Fucking Day: Acquaintance Cards 🌭

Acquaintance cards are a fad of the late 1800s. They were like business cards, but for initiating romance, in a time of sexual repression. If you wanted to initiate the merest prelude to the precursor of a first coffee date, you purchased a box of cards like these, and wrote your name on one, and handed it to a second person.

I’m starting us on the poetic end of the acquaintance card spectrum. Also the amphibious end. Expect weirder messages and fewer frogs as we go along. Either way, people in the 1890s carried these cards on their person, every day. They kept them in their wallet or purse or iron underwear. Then, you gave them to somebody. Somebody you wanted to speak to, or pork, or anything in between. The cards are fun because they were secret messages, for initiating a range of secret activities. Potentially prurient activities! Yet they were printed by ordinary companies. Like if Walgreens sold boxes of the first word of a conversation, and/or full-on sexts.

Watch out: the purchaser of this custom acquaintance card offers repeated, explicit sexual solicitation! Even more lurid: his surname is German! Don’t let that not-yet-white outsider give you a Muellich!

These cards are both more and less horny than you might expect. The late 1800s United States was a peculiar mix of strict Victorian propriety and lascivious Victorian erotica. It was long before the era of free love and feminism and women’s liberation, and also lustily inventing that era. Acquaintance cards straddle (giggle) the line of both rejecting and beginning casual sex culture. For every card offering to compliment you with gracious, cap-doffs-man-ly polite-itude…

…there was another card with the guy’s entire legal name custom-printed on it, surrounded by promises to Hugtite you till you Squeezemburg.

The Anglo-American fury about our own urges is older than both countries put together, plus Canada. Britain is a damp isle of erection shame, franchised globally. Along with militant Spanish Catholicism, it’s the biggest exportation of boner guilt in world history. It’s in all our heads to some extent. It boggles said head. I examined an era when Americans assumed/wished delivery men also delivered sex, and sang a chart-topping song about that wish. An entire culture harassed the guys who kept food cold. That was normal and popular. And it matches this. Acquaintance cards are from the same era as Sexy Icemen, and acquaintance cards are even sweatier. They work far harder to sublimate the Grover Cleveland Era’s primal urges beneath wacky wordplay.

Behold: the alphabet. A visual ballet that’s almost 26 genitals. From its phallic “I” to its vulvular “U”, it’s heaving with letters you can repurpose for beautiful “booty = full?” messaging. Also congratulations to this card’s artist on scoring a paid gig without being able to draw hands. Hands are hard. Get that bread. Also can you draw bread? Baguettes are as phallic as the letter “I”, with bonus French overtones.

As you can see, some acquaintance cards featured leather-play devils. That Devil Daddy’s so prominent, there’s not really enough room to write your name. That said, this card works fine. Let’s cut the designer a break. We have to judge the past by its own standards, which included no standards for daytime alcohol intoxication or 24/7 industrial fumes. I’m surprised half those artists could sit upright to draw.

Never mind. No more slack for these nutjobs. What’s happening here. Help me. Is this cypher a threat? Also is the second word of the puzzle “am”? That’s an “am”, isn’t it. This is a puzzle where the clue for the word “am” is a capital “a” hitting the back wall of a capital “m”. That’s the worst excuse for a puzzle I’ve even encountered. I’m so angry. I’m also angry on behalf of this guy named “Uriah”. His love life was enough of an uphill battle. He deserved a legible, joyful puzzle to wingman his wooing efforts. I’m so mad just from this one card, and there’s so much column to go. I am going to put my shoes on and take a walk, in real life, to calm down, before looking at the next acquaintance card.

Okay I’m back from really doing that. I saw a house finch. Good bird. Next card:

A lot of these cards don’t even clear the low bar of “alphabet puzzle where two letters slide head-first into home plate, sexually.” An actual child can write an alphabet quiz. Worse writers settle for rhyming. Any dullard can rhyme. Especially if you live in an era of obviously fake filler words like “aught”. That’s poetry’s easy mode. Syllable shortage solved! This card stinks. Also, most of this card’s visual space is an advertisement for the Crown Card Co Of Columbus O. Who’s putting the moves on this lady anyhow? Maybe she should turn down her suitor, and go for a roll in the hay with the card company owner. What can the suitor even offer? The card executive can send her home with a complimentary “Roll In The Hay” card depicting an agricultural croissant or whatever.

