If you thought the famous “Currier and Ives” printers of the 1800s just made wholesome family prints of quaint, snowy Christmas scenes to frame and display in your parlor, think again. Here’s one of their very popular items from 1840:
The caption below the picture reads:
“Children, this is the third time within an hour that I have placed your hats properly on your heads…THERE!!”
This couple is obviously not the kiddies’ Mommy and Daddy. I’m guessing it is the nanny and her beau. From the look of the placement of his hand (no, I don’t think he’s just admiring her “cross” necklace), I would suggest it had best be her fiancé … with a wedding planned soon!
Yes, lots of people in the 1840s actually bought this print, framed it, and hung it in their parlor as a decorative item!
Many folks assume that most all 19th century Victorian Americans were exceptionally prudish. (The Victorian Era was during the reign of Queen Victoria, about 1830-1900.) This is belied by much of the print media of the time. Newspapers, posters, engravings like this one to hang on the wall, and books often included far more material that was “suggestive” and “racy” than you’d expect. This is true of both text and illustration (note the loooooow neckline on this frisky young woman’s dress—down to the cleavage!)
I’ve been very surprised while doing historical research in recent years to find just how far reality was in the “Good Old Days” from the assumptions of “an age of innocence” many modern folks have about what it was like. This is true whether you think that those Good Old Days were the Father Knows Best period of the 1950s, the “Gay ‘90s” epitomized by innocent songs like “Bicycle Built for Two,” or the pre-Civil War days of the 1840s. The truth is that the average American hasn’t changed nearly as much as lots of folks think they have over the past two centuries.
For some more examples of the REAL “pop culture” of the 1840s, see the blog entry titled “Flashy Victorians” on my blog Special Report titled “Painting a Rosy Past.”