Paris: Vintage Postcard Shopping on April Fool’s Day



Behold, Anna Held (All images: T. Brack's archives)

Behold, Anna Held (All images: T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

Flashback!  It wouldn’t be Poisson d’avril (April Fool’s, or literally, “April fish”) without the annual retelling of my favorite whopper of a Vaudeville tale.  I’ll also show-off a new batch of April Fool’s Day postcards, freshly scored at the Vanves Flea Market.

So grab your rod and reel while I trap the Picon-bière. Created in 1837, this bittersweet kiss of oranges and deep blue gentian flowers is typically served with a sudsy demi-pression, into which you splash a shot of Picon. Richly colored and aromatic, the orange-toffee flavored brew packs a potent punch, perfect for “l’heure de apéritif” and some fine vintage spinning!

Winding it back

Here’s the scoop: In 1894, French Vaudeville performer and Folies-Bergère dancer Anna Held was sued by her Greenfield Dairy milkman for not paying her bill. See, when she arrived in New York City from Paris, she had demanded 40 gallons of milk (at the rate of 20 cents per gallon!) delivered to her hotel every other day for her decadent nightly beauty baths.

He loves me, He loves me not

He loves me, He loves me not

Splash Forward: Three hundred and twenty gallons later, Anna cancelled the order, claiming the milk wasn’t fresh or creamy enough for her 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,” according to the newspaper reports.

Milking Beauty

After the story leaked,  Held’s manager, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (of Ziegfeld Follies fame) held a press conference with reporters outside her room at the Marlborough Hotel. All but one New York City paper attended the frothy affair. “The milk was sour and entirely unsuited for milady’s bath—in fact, it spoiled her complexion!” said “Flo.”

He also 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!

One Fish, Two Fish

One Fish, Two Fish

 Got Milk?

Asking if they would like to see the fetching Anna in the aforementioned milk bath, Ziegfeld then flung open the door to reveal the bubbly Mademoiselle Held, “laving her rose leaf limbs,” 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.

 Word quickly spread: Soon women everywhere began bathing in milk. In fact, a “dairymaid” in Cologne, France was caught daily soaking in fresh milk before selling it! 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, I’d say!

BRACK Fish Fish 309

Don’t put all your fish in one basket!

Pinching from the popular song in the 1906 musical, “The Parisian Model” (one of Anna’s hit roles), “My lips may say, Run away from me, But my eyes say, Come and play with me! I just can’t make my eyes behave!”

Poisson d’avril!

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

Collect vintage postcards?

My current favorite hunting ground for “cartes postale ancienne” is at the Porte de Vanves Flea Market. Here you’ll find ephemera dealers and wheelers throughout the market. My favorite stalls are located kitty-corner to the piano player and snack shack halfway through the market.

Looking for a specific category? Don’t be afraid to ask! Marie Antoinette? Montmartre? Cats? Spill your obsessions. They’ve got you covered. Plus, the dealers will often give a discount or a free post card as a gift (un petit cadeau)! Here fidelity is appreciated and rewarded.

Clipping from Ziegfeld, “Curtain! Fast music! Light! Ready for the last finale! ” Happy Hunting! Poisson d’avril!

Folies Bergere Cologne by Bourjois, Paris, 1950s

Folies Bergere Cologne by Bourjois, Paris, 1950s

Love Me or Leave Me – Let’s Make Whoopee!

BRACK Fish Fish 602

BRACK Fish Fish 603

BRACK Fish Fish 604

BRACK Fish Fish 606

BRACK Fish Fish 5000

37 thoughts on “Paris: Vintage Postcard Shopping on April Fool’s Day

    • Thank you, Teresa! It was a fun post to create. Anna Held was such a character. Witty, too. The New York Times loved, loved her. From the moment she arrived in New York from Paris in 1897 (aboard the Steamship New York), she was one of their darlings.

      When a reporter asked if she rides bicycles? She quipped, “Oh, yes, I ride when I don’t fall off!

      Enjoy the week!


    • Ah, thanks, Paul! As a PR gal, Held and Ziegfeld’s milk prank has always been a favorite. This year, I was able to dig up a few more details. According to one newspaper, “The story broke as a piece of court news and was eagerly seized upon and handsomely displayed by New York papers. Handsomely. What a great word! T.


