It Must Have Been Something I Ate – Gastronomic Adventures with the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor

For Immediate Release: April 12, 2018
Media Contact: Katherine Jardine
(415) 557-4295; Katherine.Jardine@sfpl.org

 

It Must Have Been Something I Ate

Gastronomic Adventures with the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA The Library goes on a gastronomic adventure with the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor (SCOWAH), featuring a banquet of book covers, cartoons and ephemera and introducing a recent acquisition of “Poisson d’Avril” picture postcards. Gourmet merry-making is on display with saucy cookbooks, comic recipes, food cartoons, memoirs and hilariously peculiar book covers. Humorists on view include Ludwig Bemelmans, Virgil Partch (VIP), Ronald Searle, the New Yorker cartoonists and a smorgasbord of long forgotten and unknown writers and illustrators.

somethingiateWe are pleased to introduce a display of hundreds of beautifully preserved “Poisson d’Avril” postcards on view in several cases in the gallery. A collection of 777 picture postcards celebrating April Fool’s Day in France was acquired for the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor in 2017. This treasure trove of hand-colored photographic postcards from the early 20th century features women, men, couples, and children dressed fashionably or in period costume, holding a fish or two, or more! The mock fish is often handsomely wrapped in gift ribbons. The studio or photographer may be identified on the front of the card, accompanied by a series number, probably for inventory and collecting purposes. Postage was almost always placed topsy-turvy on the front of the postcard, with a message or just the name and address of the recipient on the reverse. The postcards were then sent in time for April Fool’s Day.

Speculation about the origins of “Poisson d’Avril” suggests that fishy pranks and foolishness began with the 16th century change from the old Julian calendar, with the year beginning April 1 (a time of fasting, and eating fish on Friday prior to Easter) to the new Gregorian calendar, with the year beginning January 1. Those persons reluctant to change, or ignorant of the calendar change, were mocked by those embracing progress, and called “Poisson d’Avril” or April Fish; and so a comic tradition was born. “Poisson d’Avril” postcards burst onto the scene during the golden age of postcards in the first decade of the 20th century; our “Poisson d’Avril” postcards were printed circa 1905-1920. The craze for collecting picture postcards had caught on in such a big way that it is reported over six hundred million postcards were dispatched in 1903 alone. We can well imagine our collector’s zeal in searching out this very specialized postcard theme. The postcards are alternately romantic, sentimental, saucy, silly, and sometimes, bizarre: in short, “Poisson d’Avril” postcards are a fascinating representation of an old French custom, and an example of one collector’s mania.

“Without humor we are doomed,” noted Nat Schmulowitz, local attorney and former library trustee, who donated his collection of ninety-three jest books to the San Francisco Public Library on April 1, 1947. The collection has grown to over 23,000 volumes, and includes periodicals, audio-visual materials, and ephemera, as well as Mr. Schmulowitz’s personal archive of materials from the twentieth century, including items of a gastronomic nature. The Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor (SCOWAH) is considered the most significant collection of its kind in a public library. Every year, the Book Arts & Special Collections Center presents an exhibition based on materials from SCOWAH, a tribute to Mr. Schmulowitz’s generosity and lifelong interest in the Library.

Related programs:

Thursdays at Noon Film Series

Cook Off!April 19, 12 p.m., Main Library, Koret Auditorium
SidewaysApril 25, 12 p.m., Main Library, Koret Auditorium

The Library’s mobile kitchen

Biblio Bistro – April 18, 11 a.m.,  Heart of the City Farmer’s Market
Biblio Bistro: Pesto & Smoothies – April 24, 4:15 p.m., The Mix at SFPL (for teens)
Biblio Bistro for Kids –  April 25, 5 p.m., Main Library, Children’s Center

About San Francisco Public Library

San Francisco Public Library is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning and the joys of reading for our diverse community. The library system is made up of 27 neighborhood branches, the San Francisco Main Library at Civic Center and four bookmobiles.