Like painting one's face or showing one's ankles, smoking was something a proper Victorian woman would never consider doing, at least not in public. The image of a woman smoking, with all its Freudian suggestiveness, was sometimes exploited by the ribald or rebellious, but in the early 1900s, cigarette smoking by women was still largely taboo. During World War I, as many women moved into roles formerly reserved for men, from organizing relief to working in factories or offices, some also assumed male habits, such as lighting up an occasional cigarette. During the early 1920s, smoking was still seen as scandoulous, something those frivolous flappers did while slipping into speakeasies or engaging in petting parties. However, by the late 1920s that tobacco companies began to actively court female consumers. In 1928, the American Tobacco Company began its "Reach for a Lucky" campaign, seeking to persuade women that reaching for a Lucky Strike cigarette instead of a sweet would help maintain their "graceful, modern form." The following year, during the Easter Sunday parade in New York City, public relations executive Edward Bernays staged a small group of fashionable young women smoking their "torches of freedom" as they strolled along. Still, when this fashionable bisque beauty was created in the late 1910s, a woman indulging in tobacco was considered more naughty than normal. Her charming chateau, rather understated when compared to the sweeping plumed and flowered hats of the earlier Edwardian years, and her form-fitting draped jacket with its peplum and ankle-length skirt suggest she dates from around 1917 through 1919. Her left hand is cupped in front of her face, as if holding an invisible cigarette, and she leans forward as if accepting a light. I wondered if she once might have held one of those miniature novelty cigarettes that when lit and blown out, continues to smolder and gives the impression of blowing smoke rings. I actually came upon a packet of these miniature smokes and while a cigarette did fit nicely in her hand, I was reluctant to light it out of concern that it might stain her delicate white fingers. Of beautiful sharp bisque and superbly sculpted, she is 6.5 inches tall and incised under her seat "8194." In 2001, Theriault's held an auction of the archives of the former Hertwig and Company showroom, which included an identical figurine.
As the Victorian era passed into the Edwardian and Roaring Twenties, a market developed for bisque and china bawdy novelties and figurines of women in revealing outfits. Although now most of these figurines seem more coy and cute than ribald and risque, in their time they symbolized the casting off of the perceived restraints of the Victorian era.
These little lovelies included bathing beauties, who came clad in swimsuits of real lace or in stylish painted beach wear, as well as mermaids, harem ladies, and nudies, who were meant to wear nothing more than an engaging smile. Also produced were flippers, innocent appearing figurines who reveal a bawdy secret when flipped over, and squirters, figurines that were meant to squirt water out of an appropriate orifice.
Most were manufactured in Germany from the late 1800s through the 1930s, often showing remarkable artistry and imagination, with Japan entering the market during World War I.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Striking a playful pose with a feline friend, this 5-inch long bisque bathing beauty is part of a scarce series by Galluba and Hofmann of lovely ladies lounging with their pets. Her mohair wig is a replacement, but she retains the remains of her silk net bathing suit with shredded faded red bows at neckline and on back. There are no visible marks.
The cute kitten in the blue bow was molded separately and added to his mischievous mistress during the greenware stage. This allowed Galluba to use its existing bathing beauty models and expand its offerings by simply adding an assortment of animal companions. The additions included two different types of cats, a spaniel, a French bulldog, and even a very rare devilish imp. Here is the same model, sans pussycat, who appeared earlier in this blog.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
This belle in a bustle by the German firm of Carl Thieme has appeared previously on this blog, but recently I came across what may be the source of inspiration for this gaudily-gowned gal tying her garter.
This early French fashion print shows a "Femme en Robe à la Polonaise." This style, with a fitted bodice and the back of the skirt drawn up into swags, was popular in the 1770s and 1780s. Thieme certainly seems to have based his belle on this early print, substituting a footstool for the stone and a tiled floor for the grassy lawn. As these prints were made to appeal to wealthy women of fashion, it is unlikely that this lady's pose was originally meant to titillate. It was instead a creative way to show the style of shoes and stockings worn to accessorize this elaborate outfit. However, when Thieme translated the paper print into porcelain in the late 1800s, the intent was certainly to entice. . . .
