Earlier this week a colleague in my lab presented me with this delightful print featuring beetle imagery. A mutual acquaintance had encountered it while going through some items that had been in storage for many years, thought of me, and asked her to give it to me. She couldn’t tell me anything more about its origins, but its whimsical, turn-of-the-century look and apparent age immediately captivated me.
I had originally intended to simply post this scan, say “Isn’t this cute?”, and leave it at that. However, my compulsive side took over and before long I found myself in full bore Google search mode. My initial desire was simply to translate the French text – the beetles were easy enough (1 _ Giant Borer. 2 _ Blister Beetle. 3 _ Rhinocerus Griffin¹) – but the title “Au Bon Marché” gave me a bit of trouble. The translators I was using continually turned up results related to “cheap” and “inexpensive”, which just didn’t make sense. Eventually I figured out that it was a store name – specifically the oldest department store in Paris (dating from 1852). A bit more searching revealed it to be one of many trade cards lithographed for the store during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, presumably for promotional purposes. Nowadays these cards seem to be popular collector’s items, especially in France. Alas, I was not able to find an image of this specific card among the several hundred other Au Bon Marché trade card images I perused across the web – if anyone knows anything more about the history and use of these cards or about this card in particular, please do let me know.
¹ Apparently the scarab beetle version of a griffin, the mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle – wise and powerful characters who spent a good deal of time seeking out and guarding gold and treasures.
Considering its century or more of age, the print is in remarkably good condition. There is just a small amount of staining and glue residue on the backside of the mounting board – perhaps it was part of a treasured scrap book in days long gone. A glass frame should do a nice job of preserving it for another several decades or so.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011