Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Catch On - A Mutoscope Card

This is not actually a postcard; it's a Mutoscope card. A Mutoscope was an early penny arcade motion- picture device. You would insert your coin and look through the stereoscope to see rapidly moving cards that gave the impression of motion - perhaps a woman getting out of a bathtub, or a view through a keyhole of a woman getting undressed. There were  other subjects on the Mutoscope, including baseball, boxing, and comedy, but the female figures seem to have been the major attraction. The Mutoscope operated on the same principle as a flipbook. The whole show consisted of about 850 cards - or about a minute's viewing.

Mutoscopes were originally manufactured from 1895 to 1909. The early Mutoscopes used black and white silver-based photographic prints. There was a revival of the Mutoscope machines, with new machines and reels being produced between 1926 and 1949. Mutoscopes were still popular in U.K. amusement parks until 1971. In England, Mutoscopes were commonly called "What the butler saw" machines, because many of them showed views through keyholes of women undressing. They were, however, very tame by today's standards.

Mutoscope cards such as this one were sold as souvenirs for about two cents each in the 40s. They are blank on the back, as they were not intended to be postcards, although sometimes they were used as such. In case you want a Mutoscope machine for your living room, you can occasionally find vintage ones in antiques stores; they range in price from $3,000-$8,000.

This card is part of the Festival of Postcards, hosted by Evelyn Yvonne Theriault. This month's theme is "white." To view other postcards in the festival, click here.


  1. There are some mutascopes at a really cool musuem/arcade at Fisherman's Wharf, San Fransisco. As I recall, some of them are labeled "What the butler Saw". The place is stuffed with working antique arcade devices:

  2. That's just great. I would have visited every machine in the arcade.

  3. How funny. I checked out the website at the Musee Mecanique. We walked in there briefly when we were there last year, but we had spent so much time looking at the USS Pampanito and the SS Jeremiah that we were out of time. Next time!

  4. Greetings!
    Thank you once again for your contribution to the Festival of Postcards. Your 'fresh' entry complements many of the others, and I learned a lot. In fact, I had never even heard of 'mutoscopes' before!
    The Festival of Postcards (5th Ed.)White, was posted yesterday and you can read it here:
    I would ask that you copy this link into the body of your post so that Festival readers can more easily navigate back and forth between your post and the White Edition.
    Thanks and have a good day!
    Evelyn in Montreal

  5. Ah, I understand now--I've seen these in some of our local antique stores!! Lovely lady, isn't she?



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