. . . . especially as the bustle was hinged to lift up and reveal both the lady's blushing bare buttocks and a rather bold brown beetle.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Spain appears to be the land of mujeres misteriosas. This unusual and sultry señorita recently arrived from that country. Of a hollow papier mache material this exotic beauty is 17 inches tall, Her size and the fact that her arms are on adjustable wires (which would have allowed her to be more easily dressed and posed) indicate that she may have been intended as a countertop mannequin. Those arms are bisque, tinted brown, and had I not seen earlier the same model with the identical style of bisque arms, I would have thought they were replacements.
The other example was fair complexioned with pink bisque arms and looking closely at her face and hairline, it does appears she may have started out with a lighter skin tone.
However, her original wig certainly indicates she was created to be an olive-skinned Spanish beauty.
There is a single tantalizing clue to this baffling beauty's origins. On the back of her base are the initials "M" and "R" intertwined in a circle, which would seem to indicate either her manufacturer or designer. However, I have been unable to track down the name behind these initials.
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Green and purple wigs and trouser skirts sound considerably worse than they look. The Poiret version of the latter is a far more attractive garment than the skirt with the exaggerated slash, and under certain conditions it cannot be denied that the new colored wigs have a certain charm which is likely to captivate. The general idea in the trade appears to be that these wigs will not be generally worn on the street, but that for evening wear they will have a decided vogue: worn with the right gowns, under the right light they show to considerable advantage.
Notions and Fancy Goods, April 1914
This papier mache miss has silver blue curls to match her silvery bathing suit, accessorized with a stiff skirt and headpiece trimmed with bits of teal feathers. Her vivid coloring has survived for well over a century, although her feathers have molted a bit.
Although unmarked, this 10.5 inch tall bathing belle came with what were said to be the remains of her original box, with would indicate her birthplace was Germany. Perhaps "Color RED" refers to her scarlet slippers.
The unusual color of her coiffure might give a clue to her age. In 1914, the introduction of colored wigs created consternation. The March 7, 1914, edition of the Australian newspaper, "The Advertiser," reported:
Has the fashion of colored wigs come, and come to stay? Yes, say the great coiffeurs; "at least, if it depends on us." There met (says the Paris correspondent of the London "Daily Telegraph") in epoch-making seance the "Fashions Committee of the Coiffeurs of Paris," and decided to let loose on Paris in balls, theatres, and fashionable cafes 400 "mannequins" with 400 colored wigs.
Published the same year, Colette's story, "A Hairdresser," features a hairdresser offering Colette a "pretty blue wig. . . .With two rows of little paste gems and a spray of paradise blue" to give her evening gown "a new look." At the end of the story, the hairdresser brags that Berlin had ordered thirty of her colored wigs in "cabbage green, turnip yellow, Parma violet, and Prussian blue" for six to eight hundred francs apiece.
Friday, June 29, 2018
Let me make you smile
Let me do a few tricks
Some old and then some new tricks
I'm very versatile
And if you're real good
I'll make you feel good
I'd want your spirits to climb
So let me entertain you
We'll have a real good time,
A real good time!
Gypsy, 1959, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim
This immodest model by Carl Schneider looks like a showgirl in a burlesque show, languorously lifting away the straps of her elaborate, if exiguous, top. As Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous American burlesque entertainer and "ecdysiast" who put the tease in striptease, once said, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly…very slowly."
The same model of half doll as pictured in the Schneider catalogue. My lady is 3.25 inches tall and incised "15547." The example in the catalog is denoted as "15545," which could be due to a difference in size or finish. This model came in several sizes and was also offered with a golden brassiere.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow
And smooth as monumental alabaster.
Othello, Act 5, Scene 2, William Shakespeare
This statuesque bathing beauty is sculpted out of alabaster. Fine alabaster closely resembles white marble, but is a much softer stone, allowing it to be carved into detailed designs (however, the porous stone is soluble in water, making it unsuitable for fountains and outdoor decor). Italy, where alabaster has been mined and carved for centuries, provided copious copies of ancient carvings or classical subjects for the Victorian home and to the growing population of middle class tourists taking in the sights on their own grand tours. However, beginning in the late 1800s, Italian artists revitalized their industry by sculpting their own creations in the Orientalist, art nouveau, and art deco genres. In the 1920s Italian alabaster lamps, both as ceiling fixtures and as softly-lit boudoir lamps, often incorporating a nude nymph or flirtatious flapper, became a popular decorative item. Although unsigned, this alabaster bathing belle is undoubtedly of Italian birth, probably dating from the 1920s. This sculpted seaside siren is 12.5 inches long and 9 inches high.
