Friday, November 15th, 2013...2:04 pm
The Oldest Student in France and the Champion of the World
The Department of Modern Books and Manuscripts has recently acquired a set of 29 business cards produced between the late 1800s and the 1930s in France (FC9.D4751.Q890c). A good deal of information was packed onto these small, square pieces of paperboard as the people for whom they were made did not shy away from vaunting their accomplishments. Many of the business card owners were teachers, businessmen, and doctors, and they made sure to list any awards or medals they had received throughout their careers, the receipt of which was not uncommon for their social group. As would be expected, they recorded their degrees, often more than one, or simply mentioned that they had attended high school, as this remained a major accomplishment in the early twentieth-century France, with some high schools being particularly prestigious.
These people belonged to numerous local and national associations, some related to their work, others not—for example the Federation of Associations of Recreational Fishermen— and took an active role in the publication of the journals of their societies.
Some had taken an active role in World War I while others made their military career in the colonies.
Sometimes, one may smile at the minimalism of the achievements listed—for example, being the oldest student in France— or at the extravagance of others— a woman retired from the postal service presented herself as the inventor of the “Société des Nations,” the precursor to the United Nations.
Being a victim of crime or an assassin seems to have been found by some a qualification worth including on one’s business card.
True or imaginary, these case cards record important slices of life and of people’s self-presentation in France during this period.
[Thanks to Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Assistant Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts, for contributing this post.]