    • Here’s another option, Janet! Anna Held also took “ice” baths! “How many women have the courage to start properly with a cold, cold bath early in the morning? I jump in, throw the water, cold as ice, and after the first plunge I am happy.”

      Yikes. Not for me, I’m afraid. Even after a long run or bike ride!



  1. I want to wander the Porte de Vanves Flea Market and stop for a snack by the piano player. You breathe life into your stories in a wonderful way. Magnifique!


    • Patricia, the piano player IS fantastic! He’s been with the flea market for years!! Later on this spring, I’ll post a few photographs. He is very charming and talented! T.


  2. ………..and a Happy Poisson d’avril to you my dearest Theadora! I hope your day was filled with joyful pranks. I love this story of Anna Held and her milk baths. The Folies Bergere Cologne by Bourjois looks divine. I love the fragrances from the 50s.


    • Merci, Tin Man!! Poisson d’avril to you! I’ve always enjoy the Held-Ziegfeld prank! It’s a favorite. Here’s another beauty recipe! One of my friends soaks her feet in rose wine once a week. It cuts down on varicose veins, she told me back in September. It works, I do believe. I tried a splash or two. She buys her Cote de Ventoux by the box! She picked up this beauty trick years ago while visiting her family in a little village in the South of France. She also uses fresh vegetables to treat sunburns. Another village trick! T.


  3. You saucy vixen – enticing me with visions of a milk bath. I immediately drew a very hot bath. Emptied a carton of powdered milk into it (it was all I had). Scattered rose petals into the bath and soaked – dreaming of long ago Paris. Happy day aver Poisson d’avril Theadora.


    • YES. Powdered milk and scattered rose petals! Perfect. One of my Air France flight attendant friends washes her face with milk or cream during long flights. (Along with drinking a glass of water every other hour.) The milk removes and makeup and moisturizes her skin. It’s one of her favorite airplane beauty tips. She also avoids looking in the aircraft lavatory mirror! T. (Happy, Happy Poisson d’avril!)


  4. Quelle histoire!! This is marvellous, and as ever your pictures are just delicious, and ~ had visions of “belle époque” beauties bathing in milk! 😉


  5. What a great story. I’m not surprised it was fabricated by “Flo” to get publicity, he was notorious for that, wasn’t he? Great telling of the story, makes me wish I lived back in those days when it was that easy to fool. Also, I love vintage postcards. I love to see what “Beautiful” was and how the idea of it has changed over the years with regard to hair, fashion, etc.


    • Thanks, Valerie!! YES. Flo’s campaigns had real legs! By the way, I also collect old typewriters! They’re really time machines, eh? I pick my beauties up at flea markets. Sometimes it’s possible to track down the ribbons. How many do you have in your collection? Do you have a favorite decade? Cheers! Theadora


    • MERCI. I feel the same way about your travel photographs—the perfect break for the eyes and spirit. Gorgeous. Gorgeous! Theadora (I loved your Robert Browning quote: “Open my heart and you will see.” Lovely.)


  6. Une poste tres creatrice, Mlle B.!

    Love the postcards, and your ‘fade’ is quite a fantastic way to close for the day!

    Ana and Flo…a couple of geniuses, but real manipulators (of the darling press, who deserve to be manipulated!)…a great story, one which I haven’t heard for years–thanks for bringing it back!

    BTW, the few people I had contact with on Monday had no idea it was April Fool’s Day…until I started telling ‘lies’!


    • Ah, thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed toying with the slow fade. All weekend long, I studied the old Ziegfeld song sheets, programs, and play bills in my new favorite book: “The Ziegfeld Touch.” While playing old Vaudeville numbers. Fun research! At the time, the designers were big fans of the irresistible bubble! B. (Lies?! Do spill!)


      • Loved Ziegfeld…all that he made happen! I don’t feel we have that sort of ‘genius’ in the entertainment industry these days, Mlle B.! Quel dommage!

        I do wish I could have known him and worked with him….


  7. Sorry I’m so late arriving at this delicious confection. (Shaped in the form of a fish, of course!)
    Wonderful stuff, Theadora. No fish on YOUR back!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: