Interpreting Artifacts

     It has been a while since we delved into the archaeology of humor as reflected in postcard art of the past (as opposed to our rather shallow digs every Monday.)  More postcards come in all the time, and some of the jokes are moderately obscure unless you’re old enough, or are thoroughly obscure despite all sorts of digging.

     Now, of you have been a steady reader of this column (as any well-adjusted soul would be) you will see that the card at the top of this column combines two mysterious manias of ther 1910s: a lover of Dutch children (with speech patterns based on Pennsylvania Dutch, or German, Americans) with the still somewhat mysterious catchphrase of the era, that to :hand someone a lemon” was a contemptuous negative reply.  A soft lemon was even more brutal, but these kids don’t go that far.

    This one is fairly obvious IF you recall (or have seen in, say, Three Stooges movies) that dentists used to offer their patients anesthetic (or gas, or sometimes laughing gas) as an option during dental surgery.  The gas shortages of World War II gave this joke about a dentist who was offering gas as a free alternative to old-style dentistry its punch.  I think this use of “gas” died away at some point during the 1960s, with the phrase “It’s a gas” perhaps being its last hurrah.

     Walter Wellman, somewhere around 1915, implied a vasty number of paramours with this reference to the Heinz claim that it sold 57 varieties (memorialized in Heinz 57 Sauce).  They have never QUITE given up this slogan, but it has faded considerably over the last thirty years or so (and the number was never especially accurate anyhow)  So you have to be old enough to recognize the gag.  Yeah, that’s what they all say.

     This joke depends on you knowing that a “grass widow” was a married woman whose husband was far away, leaving her to pursue romance wherever she found it.  This is another phrase which really started to fade in the Sixties, when women seeking recreational romance became more common.  Again, you need to be old enough to remember…okay, I’ll stop bringing that up.

     We considered this card when we were dealing with the bygone but long-lived song refrain, “I Love My Wife, but Oh, You Kid.”  Undressed kid and patent leather were kinds of gloves one could buy, back when everyone wore gloves when dressed up.  I don’t believe I mentioned the implications of that undressed…yeah, I don’t usually slip up that way.

     You can get the joke, I suppose, without knowing the whole lore of small theatrical companies traveling through the land, prone to dissolving without notice when losing money, as the manager would frequently take all the box office receipts and leave town, abandoning the unlucky (and probably under-talented) actors and actresses to hoof it home.  The line about the ghost not walking is a remnant of these days, too, referring to a production of hamlet in which the manager was informed that unless the actors got paid “The ghost doesn’t walk” (obviously, if Hamlet’s father doesn’t show up in the first scene, the play gets a LOT shorter.)

     This joke is just the Dutch Kids and their accent again.  This isn’t really so much a joke as a small Dutch lad singing lines from K-K-K-Katy, a popular stutter song of the World War I era.  Hearing a modern song sung with a weird accent seemed hilarious to our ancestors.  (By the way, have you heard the version of Blue Christmas as sung by Porky Pig?)

     Here we have a political phrase which was well-known for such a tiny period of time that it has eluded the Interwebs.  But it SEEMS to have involved the attitude of the Turkish government (that’s an outline of Turkey there in the background) to foreign dignitaries.  They were willing to apply the boot, as Father is, as well.  You needed to sell cards like this quickly, while the audience still cared.

     Whereas this one remains popular even if you don’t know about General Motors introducing an independent suspension system for its cars, which it publicized in the 1930s as “knee-action”.  This particular model and her suspension system are eternal, as is the beflustered look of her chosen escort for the evening.  People can enjoy this card and never even THINK of a coupe or a runabout.  (Well, maybe a runabout.)

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