French Postcards


Figure 1.--Boys at the turn of the 20th Century commonly wore sailor suits and wide-brimmed sailor hats. This is a French image, probably taken in the 1900s.

France in the 1920s was well known for its post card industry. They were commonly used at the time much as greeting cards are today. The French post card indusry was well known throughout Europe. These cards were sold throughout Europe. They were quite popular in England. Note that this card is marked "Made in France," imdicated that it was printed for possible sale in England.

Notiriety

Some of the cards had a rather risque nature--at least for the standards of the day. Actually in England the term "French post cards" means a risque one. I think the term may have been similarly used in Amerca, but I'm less sure about the rest of Europe.

Chronology

HBC has not yet been anle to acquire much information on the histoy of the French postcard industry. We believe that pstcards were bein made in the 1890s, although we do not know when the first cards wer made. We also do not know when children in fancy clothes became a popular subject. The first examples we have of children as subjects on postcars date from the 1900s. Many of the outfits depicted, however, seem a rather idealized image of contemporary fahion. We note especially large numbrs of postcards from the 1910s. Children were very popular as subject through the 1920s, but this began to decline in the 1930s. While childre as the subject of postcards became much less common than before World War II (1939-45). These cards did not disppear entirely. We have noted scattered modern cards from the 1960s and 70s. The modern cards notably tend to depict the children in clothes that appear to have been closer to what they ctually might have worn.

Children

While the risque cards were perhaps the most widely noted abroad, they were in fact only a small portion of the cards produced. But in fact the French post card industry produced a wide range of cards. Many of them featured children in idealized, sentamentalized scenes. We are unsure as to just who these children were. We dn think it likely that there were agencies in the early 20th century where these children could be contracted

Costuming

Many of these cards are reproduced in HBC showing boys wearing kneepants or short pants, often with kneesocks and sometimes strap shoes. Many look like the clothes French boys actually wore. In other instances they were clearly costumed. HBC is unsure just ow this worked. Did postcard companies have wardrobes or was it individual photographers. How common was it for boys to come dressed in their own clothes for photo shoots.

Accuracy

Information on costuming as described above is important in determining just how accurate and therefor useful to HBC these images are. We have used quite a few of them in various HBC pages. These images are staged photographs for commercial sale. HBC is not sure, however, how accurate these images are. Did this boy really wear this suit. Did the photograph the boy in his own suit or did the photogapher or company costume the boys in special clothes for the photograph. For some postcards, the clothes are definyelt not the clothes boys actually wore. In other postcards, like this one, is could well be a boy's actual clothes. While we are somewhat dubious about some of the outfits pictures in these French postcards, the hair styles in many cases seem even more unlikely. Hopefully our French readers will provide some insights here.

Colors

Many early 20th century post cards were hand colored. This helps to date early photographs, but ir also maens that the coliors paintef on may not be accurate. In fact, HBC has no idea how to regard the colors painted on the black and white images. Did the postcard companies just paint on whatever they wanted or did they try to adhere to the original colors.

Flowers

HBC notes that many commercial post card images of French children show them, bith boys and girls with flowers. HBC belives that this has nothing to do with the boys themselves. Postcards picturing children were probably bought primarily by mothers. Apparently the flowers appeal to them. It suggests that the French view of childhood was somewhat different than the American view. A French reader provides us some insight here. "It is true that French post cards and even family photos often often picture boys rather unrealistically with flowers in rather sentimental poses. Rarely are children pictured with guns or other violent devives like whips. French and Italian mothers were horrfied seing, for example, boxing matches betweens small boys which existed in America." HBC agrees that the sentimaerntal poses with flowers were much more popular in France than America or probably Germany. We have noted, however, a few images where French children have been photographed with guns, such as the DeLesseps family in the 1880s.

Companies

We have little information on the French post card companies ar this time. We note that cards from some comapnies are much more numerous than others. This could reflect the size of the operation or the extent to which theu specialized in cards depicting children. Spme of the comapnies may have requested specific subjects such as poses, props, clothing, gender age, and other variables. They may have had close contacts with specific studios. They may have also purchased images from freelance photographers. While the trade mark name of the comapny is often on the cards, the name of the photographer or studio is rarely showm. The card pictured here was printed by the PC Paris company (figure 1). This appears to have been a realtively large company. It is number 6207. That number will indicate the date the card was printed if information is available from the company. We also notice a lot of cards from ABC.

Types

HBC has very detailed information on types of Ameruican post cards and when each of these styles were popular. HBC does not yet have this type of information fpr French postcards.

Garments

While HBC has used quite a number of French postcards, we have only assessed a few of them in detail for information presented on specific garments. Many of the garments in which the boys were dressed includd kneepants and shortpants. Fancy blouses and ailorsuits were also popular. Some care has to be used in assessing the nationality of the fashins shown. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that many of the cards, especially the French cards, were made in France but marketed in other countries. We do not know to what extent, if any, the French companies altered the clothing and posed to appeal to a country where the cards were to be marketed. French postcard often howded boys with long hai and curls.

Greetings

Some of the greetings on the cards are rather obvious. Some are a little more complicated, as the occassion is not self evident from the words.

Bon anniversaire: Happy birthday.

Bonne fête: This can be used for a variety of occassions. Bonne fête means "Happy New Year" and the term is still used today in modern French. A French reader tells me that Bonne fête is also used for "Happy christian name", I'm not sure what this means--perhaps the anniversary of the saint the child is named for. It can also be used for "Mothers'day" "Fathers'day".

Joyeux anniversaire: Happy birthday.

Joyeux noel: Merry Christmas

Usage

One interesting aspect of these cards is who sent which cards to whom. Presumably the sender selected the card with the recipient in mind. It is possible that younger children might have the cards selected for them. Unlike modern greeting cards there is not meesage beyound Bonne fête or other generic greeting. With several of these cards, however, we have not only when they were sent as well as by whom and to whom. There are also interesting messages. The choice of these cards suggests that the peerson purchasing them liked the way the children were dresses or thought the recipient might. At any rate, it is an interesting look into the mind set of the different period in which the cards were sent.

World War I

Post cards in the early 20th century were a popular way of keeping in touch. Mail service in major European countries was quite good. Often mail was delivered twice a day. Greeting cards were not as common as thy are today, but written communications were much more common. Few families had telephones. And long distant calls were very rare and expensive. Thus when the War began, post cards were commonly used for quick notes by soldiers at the front, sometimes hard pressed to write a long letter. They also continued to be used by civilians. The same thems produced before the War were produced during the War. Many new patriotic cards were added, but not cenes showing battiefield carnage.







HBC






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Created: October 7, 2000
Last updated: 2:40 PM 11/29/2004