This untranslatable German word refers to a feeling provoked by certain objects: chromolithographs, postcards, snow globes, garden gnomes, certain tourist souvenirs, old-fashioned ads, obsolete gadgets, etc.
These postcards could also be described as outdated, unpleasant, tasteless, and sometimes shameful.
While some of these may shock or offend today, others bring back childhood memories from the twists and turns of our collective consciousness.
These were usually sent during the many religious or pagan festivals that mark the year, such as the feast of St. Catherine, Christmas, Easter, and April Fool's Day. Novelty cards were made by placing different materials (feathers, fabrics, hair, etc.) on an illustrated background, sometimes embossed or painted with gaudy colors, and often defined kitsch through their poor esthetic taste.
They combine both the symbolic and the kitsch, as with this card intended for the young unmarried women known as the Catherinettes. The hat made from fabric and lace illustrates tradition. With colors recalling those of the French flag, they testify to a patriotic feeling that intensified between the war of 1870 and the conflict of 1914–18. Although the messages conveyed are far from the reality of our society today, they do reflect attitudes from the past.
Happy Easter on a velvet and lace background. To our adult eyes, this combination says "kitsch." But this card that is soft to the touch, with its pastel colors, and a chick that one could almost caress, would certainly still delight children. So is this kitsch or not kitsch?
In keeping with the esthetics and the fashion of the time, these postcards aren't trying to reflect the experience of the soldiers, nor even to improve it, but instead to distance themselves from it. Publishers covered up reality by resorting to various tricks (painted decorations, photographic special effects, patriotic illustrations, etc.) when conveying their message, be it poetic, comic, or propaganda.
Here, a soldier is sending his best New Years wishes from the front line to his family back home. It is a photographic portrait inserted in a fabric flower reminiscent of the cornflower, the floral symbol for WWI infantrymen. The ancestor of today's selfies!
Postcards from the 1914–18 war provided a link between the rear and front lines, and so they are an example of all the efforts made to maintain troop morale. What better than a little humor, even if it's dark, to make the soldier's lives a bit more bearable. The series of cards "La Langue des Tranchées" (The Language of the Trenches) features multiple editions.
The country needed to be repopulated following the massacres of the Great War. There is no lack of imagination on the part of illustrators when it comes to encouraging the French to start large families.
Advertising postcards exaggerated by playing on stereotypes and humor. This humor seems completely outdated or in very bad taste nowadays.
The racist message conveyed by this postcard would not be tolerated today. It shows a caricatured image of a black servant delivering bars of chocolate to his "maitre", or "master". In the context of the First World War and French colonial history, it reflects racist attitudes in society at a time when black people epitomized chocolate in the eyes of advertisers and white consumers.
Risqué illustrations appeared very early on and women's bodies were revealed and then stripped bare in front of these gentlemen's eyes. Described as "risqué" by nudity lovers and as "lewd" by moralists in the early 1900s, these cards with old-fashioned charm provide an insight into sensuality and eroticism in the Belle Époque.
Bad taste prevailed as the decades progressed. According to the clichés and captions, some fall into the category of "sexy" while others are complete smut, inciting disgust in some and hilarity in others. Considered "politically incorrect" today, some publishers refuse to sell these terrible postcards as they are increasingly unpopular with tourists and could be detrimental to their image.
Like advertising postcards, humorous cards convey many old-fashioned messages. They can be shocking to our modern-day eyes, barely provoking a smile at all, and are sometimes completely misunderstood as the original idea behind the message has been lost.
Exotic and picturesque Brittany sold well. Photographers accentuated and caricatured the features of a quirky region with strong traditions. Since postcards represented a significant source of income, they exploited these clichés by publishing multiple, successful series. Crêpes and traditional costumes were, of course, widely depicted.
Long before photo novel sagas were published in the press, publishers released series of postcards depicting love stories around closed-beds typical of the region, dripping with sentimental nonsense and frivolity. People therefore had to buy the entire series to know the outcome of these stories created entirely in photo studios.
Another classic of the genre: the image of the sailor, the independent traveler, returning to port and making the most of his uniform to seduce the ladies.
The town of Baud
Le Carton Voyageur - Postcard Museum