Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Love Cuts : Cuts of Women

I absolutely love cuts! These metal or wooden printer’s illustrations are addictive to collect. Big cuts, small cuts, plain cuts, fancy cuts, cuts of people, places, or things – there is no such thing as too many cuts. They’re one of the first things I look for at any printers’ swap meet.

One of the things that fascinates me about cuts is the things they show about the time when they were cast. Most cuts are line drawings, so like cartoons they tend to exaggerate stereotypes and perceptions. One subject that especially shows this is cuts of women. They can be roughly dated by their clothing, the way they’re drawn, and sometimes by their appearance in a specimen book.

A group of cartoon cuts we have of women (probably from the 1950’s) shows cute young women bending over to file, burning dinner, and even answering the phone in a towel from the shower while still wearing high heels. A “typical” housewife sings along with her Bakelite radio as she dries the dishes. The mood is light-hearted and frivolous, almost a Barbie doll-like caricature.

The artificial cheeriness of 1950’s ads turns up in the cut of a cowgirl with a lipstick-outlined grin. The cut of a woman under a barrel-like hair dryer in a beauty parlor is probably more realistic.

Contrast these to a circa 1930’s cut of a woman vacuuming her steps with a portable vacuum cleaner. Probably created as part of an ad campaign, this little cut shows a hard-working, no-nonsense woman during the Depression years. But the cut of the mysterious lady with the hat over one eye from a similar time period projects an air of intrigue.

Our cuts with a 1920’s feel show women who are seriously glamorous: a lady in a ruffled blouse in front of her mirror; and an elegant socialite dancing in a slinky gown and feather headdress. There are more stylized images, too, of a woman drinking a martini, and one with ripples of Art Nouveau style hair.

A circa World War I era cut shows a lady shopper, apparently sneaking home with an enormous new Easter hat, judging from the bunnies in the picture. The huge hats women wore then were a common joke.

One of our older cuts of women shows a 19th century woman in sunbonnet and muslin gown holding a basket of flowers. Though the cut is a bit worn, she looks sweet and innocent, part of a more rural society. The detailed copper engraving is characteristic of 19th century cuts, and makes them well worth seeking out. Though not easy to find, some still hide in the back rooms of older print shops or the corners of antique malls.

I wish we had more cuts of women! I’d love to have cuts of Gibson girls, women in hoop skirts, women in bloomers, or Rosie the Riveter women from World War II. Just like a snapshot, cuts show the way women were viewed not so long ago. And they’re certainly fun to collect!


  1. What cool cuts! I think my favorite is the first one, although how could you not love them all? I'll keep my eye out next time I'm antiquing!

  2. Thanks, Lynn -- glad you enjoyed the cuts. We certainly do!