What The Butler Saw

You’ve probably noticed
the occasional “Mutoscope”
cards that have been posted
here from time to time
on the Muscleheaded Blog….

And you might have
wondered just what
the heck a “Mutoscope”
was, anyhow.

Mutoscope was actually
a trade name name of
a large company in Chicago-butler
the American Mutoscope
Company-

….who originally made an
early motion picture device,
similar to the Edison Company’s Kinetoscope, using flip cards on
a ‘Rolodex’ sorta wheel, to
simulate motion.

The wheel would hold
about 800 cards, but
would only display
for a few seconds,

…..so to see the whole
‘movie’, you’d have to
continue to put in coins.

I’m pretty sure that
you’ve seen the kind of
thing in museums
and some older arcades —

You put a coin in the device,
you turn the handle, a light
turns on inside, and you look
down into a viewfinder.

The most popular title back
in Great-Granddaddy’s day
was called:
What the Butler Saw ” —

—  a series of scenes
featuring a Victorian
Age lady undressing in1
her bedroom as if
seen through a
keyhole —

( at right, you can see
one of the more ‘explicit’ scenes from this vintage set )

which, when viewed by
contemporary standards
would be considered
very mild, even trite,
as far as pornography goes,

……………. but at the time
was extremely racy, indeed.

In fact, the short Mutoscope’s
suggestive title became a
catch-phrase to describe
the whole genre.

I love these things–
I’m absolutely fascinated
by them.

Not that I didn’t know
that those stuffy Victorians
got naked, exactly,
but that
they actually got turned on
by the thought of a pretty
lady doing it.

Anyhoo…..

These things got so
popular, they were soon
found almost everywhere —

….. and were being made by a number of different companies
in a number of different formats.

Not all of them showed m3
risqué material, either —
far from it .

Most were completely mundane —
like cartoons, news films,
travelogues, etc……

But there were a number
of devices that, while not
containing actual salacious
material,

( and sometimes not
even a ‘moving’
image, but a
picture card
or a diorama )

….. would have a ‘come-on’ sign
advertising something very
confidential and prurient–
(using the old PT Barnum rule)

IF one would only put
in a coin to see for themselves.

Like this one-
The sign advertises
” Very Naughty ”
” Strip Poker ” –
put your coin in,
and ‘ voila ‘ –

111

The joke would then
be revealed —
——— usually an innocent view,
some kind of pun or
a play on words.

Disappointment
for a penny….

Not a bad price to enjoy
a laugh on oneself, I guess.

I remember one from
my childhood that was
in the corner of this
old candy store —

escoIt said:
” CLOSE UP-
LIVE NUDIST COLONY ”
on the machine,

….. and when you
slipped in a nickel,

( hey, even I’m not old enough
for the penny version )

…………….. you got a magnified
view of a living ant farm.

By the 1920’s, the whole genre of
coin operated gizmos were being
called “Peep Show” machines —midgetmovie
and they were usually found
in penny arcades.

The flip card format
was especially
good for displaying
still images slowly –

So, more and more machines
were set up to show 12
images for a coin —
– timed at 3 second intervals.

This was used for all kinds
of materials, views of a city
for instance, or humorous cartoons….

…..  and came to be called
“Exhibit Cards”.

But the most profitable
ones displayed Pin-Ups.

Sure, there were cards for sports,
comics, fortune telling, movie stars, flowers, and patriotic themes, (just about anything!),
but the ‘girlie’ ones , especially
those featuring Pin Up Art,
were top draws.

The cards for these machines
were done by artists who are
now considered to be past
masters of the Pin Up genre —

…….. including Gil Elvgren, Zoe Mozert,
Rolf Armstrong, Earl Moran, etc.

a2The pin-up exhibit cards were soon also finding a marketplace outside arcades, at news-stands, in magazines …..

And especially, in vending machines, selling them individually, or in series.

Their popularity hugely increased once World War II broke out….

Every serviceman had at least one set of these, it seemed.

Two major companies were marketing the majority of the cards, Mutoscope, and Exhibit Supply Company,

….. although today, most people
just generically call them
“Mutoscope Exhibit Cards”.exhibit

The cards had a very distinctive look then, and now,

……and most are easily identified,

because of their ethereal colors and simple, airy design  —

— printed, as they were, to display just as well under the lights and magnification of a Mutascope machine,

………… as to hold in your hand and view them up close.

Usually, they had some kind of legend, pun, or title that was vaguely relevant to whatever position or activity the pin-up girl was engaged in —

………..  well known titles of individual Pin-Up Exhibit Cards included:

Disturbing Elements ” ( Gil Elvgren ) disturbingelements

Hit the Deck
( Zoe Mozert )

I’ll Say So
(Rolf Armstrong)

Visibility Perfect
( Earl Moran )

Jutht My Thize
( Howard Connolly )

Anchors Aweigh
( K.O. Munson )

Up to Par ” ( Edward D’Ancona )

Red, White and You
( Billy DeVorss )

Would You?
( Earl Christy )

Air Minded
(Mable Rollins Harris )

Total Eclipse
( Haskell Coffin )

Shoulder Arms
(G.C. Orde )

Sailor’s Sweetheart
(Hy Hintermeister)

Keep ‘Em Flying
(Vaughan Alden Bass )

All told, there were at least
10 sets of these Pin Up
Exhibit Cards printed in
the early 1940’s —

……… or, about 500
cards in all, although some
were repeated
over several sets.

Unfortunately, many of these
wonderful vintage cards
have no signature,

………….. and we can only guess
who created the artworks contained on them.

The cards fell out of favor
after the War, as many servicemen returned and
settled down to domestic life —

Sexy returned to
being something
out of the social mainstream…
taboo and undesirable
for the ‘new prosperity’.

And even the greatest
pin-up artists
of the time were pressured to
‘tone down’ their more risqué
work for peacetime printing
applications — calendars, advertising, etc.

During the Eisenhower years,
pin-up girls were often pictured
wearing knee length garments,
with prim and proper posing,
and the cards with girls in
wispy lingerie again became
hard to get novelties.

Boy,
it seems society’s
blue-noses always find
a way to piss on one’s
parade, it seems.

Not that a little ‘coyness’
once in a while can’t be
sexy, too, I guess.

Either way —
we still have these
vintage cards to
enjoy, right ?

!!! HOY !!!!

.

allamericangirls1941mutos

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