Her thigh-length tank suit is etched with a floral design and a scarf covers her carved curls. Alabaster is subject to dings and can break easily; at one point it looks like someone tried to repair a crack in the base with glue. Oils, including from exploring fingers, smoke, and water can stain or discolor the stone, so cleaning alabaster is difficult. Unless you want to incur the expense of a professional restorer, is best just to gently dust it thoroughly with a soft-bristle brush and buff it lightly with a microfiber cloth, letting it retain its well-earned patina.
Thursday, May 31, 2018
This whimsical ink and watercolor illustration portrays two anthropomorphised pussycats in Edwardian bathing suits, a female feline serenely seated in a beach wicker chair, oblivious to an enthusiastic peeking tomcat who looks prepared to pounce! The scene closely resembles this bisque beach belle and her beau featured earlier on this blog. This theme of a voluptuous bathing beauty in form-fitting beachwear seated in a hooded wicker chair while a male admirer peers around a corner was a popular image for postcards and other assorted souvenirs in the early 1900s. The chair's high hood protected the sitter from the wind and sun, but apparently not males on the make.
The piece is signed E. Döcker, Jr. I have not been able to find out much about the artist other than he was a prolific illustrator of postcards in Austria in the early 1900s. Most of his work consists sentimental scenes of country folk in traditional clothing, but he could paint in a wide variety of genres, including a stunning series of art nouveau nymphs. Perhaps this pussycat pair were intended for a comic postcard to be sold at one of region's resorts or spas.
Döcker certainly was a skilled illustrator and seems to have had a sense of humor as well. He manages to portray some very human emotions in the expressions of these comic kitties.
He was able to capture the essence of ordinary cats as well. In my research I came across several examples of postcards with the following illustration by Döcker. This puss has conquered a Krampus and is standing proudly with its trophy. Krampus is the traditional "bad cop" to Saint Nicholas in Austria and other parts of Europe, a black hairy horned figure with a long lolling tongue and draped in rattling chains. While Saint Nickolas carries a bag of toys and treats for good children, Krampus wields a bundle of birches for whipping the naughty ones and the basket on his back is for carrying off especially disobedient boys and girls. I guess there must be something about bad boys, because Krampus became in his own way a perversely beloved character. He was portrayed, often comically, on holiday postcards and Krampus dolls, decorations, and even candy containers could be found among jollier Christmas adornments.
Friday, May 18, 2018
Although unmarked, this china charmer is a documented model from Dressel, Kister, and Company. Of beautiful glowing pale porcelain, with soft blushing on her hands, elbows, cheeks, breasts, and knees, this 7-inch long languorous lady is molded in a sitting position.
She has the striated grey eyebrows and large languid brown eyes so often found on Dressel damsels, but instead of the typical molded grey tresses, a wig of mohair curls covers her bald solid pate.
Here is the identical wasp-waisted model, but with the grey molded hair incongruously found on so many of Dressel's nubile nymphs.
Like her eyebrows, her tresses are streaked to give the illusion of separated strands of hair. Her blue-grey eyes have sultry shadowing underneath.
Here is the molded-hair version pictured in the company's 1911 catalogue. She apparently came perched on her personal pedestal.
Thursday, May 3, 2018
Over many years of collecting, I have added assorted other bathing-beauty themed items along with my china and bisque belles. While straightening out a display case, I realized I had acquired a small sample of cigarette cases, each featuring a lovely lady. This sterling sliver cigarette case with its nubile Nereid is typical of the art nouveau offerings by the Unger Brothers, a jewelry and silver manufacturing firm established in New Jersey in the 1870s. The firm became renown in the late 1800s and early 1900s for its elaborate and exquisite repousse art nouveau pieces, ranging from petite pins to entire vanity sets, and of course cigarette cases. The company's work often featured voluptuous belles, clad in little more than their own flowing tresses, floating in water or riding upon waves. This stunning sterling sylph is 3.25 inches high and 2.5 inches wide. The case is stamped on an internal bar or gate meant to hold the cigarettes in place with the Unger Brothers intertwined "U" and "B." The case was clearly intended for a man, not only because of its bare buxom belle, but the back is also curved to fit snuggly in a man's pocket.
