Paris Tips: Shopping for Vintage Postcards on Poisson d’avril!

Plomberie-Chauffage on rue Caulaincourt, 18th arrondissement  Photos by Theadora Brack

Behold, Anna Held!

By Theadora Brack

Fish! Flash! Today I’ve decided to slowly reel in the Poisson d’avril (April fool, literally “April fish”) with the catchy retelling of a whopper of a Vaudeville tale. So lean in, grab a soda pop, and then drop to the floor. It’s about to get hot and bawdy in here!

Pump it up

Here’s the scoop! Way back in 1894, French Vaudeville performer Helene Anna Held was sued by her friendly Greenfield Dairy milkman for not paying her bill. When she arrived in New York City, she had demanded 40 gallons of milk (at the rate of 20 cents per gallon!) delivered every other day for her decadent beauty bath.

Three hundred and twenty gallons later, Held cancelled the order, claiming the milk wasn’t fresh or creamy enough for her nightly beauty rituals. The milkman then hired a lawyer to help secure the $64 dollars she owed. The matter, however, was settled out of court because, “milk baths were too peculiar to be discussed in in public.”

Milking Beauty

After the story leaked, Held’s manager Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (of Ziegfeld Follies fame) held a press conference with reporters outside her hotel room. All but one New York City paper attended the media circus!

He told them that 2000 years ago an Egyptian slave had told Roman emperor Nero’s wife that bathing in ass’s milk would not only preserve her complexion, but Nero’s love. The secret had been kept ever since, until generations later a Nero descendant passed it on to Anna Held!

Poisson d’avril!

Got Milk?

Asking if they would like to see her in her milk bath,  Ziegfeld then flung open the door to reveal Mademoiselle Held, chin-deep in milk.

Batting her wide flirtatious eyes, Anna told them, “At home in Paris I take a milk bath two times a week, but here on the road it is more difficult. I miss them.” For the love of drama, instantly a star (with an 18-inch waist and very proud of it!) was born.

Mr. Bubble

Bonjour lait! Au revoir coeur! Soon women everywhere began bathing in milk. It came out later that the lawsuit had been cooked up by Anna and Florenz as a publicity stunt. He and Held married the following year. Well played, is what I would have said!

Pinching from Anna’s most popular song, “Won’t You Come and Play With Me,” let’s follow the bouncing ball and sing along, shall we?

Off the hook!

I wish you’d come and play with me
For I have such a way with me
A way with me, a way with me
I have such a nice little way with me
Do not think it wrong!

Poisson d’avril!

If you find yourself in France on April Fool’s Day, keep your eyes peeled for the tricksters. The classic old prank is to attach a paper fish onto the coattails of an unsuspecting victim. So watch your back!

Flea Market Shopping Tip

Do you have a mad penchant for collecting vintage postcards? Follow me! One of my favorite shopping grounds for “cartes postale ancienne” is at Caveyron Devey, located at stall number 7 and 8 in the Passage Lecuyer (off Rue Jules Vallès) in the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt.

Deciding exactly where to start your quest is the only glitch you’ll encounter here as you make your way though the narrow labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling boxes, stocked with postcards all meticulously organized by category or genre.

Looking for a specific category? Don’t be afraid to ask! Most of the postcards cost just a few euros. Cats? Clowns?  April’s Fool’s Day? Notre Dame? State your mission! They’ve got you covered.

Here’s another tip! If it’s a rainy or chilly day, wear a sweater or pea coat, because the stall is open to the breezes and sometimes damp. Also, if offered a seat at the house table to paw through a box, take them up on it, and browse like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll look like a serious aficionado and your tootsies will thank you!

Happy Hunting! Et Poisson d’avril!

One fish—two fish, red fish—blue fish! 

45 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Shopping for Vintage Postcards on Poisson d’avril!

  1. You have filled my day with such delights…………milk baths and all! Clever of Florenz Ziegield, Jr. to “leak” the story. Theadora, may your Poisson d’avril be filled with paper fish, smiles and perhaps even a milk bath or two!


    • Thanks, Mr. Tin Man! The feeling is mutual! And yes, my day was full of giggles, paper fish and a milk bath for my tootsies (feet)! They were beat. I couldn’t resist. After the “Ziegfeld” research, I just had to test out the milk with a little dip. I couldn’t resist! (It did the trick!) Theadora


    • I also love vintage postcards! Do you collect them? If so, you’ll also find them at the Porte de Vanves Flea Market (14th arrondissement, Métro Porte de Vanves). The stall is located near the snack shack. They have a great selection. And here the cards are also organized by category! Theadora


  2. Oh Theadora, Theadora – you are a woman of the belle epoque. Your slippers are red satin and you walk on roses. I’m off to have a milk bath. Virginia.


