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.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Catting Around

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

Dressel Kister Sisters

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

Case Studies

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.