For some reason, in the early decades of the 20th century it was a “thing” to send sleazy cartoon postcards while on vacation. Looking through postcards from the 1930s-1950s, you’ll find not as many photographs of tourist locations as you will bawdy cartoons. It’s a fascinating social documentation on public tolerance for this risqué subject matter – much of it would be wildly inappropriate today.
This trend was popular in the US, but even more so in Britain. From the Donald McGill Museum:
In the early 1930s, cartoon-style saucy postcards became widespread and at the peak of their popularity the sale of saucy postcards reached a massive 16m a year. They were often tacky in nature making use of innuendo and traditionally featured stereotypical characters such as priests, large ladies and put-upon husbands in the same vein as the Carry On films.
However, in the early 1950s the newly elected Conservative government was concerned at the apparent deterioration of morals in Britain and decided on a crackdown on these postcards. The main target on their hit list was the renowned postcard artist McGill. In the more liberal 1960s the saucy postcard was revived and became to be considered, by some, as an art form.
The demise of the saucy postcard occurred during the 1970s and 1980s; the quality of the artwork and humor started to deteriorate with changing attitudes towards the cards content.
I still remember the racks of sleazy postcards at gift shops back in the seventies. I didn’t understand what they meant back then… and I’m still a little perplexed today. I get the jokes, but the widespread practice of sending bawdy postcards back home to the wife and family is something I don’t quite get – which makes these all the more fascinating. Let’s have a look at some examples (those with sensitive dispositions, be forewarned – these definitely would not qualify as politically correct)…
I get the double meaning of “taps” – the bugle call and the beer tap. How this joke relates to a gust of wind blowing up a waitress’ dress is lost on me.
And more gents ogling a girl’s upskirt…
As you can see, we could easily have an article devoted to nothing but postcards with women having their skirts blown upward, but we’ll move along….
Now, let’s see how these saucy vintage postcards approached humor regarding other ethnic groups… (spoiler – with no sensitivity whatsoever)…
Oh look, dad sent us a postcard from his business trip to Florida. Isn’t it just hilarious?
This postcard kinda creeps me out… we know exactly what this guy is up to.
So many of these saucy postcards featured men just ogling women. I suppose showing actual infidelity might cross a line, so drooling perverts would have to do.
Of course, infidelity wasn’t always off-limits, especially in later years. The saucy postcard was the perfect medium for jokes about men behaving badly.
And so, we’ll end with a bit of philosophy from the vintage saucy postcard world – “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”