Gracie's Deltiological Stories
1. An off-the-wall mystery
Look at these cards from my Collection. Card 1 is from Étoile series 143. See the photo hanging on the wall behind the model? This is actually Card 2, which is from Corona series 134. Amazing, huh?
But it doesn't end there. A session of photos of Jeanne Juilla is also called Corona series 134, while the girl in the gypsy costume is actually much more like PC series 1730.
Did they create this sort of confusion just to give deltiologists something to worry about? I would love to hear your views.
3. The better part of Waléry
Under the name Waléry, my Collection includes a variety of styles: standard poses, tableaux in which suited gentlemen visit naked ladies, arty nudes and calling cards for lavishly-costumed burlesque dancers. It seems unlikely that the same snapper snapped them all. So who was Waléry? We don’t know for sure.
It is agreed that Count Stanisław Julian Ostroróg (1830-1890), born in Lithuania, spent his youth in Paris, worked as a photographer there and in Marseilles, then set up a studio in London under the name Waléry (from his wife, Waleria). He became a British citizen in 1862, was granted a sitting by Queen Victoria in 1886 and made a series of portaits of notables, published as Our Celebrities.
After the count’s death, his son Stanisław Julian Ignacy Ostroróg (1863-1929) continued his work under the name Waléry (possibly Lucien Waléry). He moved to Paris in 1900, and specialised in showgirls and celebrity subjects such as Mata Hari and Josephine Baker.
Then there is Charles Auguste Varsavaux (1866-1935), who used the name Waléry (or possibly Lucien Waléry) after taking over the former Waléry premises in Paris when the younger Ostroróg died, perhaps to cash in on the reputation of the studio. Lucien Waléry produced erotic postcards and arty nudes intended for framing rather than card publication. Or possibly those are by the younger count?
All clear? Probably not. I still can’t tell you which of these lensmen took each of these photos. Whichever, one of the Walérys, perhaps concerned that his nudes were unlawful, used the name Yrélaw, hoping that the French police couldn’t solve anagrams. Other marks are AW (Atelier Waléry) Paris, Laryéw and possibly SW (Studio Waléry?)
2. The king of postcards
The Parisian printing firm of E. le Deley
(E.L.D.) was founded by the photographer Ernest Louis Désiré le Deley (1859–1917). In 1903 the firm merged with the company of A. Siron to form one of the largest postcard publishing houses of the first decades of the twentieth century, producing heliotype black-and-white postcards.
After le Deley's death, the firm was run by his sons, but went bankrupt in 1930. Heliotype printing involved exposing a gelatin film under a negative, hardening it with chrome alum, and then printing from it directly.
4. You the detective
This is where you can play the postcard sleuth to solve a couple of mysteries similar to the one in Story 1, the Off-the-wall mystery.
Here are two cards from Gracie's Collection. On the left is a sultry pose of Jeanne Juilla from SAPI series 2525, while the card on the right is unmarked (and the model regrettably unknown).
In both shots you can see framed boudoir card photos on the wall behind the model.
Your challenge is to identify the postcard on the right, and the two cards hanging on the wall (publisher and series number, please).
If you crack the mystery, let me know. I'll credit you on the site (if you want).
5. Gracie always gets her girl
What was your granny doing on 23 May 1924? OK, your great-granny. What did she tell you? Reading a book? Doing some sewing? Arranging flowers? Preparing a nutritious meal for her husband?
Not a bit of it. OK, the woman on the right may not actually be your granny or your great-granny, but she's probably someone's granny. And what she was doing on that day was casting aside her chemise and posing glamorously for an ELF postcard.
How do I know this? When I noticed that a postcard in my Collection, from ELF series 29, showed a young beauty perusing a newspaper, I decided to discover its date of publication. I put Gracie's bloodhounds on the scent. The arts newspaper, Comœdia, was published in Paris between 1907 and 1944, they told me, producing 8,769 issues. Did I want them to check every one? Yes, I told them, or no dog biscuits. Some time later, the bloodhounds crawled into my office. 'It was 23 May 1924,' they whimpered. 'Good work,' I replied. 'Have a biscuit.'
If this is your granny (or great-granny), you can have a biscuit too.
For a bonus biscuit, can you ID the cards on the mirror?
6. Nice one, Jean
Jean Agélou (1878-1921) may have been a wizard with the camera, but he wasn’t so hot at the admin. I’m talking about the numbering of his JA (round logo) postcards. Most publishing houses released postcards in series of five, six or sometimes more different poses.
In the early days, not long after the turn of the century, Jean didn’t do that; he simply gave each card a sequential number.
At some stage, he must have decided to junk this scheme and fall in with the series idea. That meant he had to re-label all of his old photos to fit in with the new system.
That’s when it all went wrong. It looks as if, when he was giving new series numbers to old cards, he doubled up on series he had already created. In one case, series 44, he seems to have done this twice. There are also a few cards with ‘S’ numbers, which may well indicate ‘series’, that don’t fit into either scheme. For the dedicated deltiologist, it’s a mess. For everyone else, there are still lots of pretty nude women to look at.