This card’s artist and writer can’t stand each other. Whoever did their bit second ignored the first guy’s contribution. The art is two people with a severe case of Political Caricature Head, frowning at each other, in the rain. The layout person did not bother to let the art display regular-ways. Meanwhile, over there in The Poemmzzone 1900, we get lovelorn blather that’s so disjointed they wedge a “ne’er” in at Word #2. You couldn’t budget enough beats for a full ‘never”? Had to truncate after the first pronoun? Disgraceful. Dis-erection-ing. I don’t know how this era created a next generation of Americans.

Here’s where I spin around and start celebrating these cards. They are good, one way. When deployed well, acquaintance cards ran counter to every social rule of their despicable era. In particular rules for women. The 1890s were so restrictive for women, British doctors invented a health crisis to cudgel anyone riding a bicycle while doubly X-chromosomed. Experts pretended exhaustion, headaches, depression, insomnia, heart palpitations, and “bicycle face” loomed for any woman who dared to pedal a pedal. Men worried about women riding bicycles for a real reason. They worried bicycles made women an eensy teensy weensy bit freer. Freer to find a good mate, or flee an assailant. Acquaintance cards were another way to skirt patriarchy, by choosing. A woman could receive an acquaintance card and (gasp) say no. Or (gasp) say yes. She could even (heart palpitation) give an acquaintance card. She could even (terminal form of Bicycle Face that rots your whole body) give an acquaintance card to a fellow non-male person. Acquaintance cards allowed lesbian or non-binary romance. We still have one of the cards that did that!

Yeah! That’s a real one. You know who else is a real one? Alice Ramsey. She wrote down physical evidence of either a mental illness or a crime, depending on which jurisdiction/year she wrote this in. And this resource was easy for her to acquire. She didn’t need to buy her blank cards from a covert dark web Lesbian Diagon Alley. She wrote Miss Smith’s name on the same kind of mass produced junk every waistcoated wuss bought at the dime store. You could use these cards for anything. That means some of them were the entire difference between people winning love and surrendering to loneliness. One card changed two lives. It’s like if we all still gave out Power Rangers Valentines to all our classmates, and by doing that some of us destroyed Big Brother. That makes these cards amazing. So much was happening here! And that was clearly a strain on the acquaintance card manufacturers. These cards were the “GoFundMe as health care system” of their day, for love. No generic stationery can carry that much social weight. You can’t ask the greeting card “Maxine” character for more than quips. 1890s America asked theirs to fulfill every outlawed erotic dream. I feel like this card captures that:

Prince couldn’t have said it better. Admittedly, he did say it better. So did Sinéad. Also, whoever drew this either hates dogs or hasn’t seen one outside funny medieval illustrations. Still: your suitor would die 4 U. He might actually die 4 U if your parents or leaders or cops think he’s a different race from you, or if your genders are a repeat. That’s how committed he is. He’d even [squinting at the art] [squinting harder] [giving up and guessing] get bitten by a shoe that’s also an alligator 4 U.

Acquaintance cards were also named “escort cards”, by the way. Does any individual word sum up our society’s split sexual personality better than “escort”? It’s somehow the word for paid sex work, and for sharing a walk’s trajectory. And the word for every secondary ally character in Star Fox games. Also don’t google those characters. You’ll see fan art. Fan art that’s further evidence of the overpressurized urges I’m talking about. So it’s relevant. But you don’t need that psychic toll. You get it already. You’re smart! Smart, unlike this card. This escort card has it all: animal art! Flirtation about walking! Poetry-ish text! And one quotation from Hamlet. In a way that’s not profound. Also the quote’s gotta be outside of its actual context. I refuse to open the book and check. But I’m confident Hamlet didn’t say “look at two pictures!” to Ophelia while showing her a wacky “Nunnery? Yea/Nay” proposition-scroll.

