Fairy Tales in Vintage French Postcards

Vintage French postcards are all over Etsy and Pinterest.  Some are portraits of pretty young ladies.  Many others advertise tourist destinations or famous French aperitifs.  Sets that illustrate fairy tales seem to be more unusual and Cotsen is fortunate to have some examples from the so-called Golden Age of Postcards between 1890 and 1915.One of the most sumptuous sets in the collection (Cotsen 60506) retells Perrault’s fairy tale of  “Sleeping Beauty” (“La Belle au Bois Dormant”) in six scenes.  They may look like postcards, with unsigned color illustrations centered on borders of attractively torn paper set on a gold background, but they were not designed to be sent through the mail. Flip any of the cards over and the back is a beautifully composed advertisement dated 1900 promoting Aristide and Marguerite Boucicault’s Le Bon Marché, the first department store in France, as one of the foremost attractions in Paris..“Little Thumb” (“Le Petit Poucet”), also from Perrault’s Histoires du tems passé is illustrated in 10 scenes reproduced from half-tone photographs of carefully posed models (Cotsen 60505).  The color was added by hand or with stencils. The man playing the ogre mugs at the camera while wielding a huge knife and grabbing one of the hero’s little brothers by a foot. Never mind if the thief Petit Poucet swimming in the ogre’s seven-league boots looks as he won’t be able to run like the wind to rescue his siblings. B. Chenas sent a one-line message on each card sometime in 1908 to Mlle Gabrielle Perez, a guest at the Patte d’oie (“The Foot of the Goose”)  in Herblay, Seine-et-Oise, a northwestern suburb of Paris about twelve miles from city center.The postcard collection has three versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” (“Le Petit Chaperon Rouge”).  The set with sepia photographic illustrations is signed in the lower right hand corner “J.K” and numbered in the lower left-hand corner “660” (presumably the publisher’s number for a title within a series).  Cotsen 60503 consists of five scenes featuring an adorable little girl with bobbed hair wearing a print apron over a ruffled skirt and sabots. The skeletal wolf standing next to her in the second card looks as fake as the wolf’s head in grandmother’s mob cap in the fifth one.  Everything after that may be missing.  There’s no publisher or address lines on the back, so perhaps these charming cards were made for another purpose.The second “Red Riding Hood” (Cotsen 60502) in twelve acts is based on “The Big Bad Wolf,” the 1934 sequel to the wildly successful 1933 Disney Silly Symphony “The Three Pigs.”  The story is a mash-up of Perrault and the English folktale.  The piggies dance with Red down a path through the woods until they are ambushed by the wolf in an outrageous fairy costume.  The girl doesn’t lose her nerve and runs away, while the cowardly pigs shiver on the ground.  They do pull themselves together fast enough to get to the grandmother’s cottage in time to save their friend from the vile hairy beast.“Le Chaperon Rose” is a slightly saucy version of the fairy tale in five beautifully produced hand-colored photographs acted out for the camera by two exquisitely turned out children around eleven or twelve (Cotsen 60501).  The wolf, played by a boy in a short suit accessorized with a cane, watch, and bowler hat, greets Chaperon Rose, dainty in a pink gown bedizened with tucks and ruffles.  She presents him with a rose from her basket and pins it to his lapel, a gesture which obviously pleases him.  She invites him to kiss her on the check, accepting his token of esteem with a coy, knowing look.  “N. Guillot” sent sweet kisses to Mlle. Yvonne Guillot in Lille—perhaps a father travelling on business or a grandparent staying in touch between visits in 1907.

Experience Catalog Shopping in 19th-Century Germany

This post from 2018 is offered again to get you in the holiday spirit of consumption.  When you need a break clicking your way through the Christmas list on the Amazon website, try browsing this remarkable retail catalog in the Cotsen.

There is quite a selection of catalogs in the Cotsen collection and one of the most spectacular is among the most puzzling–an oblong volume  23 x 35.5 cm bound in scuffy marbled paper with a worn sheep spine.  It has no title page, but there is a ragged stub that suggests there was one once.   It has 149 leaves of hand-colored lithographic plates and the illustrated objects have printed captions in German and many have manuscript notes as well.  There is a description of the volume in two different hands on the front pastedown endpaper: “Album quincaillerie,”  “quincaillerie” being the French word for “hardware.”  Click here to link to the digital facsimile now.  There is also a link at the end of the text.

“Hardware” doesn’t accurately describe all the things this merchant–perhaps based in southern Germany–offered for sale.  Brass tools, candlesticks, and Shabbos lamps.  Cutlery of wood or horn.  Brushes and ornamental hair combs and decorated clay pipes and guns and swords and noodles in different shapes and sizes.  And toys.  Magic lanterns, jigsaw puzzles, minature kitchens, bilboquets, pull toys with wheels, china dolls’ heads, noise makers, bells, magnetic tin toys, papier mache figures of animals and great deal more.

Our mystery merchant could have been in the retail business,  distributing  for products manufactured by a wide range of craftspeople.  Below are leaves showing the materials available for  teaching geography.  The globe in the square box in the lower-left hand corner appears to be a miniature or pocket globe issued with an illustrated panorama attached to the bottom of the box entitled Die Erde und ihre Bewohner.   Here is Cotsen’s copy in a little orange box, with a round, unillustrated title label (the box appears to have been restored). But the panorama spilling out of the box in the plate illustrates  exotic foreign animals and not people from around the world as in the Cotsen copy.  So are they really the same thing?

Luckily the answer was there in the two objects at hand.  The label on the Cotsen copy has “2. Abtheilung” in small lettering below the title, which suggests there were two editions or versions of Die Erde und ihre Bewohner.  In the right-hand corner of the catalog’s plate is shown the second version, a lacquered wood cylindrical case with a slot that the panorama inside is pulled through.   The panorama there shows just the portrait of  the “Neuhollander” or Australian aborigine, but it is the same  “Neuhollander” in the Cotsen set.

The manuscript annotation below notes that there are two versions, one with twenty-eight illustrations and one with fifty-six.  There are fifty-six people represented in the Cotsen set, so presumably the natural history set illustrated twenty-eight animals.  Identifying the makers of the other toys in this catalog would be a wonderful research project, either for a dedicated soul or team of people.

You can see more of the extraordinary variety of materials that were for sale through this retailer here