In Gracie’s Collection, I’ve used the old numbers up to the point that he changed to the series system. This avoids some of Jean’s confusion, which we’ll charitably put down to an absinthe too many.
7. Product placement
It seems that using one of your own photos as a prop was a bit of a competitive sport amongst postcard photographers. You've read Stories 1 and 4. Here's yet another example. This time, Gracie's bloodhounds have rooted out the answer for you.
The main picture here is from Georges Agélou's series GP 128. The photo on the table on the left of the model bears the round JA mark, which we take to signify Georges' brother, Jean Agélou. The framed card is from Jean's series 95. Both of these postcards are of course in the Gracie's Grannies Collection.
Did Georges take the main photo, or was it Jean? We may never know.
8. A Great War story
It's February 1916. The Battle of Verdun against the German offensive in France has begun, and will become the longest battle of the First World War. The Battle of the Somme is just a few months off. Somewhere in France, this pretty model is having her photo taken for BG/GB postcard series 205, now in Gracie's Collection.
We know this because she’s holding a copy of La Vie Parisienne, a saucy men’s magazine that was published weekly from 1863 to 1970, including through two world wars.
The issue she's holding can be dated to 12 February 1916 from the beautiful cover illustration by Gerda Wegener (1886-1940), a Danish artist who shocked some members of society when they learned that the wispy girls who were often the subject of her Art Nouveau paintings were actually based on her husband (originally) who underwent sex-change surgery.
9. A famous corner
Here’s a bit of a follow-up on Stories 4 and 7. It’s about pictures hanging on the wall.
But first take a look at the ten postcards here. They show what must surely be the most ubiquitous setting for nude photography in the whole of fin de siècle Paris. All ten cards come from series bearing the round JA or GA/GP marks, so I’m guessing this curved wall must be in a corner of the Agélou studio, or perhaps residence.
Eight of the shots feature one of the Agélous’ favourite props – an old, battered gong, or perhaps shield – which clutters up literally hundreds of the brothers’ postcards in Gracie's Collection.
Back to the follow-up part: The upper large postcard on the right features the same framed photo on the wall as revealed above in Story 7; while in the lower card you can just make out the same photo I showed you in Story 4. The Agélous certainly liked moving their pictures around a lot, presumably to keep them in shot where they could function as a bit of subliminal advertising.
Despite appearances, I don't spend all my time peering at what's hanging on the wall behind my grannies. But I do find these little features interesting. If you happen to spot a similar phenomenon, let me know and I'll share it with the community of Gracie's granny lovers.
10. Cleaning up
Turn-of-the-century (the one before last) Paris must have been a dusty place. The new horseless carriages were struggling through the more traditional horse-drawn traffic. Coal-fired boilers were powering industry. People were burning logs to keep warm. The dirt and smuts thrown up by all this activity must have drifted up in the air and through the windows of all those Parisian photographic studios.
How do we know this? Because many of the photos they produced seem to be marred by numerous annoying dust spots.
Or perhaps these were introduced more recently when these photos were scanned into our modern, perfect, digital systems.
Then there's the wear and tear that comes from loving ownership, abuse, mice, damp and so on. Many of these cardboard items are more than a hundred years old. You would expect a bit of deterioration.
Whatever. A lot of the postcards that arrive in Gracie Towers are a bit dirty or, as we call it, 'out of condition'. The question is: to restore or to leave in authentic disrepair?
The decision is usually an asthetic one. If Gracie wants to clean up a shot, the 'Cleaning Ladies', as we call them, are set to work...
Here are some examples of their handiwork - before and after.
11. And the war drags on...
This story is, er, exactly the same as Story 8. It’s the same model, so it would seem that she has a thing about leaving magazines lying about just where we can see them. And it’s the same title, La Vie Parisienne, though this one dates from 17 August 1918.
That was a few weeks after the German retreat at the Marne and only three weeks before the end of the First World War. Does she look relieved? She seems more interested in chucking magazines about. The postcard is from JA round series 604.
Incidentally, the cover of that week’s issue was a painting by Maurice Millière (1871-1946), a noted artist and illustrator. Millière was known for his portrayals of coy, independent, unconsciously erotic and beautiful women. Such characters became known as ‘Femmes Poupées’ (doll-women); using them, he created the genre of ‘boudoir art’.
The woman in this card is a dead ringer for the cover girl on the magazine. I wonder if she was one of Millière’s sitters? As well as JA round, in Gracie’s Collection you can find her in series by BG/GB, BV and Paul Nadal.
12. Images of Fernande
There was a postcard publisher who used three stars as a mark, so I call it Très Étoiles, which is French for, er, three stars. Très Étoiles issued cards in a variety of styles, some similar to AM, others like JA.
Series 3987 was a run of fanciful images featuring Miss Fernande in poses on such themes as ‘Meditation’, ‘In the Woods’, ‘Truth’ and, rather worryingly, ‘Despair’.
There are two examples on the right - the left-hand ones top and bottom: ‘Oriental Dance’ and ‘Lying in the Sun’. Notice that these shots weren’t posed by Miss Fernande in front of the painted scenery, instead, previous images of her were pasted on to photos of the backdrops.