    • Rob, I know! I wonder what he’s saying. I love his mustache. Gee, he almost looks like a cad. But not quite. I checked the front of the card, but unfortunately there’s no message or address. Too bad! Theadora


  3. Ah great cards Theodora and thanks for sharing the story. I collect scarves and have some that I bought in the very same Marche aux puces!


    • Oh, yes! The handsome devil is also my favorite. I checked the back of the card. Unfortunely, there’s no message or address. But someone kept it. Lucky for us! Thanks, Alona! Theadora


  4. You hauled in another fine catch with today’s post! Though something was a bit fishy about that milk prank . . . though you milked it for all it was worth. (Hee hee, that joke never gets old!).


  5. Such amazing images…just where do you find such wonderful material Theadora? I always love visiting your blog…so much fun!


    • Thanks, Shira! The Fleas are my muses. For the love of Nancy Drew, this is why I love to shop and collect. I’m a born snoop. Well, that’s I justify dropping the euros. Wink! T.


  6. Thanks for the yarn, Theadora! What a great story, well told.

    When my lessons fall on April 1st, I used to get perverse pleasure telling my adult students that the English Academy had convened and decided to abolish the Present Perfect verb tense and that from now on, only the past simple was to be used. The depths of their disappointment when I explained that there was no English Academy and that the present perfect still existed (as did April Fool’s Day) was so deep that I stopped telling that joke. Broke too many hearts, it did.


    • Thanks, Paul! It was a fun post to research.

      And speaking of tall tales, the English Academy? Wow. What a prank! Did you witness wild crying and sobbing?! Theadora


  7. Paris Paul’s comment on April l was funny, then I read your reply “wild crying and sobbing”. I giggled all through dinner, I giggled when I put away all the English grammar books, I am still smiling. V.


    • Great idea, Brigitte! Yes, I do exhibit my favorites. I also collect perfume bottle labels, paper dolls and prayer cards. So from floor-to-ceiling, my place is an ephemera temple! Theadora


    • Wow! Lucky you! By the way, I love your Tuberoses & Tea site. Your “Marais” post was lovely! Especially the twilight shot. Say, do you have a favorite tea shop in Paris? I adore the tea shop, located near the Jardin du Luxembourg. About one hundred teapots hang (and tempt!) in the vitrine. I’ll dig up the address. Perhaps you’ve been there? Enjoy the week! Theadora


      • Hi Theadora! Thanks, I’m still exploring Paris as I have only been living here for about 3 months but so far my Fav spot for tea has to be Mariage Freres in the 6th Arr. They have some pretty delicious cakes as well…:-)
        If you remember the name of the one near Luxembourg please pass it along…Frank


      • Hi Frank! I found the address! The Tea Pot shop is located located at 17 rue de l’Odeon in the 6th arrondissement. I love this cozy place! And yes! I also love Mariage Frères, 13 rue des Grands-Augustins, in the 6th Arrondissement. Look for the one hundred tea pots in the vitrine. Enjoy the week! Theadora


  8. I recently discovered a photography store that sells vintage and anonymous photography. I picked up vintage nineteenth century handcolored photos of geishas–your postcards reminded me of them. It’s been ages since I’ve been to the Marché aux puces at Clignancourt–gotta make it a priority on my next trip!


  9. What a great post, Theadora! I also heard that Jacqueline Kennedy Onnasis when she was married to Ari Onnasis also bathe in milk. Oh, vanity! Women will always do anything to preserve that fountain of youth huh!


    • Malou! Jackie O?! That’s a great tidbit! (A flight attendant friend uses milk as a facial cleanser during short and long flights. She swears by this beauty ritual! “No more rides,” she always says. I’m now off to the dairy for more milk! Wink. Theadora


  10. I do love markets, and milk baths aside, Paris is also home to the Stade de France, where the French national rugby team, currently ranked 2nd in the world, play their matches. The markets around the stadium during the yearly 6 Nations tournaments may not be the best, but the atmosphere around the games certainly is – try to see France – Wales next Spring – its always a beautiful encounter, and no red satin slippers for that one in the capacity crowd!


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