Postcard Image

Postcard Image
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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Naughty Kitty! Very, Very Naughty Kitty!

Along with bathing beauties and naughty novelties, I also collect antique and vintage maneki nekos, the famed Japanese beckoning cat.  Known as the "lucky cat" or "welcoming cat," the maneki neko is supposed to beckon good fortune into a home or business.  Sometimes, I find a "two-fer," a vintage neko that is also naughty.  This rather prim-looking pussycat sitting proudly on his pillow has a very naughty secret. . . .

for underneath is an extremely explicit erotic scene of two lovers.  This piece was certainly influenced by shunga, the traditional Japanese erotic art, generally appearing in woodblocks.  The vivid and unashamed depiction of sexual activity (and the exaggerated genitalia) are typical of shunga.  This feline (and his frisky friends) is 4.5 inches high and appears to be made of the same low-fired clay as the traditional hakata ningyō.  This neko has his left paw raised and Asian art expert Alan Scott Pate, in his delightful and informative book, Maneki Neko, Japanese Beckoning Cats--From Talisman to Pop Icon, writes that in some traditions the raised left paw is associated with "night businesses," such as bars, restaurants, and brothels (signed copies of this book can be purchased directly from Mr. Pate at  Instead of a lucky cat, this neko might instead be called a "get lucky" cat.

The nemuri neko, or sleeping cat, is closely related to the maneki neko.  The serenely sleeping feline symbolizes peace and harmony.  The most famous nemuri neko was immortalized by the master woodcarver Hidari Jingorō at the Tōshō-gū Shrine in Nikko, Japan.  This cat-napper is depicted as the traditional tricolor Japanese bobtail,  and her elaborate bib indicates that she is a pampered and prized pet.  But this napping neko also has a secret side. . . .

as this content cat also conceals an explicitly sexual scene.  Also of clay ceramic, this figurine is 6 inches long. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Bathing Girl Who Is a Real Doll

In addition to bathing beauty figurines, I also collect antique dolls.  Sometimes I find a little treasure that fits into both.  Inside an antique and slightly battered cardboard box labeled "Bathing Girl". . . .

is the little bathing girl herself, clad in her original brightly-striped knit bathing suit and matching cap, trimmed with silky bows.  Marked "Heubach Kopplesdorf 250-17/0 Germany," and 6.5 inches tall, in her day, she was a rather inexpensive  play doll, but sweet and pretty enough to catch a little girl's eye and win her heart.  I could see a row of these bathing girls displayed among the lithographed tin sand pails and wood-handled fish nets in some little souvenir shop along a 1920s seaside boardwalk.  Papa, Mama, and little Eloise are taking an leisurely evening stroll after dinner down the pier as the last rays of the setting sun glimmer red and orange over the lapping waves and the shop lights come on.  Suddenly Eloise stops, pressing her slightly sunburned nose against the toy shop window.  There stands the dearest little doll in the whole world!  Dressed in a pretty striped bathing suit just like Eloise's, the doll has eyes as bright blue as the morning seaside sky, shining auburn curls, and is just the right size to fit into Eloise's pinafore pocket!  Papa and Mama, noticing that Eloise has fallen behind, turn and see their daughter staring longingly at the little doll.  They share an indulgent smile.  After all, they are on holiday, Eloise is a good little girl, and the doll is not at all expensive.  A few minutes later, Eloise, her sun-kissed cheeks even rosier, skips happily between her parents, smiling down at her new little companion.