The series they used were both from JA round; examples from the series are shown on the right. In one case (perhaps both cases) they flipped the negative over to give a mirror image.
All this would be easy to do these days on a computer, but much more challenging at the turn of the century in a darkroom with an enlarger and a pair of scissors. Gracie says: respect!
13. Wake up, Julien!
Julien Mandel (1872-1935) was an influential photographer of the female nude and important in the erotic postcard business in the 20s and 30s. Mandel was himself influenced by the naturalist movements that idealised an earlier rural romanticism degraded now by industrialisation. He placed many of his models in outdoor settings to make a connection between the natural state of the nude to the purity of the land.
Much of his work was turned into real photo postcards and published by Armand Noyer (as AN, NP and Noyer) and PC - and perhaps also by other companies. I wonder if his work is to be found in Étoile, M and SAPI, for example?
Mandel is unusual (but not unique) in signing his name to photos he has taken (Waléry did this too), but it would seem only if they were published by Noyer.
Julien may have been a great (and very prolific) photographer, but he wasn’t that hot at proofreading, as a glance at the small print on a couple of his cards (see left) reveals.
14. Size matters
We call these little photographic masterpieces that we love so much 'postcards' mainly because they are postcard-sized, about 9x14cm. In the 1920s, many publishers produced nude photos a bit bigger than this, and squarer in format, around 22x17cm. There's an example on the right.
It's odd, but these larger pictures always seem to have low series numbers, as if they were the first type of card that a particular publisher produced.
That wouldn't be peculiar if only one publisher had done this, but quite a few did - in my collection it's true of AN, C, Corona, Leo, PC, Pisa and Super. I don't have a watertight explanation for this, but a possibility is that these publishers were all contemporaneous and began operations when large nude pictures were all the rage. When demand grew for the more convenient postcard-sized photos, they all switched over.
It doesn't sound very likely to me, but do you have a better theory? It's good to share.
This is what Gracie finds fascinating about vintage erotica.
fin de siècle
La Vie Parisienne
15. A mirror on the world
Gracie’s bloodhounds have done it again. They’ve caught one of those lovely French models reading when she should be concentrating on the job of, er, modelling.
This woman is from Etoile series 8057. On the floor in front of her we can see a copy of the weekly illustrated Le Miroir du Monde No 30, which was published on 27 September 1930. So, unless our naked beauty is a bit behind with her reading, we now know more or less when the photo was taken.
Although the magazine's cover features a rather depressing shot of German military manoeuvres, the contents list suggests the main articles inside were about travel, holidays and the possibility of digging a tunnel to Gibraltar. Our lovely model looks unimpressed. She's reading a book instead.
16. The X-Files
In Gracie’s collection an X-file means I’ve come across what looks like a glitch in a numbering system.
With Etoile (below) you can understand it because I’m not that confident that all of those logo-free (probably Julien Mandel) shots all belong in the same folder anyway.
BMV (left) seems more dependable, yet still I find cards which are clearly from different series bearing the same number.
It could be an error on the part of the photographer or publisher, or perhaps it’s fraud. The latter seems unlikely – after all, why would pirates bother to change the series number?
17. Gracie knows everything
They must be doing it on purpose, these risqué postcard models. They deliberately hold up magazine covers so that, 90 years later, Gracie’s bloodhounds will have something to do as they track down the issue and so date the photo.
This beauty from Étoile series 50 is holding a copy of Je sais tout (meaning I know everything), a popular science magazine published in Paris from 1905 to 1939. This issue came out on 1 November 1926.
18. Not more magazines!
This postcard is of interest for two reasons: first, it has two publishing marks – BV for Bernard Viaux and N for Paul Nadar. I have a few others with the same pair of logos. I use the N numbering system for these and include copies in the BV folder with an ‘x’ (see story 16 for more on this). Second, in the shot is a copy of the magazine La Vie Parisienne, which readers of this blog will know means that Gracie will try to date the photo by identifying the issue of the magazine.
La Vie Parisienne was published weekly from 1863 to 1970 – that’s around 5,500 issues to sift through. OK, the postcard style narrows the search a little, but Gracie’s bloodhounds still had hundreds of covers to sniff out.
Then…bingo! It turns out the issue in the photo was published on 20 July 1918.
That was during the second battle of the Marne, around three months before the end of WWI. The illustration is by René Vincent (1879-2936). In the caption, the woman asks Cupid: ‘So you haven‘t left Paris? Isn’t that where you can be yourself, you rascal?‘ The meaning, perhaps, is that, despite the war, love is still available in the French capital.
In 1918 Paul Nadar was 63. Whether he was still taking risqué photos I don’t know. Perhaps his mark was being used to publish the work of others, for example Jean Agélou, who was 40 at the time. The two other stories (8 and 11) about photos that casually include copies of La Vie Parisienne clearly intended to be identified could both be by Jean Agélou. Did this little joke become a habit for Jean perhaps?
There are more stories to come about the models, photographers and publishers behind the Parisian postcard business.
If you have any ideas or any stories you'd like to share, do please contact me.