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.