This drawing is Tuberculosis Slenderman and the words aren’t better. Next card!

I know this is only the tenth most interesting part of the card, but, did Elmer Fudd ruin the name “Elmer”? I think Elmer Fudd ruined his own Christian name. Elmer Fudd is a “Hitler’s Mustache”-sized event in culture. That feels unfair. Fudd’s just trying to hunt or mate with a funny hot rabbit. Aren’t we all? Unfair. Gonna ponder that injustice on my next birdwatching self-soothe stroll. In the meantime: “ragtime millionaire” was probably game worth spitting, back in Rag Time. I like that. I respect Scott Joplin Swagger. But each corner of this card fails. Each corner explores a worse and more terrible way of hitting on someone. Clockwise from top left: 1) limp hello 2) regular statement tailed by a jarring “psych!” as if that makes it comedy 3) harried fuckboy 4) drooling boob-fixation. The last one’s so out of pocket, it almost horseshoe theories its way into being good. I could see it working, one time, as a bit. You’d need to be in a specific variety of committed relationship. Deeply connected. Borderline psychic pipeline between your whimsical minds and your even more whimsical intercourse pipes. Also there’s a slight Dumb And Dumber quality to “knockers” and I haven’t seen that movie in too long. The “hooters” bit probably holds up and this is kind of that. Do they sell that orange tux online? They have to, right? Maybe we should move on before I talk myself into this being an all-around good card. It’s bad. Only the “Ragtime Millionaire” part works and I’m Zazzle-ing that asap. Now what’s left on the card pile? Looks like just one more–

Oh no.

We’ll come back to that left panel. Don’t think I’m not upset about the poem on the right.

The title is clearly the one French phrase this publisher’s ever heard. They heard it by eating ice cream. Ice cream wasn’t impressive in the 1890s United States. Ice cream was normie stuff by then. They invented ice cream cones within the next decade. Moving beyond the weak Francojerk title, the poem’s text is… stolen? The gist feels lifted from every other one of these cards. At least, that’s how I feel. Learning about these cards changed me. I’ve seen a million of them. Which is too many. I now share the mindset of an exhausted Victorian-American bachelorette. I see the world through their eyes. I’m corset-brained. I’m frill-pilled. And I refuse to read one more card from one more lad offering me a walk to my father’s front gate. If I have to mentally square-dance with one more Protestant businessman failson, I’m gonna switch teams and wreck a home and steal Miss Smith from her “Boston marriage.” Shuffle on down the (horse-poop-strewn) road, fellas. Bram Stoker wrote Dracula yesterday, and I want to finish reading it before I cough one last foreshadowing blood splatter into my handkerchief. I’m going to die a spinster at twenty-three. You boys gotta get your YUM YUM elsewhere.

This image is perfect. No card tops this. Here’s what I am sure happened: a paper novelties printer hired the most affordable artist in America. They tasked them to draw kissing, without drawing it. Artist solved that riddle by drawing the pen and ink equivalent of clone-stamping a lady’s bonnet across two entire heads. Also, he is unfamiliar with any pop culture sound noises more impolite than “eating”. Good comics weren’t invented yet. Heck, bad racist comics were barely invented yet. So he made two heads “YUM YUM” and let America fill in the yum-blanks. It’s great. It’s the whole era in one picture. And as eras/pictures go, it’s better than it could be. Somebody got paid to make this. At least one couple probably got to yum-yum, and experience future happiness, as a result. And that couple might’ve connected despite social strictures against most combinations of humans. For what these cards are, they were freeing. That’s one good thing. And I think that’s all we can ask pop culture to provide. We should ask for more. But when it comes to mass-market novelties, any real increase in joy is a win. I’ll yum-yum to that. And with that sentiment in my heart, I’ve never been prouder to finish typing and leave the end of my article to PoxcOH GOD

This article is thanks to a hot Hot Dog Tip from Agent of Fortune.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: EveryZig, who ere til now has been discreet, tho cannot help but think you’re neat, perchance two lonely hearts could meet, come on girl let’s suck those feet.