Towards the end of the 19th century two things happened at the same time, triggering the development of the erotic picture postcard: the social climate changed so that what had previously been considered obscene was now just naughty, and the postcard suddenly had its golden heyday.
Inundated with Millions
This period lasted barely twenty years, but during that period the skill of the imagination of thousands of talented artists ensured that we were inundated with millions of miniature sandwich boards full of enticing scenes, dreams and thoughts, people, fictions and facts, greetings, jokes and beauty.
Dawdling Well Spent
The development of the picture postcard got off to a slow start, but the time it took for this initial dawdling was well spent: when social freedom was a fact, the picture postcard was ready. If this freedom or the sudden popularity of the picture postcard had been a long time ago, this coincidence would have been much less effective and sparkling than it was now.
The dating of erotic cards - the further we get into the twentieth century, the more postmarks there are - are of particular importance, because they form a nuanced commentary on both the rapidly loosening and cheerful attitude towards sexuality and the exceptional way in which the World War I changed the fashionable image of the sexually-attractive woman.
Strapped Up Waist
The early Edwardian hourglass model was an anachronism well before the war, but the limitation of its strapped up waist had been replaced by the perhaps more severe limitation of the narrow hobble skirt; the war, however, freed the legs and bodies of the women, free to move in the world on the same wider scale as when they had had to do the work of the men.
A similar change in fashion had, of course, taken place during the Napoleonic Wars, although the changes then had not been illustrated nearly as amusingly by La Belle Assemblée as they are now by the picture postcards. The lady with the hourglass shape could hide her ankles as much as she wanted with a frilly foam layer of long skirts, but at night she exposed her raised breasts almost to the nipples.
Twenty years later, the breasts were completely covered while the legs in silk stockings were visible up to the knee. The postcard is a seismograph of all those changes and whims, and by the end of the story, each erogenous zone has had its turn, always emphasizing another. But the erotic intent remains clear, even if the tulle below the bust became a suspender ratchet above the knee.
The erotic cards can range from the mere risqué to explicit pornography (Fig.1 and 2). Most of these were created as real photo cards, especially when dealing with full nudity. Though produced in postcard formats most of these cards were not meant to be mailed for they were often confiscated by postal authorities.
Because so many of these cards were destroyed it is difficult to get a complete sense of their history. Erotism often found outlets in other more social permissible ways such as seaside views and art reproductions but these types of cards can be cross referenced into other categories as well.
Spicy Russian Postcards
The 20 spicy postcards below are Russian-made. The first set of six postcards (Fig.3 to 8) are from the late 19th century featuring the sensual awakening of the two adolescents “Mitya and Manka“. – [Moscow]: Universal Postal Union publishing house.
«Finally, we do it by ourselves!». (Obviously, it’s their first time.)
«Look at these fruits (apples)! Charming!»
«What’s a belly!»
(she) «Ah, darling!»
«A little bit of lubricant»
This second part of this selection of naughty postcards are of French origin (Fig.16 to 24) issued late 19th and early 20th century..
Fig.16. ‘The first instructions‘
Fig.18. ‘The first lunch‘
Fig.19. 'Peeing Contest'
The following 5 pieces (Fig.20 to 24) are from a postcard set entitled 'Joie d’hiver (The Pleasure of Winter)', issued 1900 and produced by Édouard-Henri Avril (1849-1928). These are some of the earliest erotic work by Avril, probably commissioned by Charles Hirsch to illustrate a new edition of Aretino’s Sonnets. His career saw collaboration with influential writers such as Octave Uzanne, Henry Spencer Ashbee and Friedrich Karl Forberg.
Fig.20. ‘The Love Bath‘
Fig.21. ‘On the back stairs‘
Fig.22. ‘He was waking up!‘..
Fig.24. ‘A crispy piece‘
In our Premium section you can find an extended version of this article with twice as much images, a wonderful translation of the first six Russian postcards including the complete story of Mitya and Manka, and more additional info on well-known postcard designers.
Sources: 'Erotic Postcards' by Barbara Jones and William Ouellette, honesterotica.com, metropostcard.com,
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