The Romance of Science

    As you no doubt recall from our last thrilling episode, we were looking at some of the ways postcard makers showed the comic possibilities of new technologies.  The automobile, the telephone, the phonograph: all were used for gags ranging from the merely cheerful to the rollicking.  (If you were not, personally, rollicked by any of these, recollect that their heyday of rollicking was a century ago.  You may just be too modern in your expectations.)

    There was one field of postcard we did not cover, however, and that was the romantic exploitation of new inventions.  Anyone who can recall those little paper Valentines we swapped in grade school will realize that any fad is grist for the romantic mill.

    The electric light bulb, for example, was pretty well-established by the time the postcard came along, but it took longer than we realize nowadays for the country to be wired and electrified.  So the light bulb was still news to plenty of people and, besides, the shape of the bulb made it an excellent device for enclosing a romantic couple.  Not many of the jokes shown here exhibit much electrical humor at all.  (The one at the lower left, in fact, does a gag about the telegraph instead.  CQD, which stood for “Come Quickly: Danger”, was used before the SOS signal was invented.)

    The automobile offered romantic possibilities for those couples who couldn’t squeeze into lightbulbs.  A couple could pose proudly with their own automobile, exhibiting pride of possession as well as the stability of a relationship where either member would trust the other with control of such a loud, bizarre vehicle.  It did not take much time, however, for couples to realize the advantage of having a chauffeur.

    Of course, for dropping in unexpectedly on your loved one, there were other, even faster machines.

   (I don’t know which of this loving couple was the pilot—neither of them is really dressed for it—but did that person REALLY think this through?  I appreciate the fact that they managed to land without destroying the plane but I don’t see that there’s enough space for a take-off.  Or are these things irrelevant when one is in love…or simply trying to draw a picture for a romantic postcard?)

    This little gag, making reference to the newfangled writing device known as a typewriter, takes a tiny bit of explaining.  You can see that the machine on the desk is not, in fact, being used at all.  The joke involves the fact that offices hired young women to do the secretarial work which involved typing, and these young ladies were ALSO known as typewriters, because they did the typewriting.  The young man is using his pen because the typewriter is busy getting a hug from…oh, you got that already.  Just checking.

   Next only to the automobile in romantic technology though, was the telephone.  Tributes to its usefulness in connecting one with the beloved ranged from the fairly simple, above, to the more grandiose.

    Postcards could actually be used to improve this kind of connection, by conveying a phone number, or making a date to make a call.  (See, the postcard was the email of its day: in cities where mail was delivered more than once a day, you could send the card and know it would arrive a few hours later.  This could be vital; I have in my current stock a card where the sender is imploring the recipient NOT to discuss things on the phone any more.  The private line had not been invented yet, you see, and if you didn’t time the calls, or even if you did, certain people might be listening in.  By the way, it’s a little too late to mention this to the sender, but sending this message by postcard was not the best way to keep a secret, either.)

   Of course, every new device has its good points and its bad points.  So naturally, since we are contrary creatures, as time went by postcards were also used to express the benefits of doing things the old-fashioned way.

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