1880s – History of Pin-up

The 1880s were a pretty calm period in the evolution of pin-up. However, it did have two very notable points that helped shape the genre of pin-up.

The model would have been hung by wires to create the flying effect. This would be a sample of a "cigarette card" - Photo by Chris Wooley

The model would have been hung by wires to create the flying effect. This would be a sample of a “cigarette card” – Photo by Chris Wooley

On the smaller, but more casual side, we now see that nude models are now allowed in art classes. You might think that nudes have always been allowed in the artist’s den as artwork of the nude form (including full muscle detail) have been around ever since man first picked up a paintbrush. But up until this point, plaster casts and statues were used for drawing and painting the human form in the public art classes. But this decade relaxed those rules just enough that serious art students could use an actual unclothed human to reference for their illustrations.

Photographs still weren’t allowed to have nudity in them. Well, the pin-up kind weren’t – but it was a start towards the forward movement of the genre.

A larger checkpoint in the history of pin-up involved cigarettes. Its not just smoking hot babes (pun intended) that we’re looking at – but the actual rolled cigarettes full of tobacco. They had one huge problem – the cigarettes would bend a break in the pack; something was needed to keep the packs rigid. The answer came in the form of a piece of hard cardboard inserted into the pack. It worked perfect! Cigarettes didn’t bend and the product stayed unbroken. The next part mixed a bit of clever marketing in with the practical solution – print pictures on these “collectible” cardboard pieces. People would then buy the cigarettes to collect the cards, thus increasing sales and brand loyalty. So the cigarette companies started releasing hundreds of different cigarette card sets – from sports and animals, to celebrities and beauties. Each set featured several different cards for a given subject. And yes, the pin-up girl – or Beauty – as the cards were called were a hot seller.

The cards were relatively tame, and featured women in a variety of poses and outfits. The skin rules still applied, so each girl was sure to have on tights and coverings as not to allow too much skin to be exposed. The sets, pretty girls, and unique imagery helped make these cards a huge success. The peak of popularity of these types of cards hit in the mid 1890s.

For the first time in history, we have huge mass production of these girls. The burlesque dancers of the previous decades had a large quantity of images, but no major distribution. The cigarettes changed this by tapping into their massive distribution and sales outlets The “sets” also helped add a collectible aspect to the genre, which aided in the casual collections of pretty girls pictures.

The nude models and cigarette cards took some time to affect the mindset of the people. It wasn’t an overnight success, nor did it come without criticism. But it did set the stage for some big changes in the not so distant future.


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