girls' bodices are rubbed over with gold-powder.

Of French seaside bathing-scenes on postal cards one series alone contains nearly two hundred pictures. The French, as a rule, confine these illustrations to pictures of women in very chic surf costumes, but the Germans are fondest of portraying love-scenes in the water and on the sand—flirtations, gallant attendance on the lightly clad fair bathers, modern Aphrodites driving their admirers like horses, in teams, among the breakers. The evolutions of very fat men and women give great delight to the German artists and their patrons.

But when we touch upon the endless theme of the comic postal cards, my judgment bids me pause. The standards of taste are so different in Europe that one hardly likes even vaguely to describe pictures which, over there, are considered both innocent and humorous. Drunkenness is a favorite subject with the German comic artist, who also like to portray pigs in men's and women's clothing. They never tire of picturing women in pursuit of men, and these pictures are often really droll and harmless. One that I have before me shows four young girls in the guise of kittens seated around a cage in which a man is imprisoned. Another depicts two women under a slender tree the fruit of which is men. One woman shakes the tree and the other catches the falling fruit in her apron. In almost all there is printed the inevitable comic quatrain, often in dialect.

The sentimental cards, the juvenile cards and those which illustrate fairy tales are common German products, and are often tender and beautiful in the extreme. A baby in a stork's nest, with the great bird guarding and feeding the infant, is an idea that is played with in a score of cards, and these are appropriately used in congratulating a family on the birth of a son and heir.

But if I have suggested the variety of classes and the number of specimens of each class, I have done all that is necessary or profitable. Nothing better illustrates the growth in importance of the United States and the friendly feeling on the part of foreigners than the fact that I found President McKinley's portrait common to every national collection of cards, and Germany ran across a card which was our flag. It covered the entire card and was printed in the proper colors. At the top, upon the first three stripes, were the first staves of the tune of "Yankee Doodle," and across the card in golden script was the legend, "Glory to the Union."







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