Featuring a more modestly clad bather in fired enamel, this case is 3.25 inches by 2.25 inches Inside it is stamped with "800," which means it is 800 parts silver to 200 parts of alloy (sterling silver is denoted by "925"), as well as an unidentified maker's mark. I suspect this piece is Italian, as prior to the establishment of hallmark regulations in the 1934, much Italian silver carried only mark establishing purity, sometimes along with a city or maker's mark. Also, many years ago while exploring the jewelry and antique shops on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence I saw a case with a nearly identical, although badly damaged, enamel scene.
Another reason I think this case may be Italian is that the scene was "inspired" (a nice way of saying used without bothering about little things like copyright protection) by this postcard I believe was designed by Italian artist Giovanni Guerzoni, who worked in Milan from 1897 through the 1920s. He is known for his soft impressionistic landscapes, portraits of pretty woman, and romantic themes.
There has been a flood in recent years of fake enamel cigarette cases, often with highly sought after erotic or historic themes, many selling for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. The case itself is often antique sterling or alpaca (a silver metal alloy created using nickel, copper, tin, and zinc, and often used as a silver substitute). A ceramic plaque or laminated print is then inset into the cover or simply attached as a plaque on top. This is how you can find an "authentic antique" erotic cigarette case with a British assay mark from the 1920s featuring a 1940s pinup girl! The vast majority of antique cases were decorated with vitreous enamel, in which colored powered glass is fused to a surface by firing. Most of the reproductions are using porcelain plaques or laminated pictures, often with images created using offset printing, in which the picture is made up of regularly placed dots. The printed images used on the modern cases often are from from well-known Victorian or art nouveau paintings, or even old postcards that include the artist's signature (I have seen several of these cases using postcards designed by Luiz Usabal, whose work has been featured on this blog). These artists designed the postcard, not the case! As you can see in this enamel example, the signature was conveniently omitted. The enamel work is softer and looser than the image on the postcard, with subtle changes in the scene and coloring. A close up shows the enamel surface, including the expected wear and scratches, as these cases were meant to be carried about in pockets and purses and used regularly. The enamel looks more like a painting than a print.
A close up of the postcard reveals the dots used on offset printing to create the image. If you are in the market for an antique enamel cigarette case, check for these dots. Also, do not be shy about questioning the seller regarding whether the image is original to the case and requiring that the seller the state on the invoice that the entire case is an original antique with vitreous enamel decoration.
An unusual alpaca case with the enamel filling an engraved design. The case is 3.75 inches by 3 inches and inside has metal eyelets that would have one been strung with elastic to hold the cigarettes in place. This was a much-used case and it appears at one point someone tried to efface an image or initials in the upper left corner. Despite the surface wear and scratches, the details are still delightful, including her colorful cushions and the dainty pair of slippers sitting on the rug near her feet.
This case, probably dating from the 1910s or 1920s, was an inexpensive alternative to sterling cases with hand-painted enamels. The image is a hand-tinted photograph printed on celluloid and resembles those found on little advertising mirrors and pins from the period. Made of an inexpensive silver-tone metal, it is stamped "Germany" on the internal bar or gate. It is 3.5 inches by 2.75 inches.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
This boxing belle may be related to the sultry sultana featured earlier on this blog. Of high quality plaster, she shares the same slender modeling, unusual angular face with narrow eyes, and round reddish-brown base. Wearing her original mohair wig, this pulchritudinous pugilist is 10.5 inches tall and, unfortunately, unmarked. I wonder if she was originally costumed, and if so, how. The modeling of her arms against her abdomen would have made dressing difficult, and her stylish high heels would appear out of place in the boxing ring.
However, in the 1927 silent film, "Rough House Rosie," star Clara Bow appeared in boxing garb, complete with pumps. Known as the "It Girl," Bow, with her head full of henna curls and vivacious, carefree persona, personified the young women of the flapper era. The movie was meant as a vehicle for Bow, one of the period's most popular actresses, so it is quite possible that some manufacturer created a pretty plaster prizefighter "inspired" by Bow in her brief boxing attire. Unfortunately, the film has been lost, with only the trailer and some still photographs remaining.
A close up of her face shows the meticulous modeling, including parted lips exposing a row of tiny teeth.
Thursday, April 5, 2018
A mere 1.75 inches high, including her base, this tiny china bathing beauty is surprisingly detailed and delicately decorated. Her unusual base has a channel around rim with sew hole on each side. Although marked only with a freehand "g" in black inside the base, she can be definitely attributed to the German firm of William Goebel.
One reason I can be so certain of my attribution is this quartet of diminutive damsels who have been featured earlier on this blog. Although only 2.5 inches high, the figurine of the beach belle in the hooded “wicker" beach chair is incised underneath with the Goebel crowned intertwined “G” and “W” and what appears to be “P.O.” over “641.” This is the only piece of the quartet that is marked. She strikes a similar pose as that of the petite pincushion miss, with her hands tucked under her knees and her legs crossed at the ankle, though hers are left over right. However the 1.25-inch long and high seated bathing beauty in red, who is clearly part of this series, is the identical model as that used on the pincushion base. The reclining lady in red is 2.5 inches long and the decorator has added dots of blush to her knees. The gal in green is a mere 2 inches long. All these tiny treasures beautifully modeled and decorated considering their amazingly small size.
Tags: William Goebel
Friday, March 23, 2018
. . . but in this case, this curious kitty is looking at something of a far more intimate nature. No doubt another play on the double entendre regarding an affectionate name for a cat and vulgar slang for a woman's private parts, this prurient pussycat appears to be peering up her mistress's skirt. This 4.25-inch tall bisque figurine is incised only “6435” on the back of the chair, but is certainly of German origin.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
This lounging lady is of ivory and hails from China. Such reclining nude carvings are called "doctor's dolls," based on claims that in ancient China a proper woman would not allow a doctor to physically examine her and would instead point out the ailing area on an ivory figurine of a nude woman. Some experts challenge the truth of this tale, arguing that these carvings were erotic in nature and never intended to be used for diagnosis. Whether these carvings were meant for therapeutic or titillation purposes, they were popular from the 1800s through the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ban on the ivory trade in 1989. Many were produced just for the tourist trade; when I visited China and Hong Kong in 1988, I saw scads of these scantily clad ladies in shop windows seeking to tantalize tourists and their dollars. Most of these so-called doctor's dolls strike a standard pose, the lady lying on her side, leaning on one elbow, the other hand cupping a breast or modestly covering her crotch, with tiny bound feet clad in pointed slippers. The carving varies from exquisite to mediocre and it is not uncommon to find a piece has been artificially aged by staining or heating to produce "age cracks." This ivory belle appears to be an older piece and is more unusual as she is lying on her back and has dainty bare feet. The carving is quite good, even indicating some structure to her abdomen, as well as details such as her flowing hair and her flower.
Her lacquer stand was carved especially for her, with indentations conforming to her curves. Unfortunately, years ago it appears that someone tried to secure her to her stand with tape and the remnants of the adhesive have eaten into the finish.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
With jacket blue and trousers white
Just like a sailor neat and tight
Sure the sea it was the heart's delight
Of the female rambling sailor.
When in storm upon the raging sea
She was ready at her station
And her mind was as calm as calm could be
She loved her occupation.
Rambling Female Sailor, circa 1830s
In the old folk song, a young and pretty maiden decides to dress as a sailor and run off to sea. Although this bathing beauty wears a swimsuit rather than "jacket blue and trousers white," she certainly appears to be calm and content as she sails her rather undersized schooner over the bounding main. Of good china, this sea-going siren is actually a trinket or powder box. Incised above waves on the back “Germany 10782, this belle and her boat are 5.5 inches high and 4 inches tall.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
This flirtatious flapper certainly has a lot of flash in her form-fitting gold glitter bathing suit. Of plaster, this golden girl is 16 inches tall.
Her sparkling slippers stand on a base incised "© N.S. Statuary Co."
This advertisement from the May 28, 1927, edition of "The Billboard," a publication for carnival concessionaires, features the same glittery gal by North Side Statuary Company of Chicago, Illinois. Entitled "The Supreme Flash of 1927," the ad declares that this "new original copyrighted" bathing beauty doll is "already proven the biggest money-getter this year." This shimmery sea-side siren is described as "natural flesh tone with highly attractive metallic bathing suit" who looks like she "just stepped out of the surf" and is a "Bathing Beach Banner Money Getter." Sounds like she's a bit of a gold digger! Packed 20 to a barrel, these twinkling tootsies were one dollar each.
For an inexpensive carnival prize, this bathing belle is surprisingly well sculpted and decorated, with a most appealing presence. No doubt she tempted quite a number of nickels out of the rubes' pockets in her heyday.