What the French Thought of Us at the Turn of the 20th Century

​I recently added a neat French postcard to my exonumia collection simply because of the subject matter. The card is an advertisement for Biscuits Pernot, no doubt a popular snack in France in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The illustration on the front of the card, however, is what made me buy it. A trompe l’oeil Series 1899 $1 "Black Eagle" silver certificate forms the backdrop to what Frenchmen of the day no doubt thought of as a comical rendition of the American scene. Front and center is a strutting young boy dressed as one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in jodhpurs and knee-boots, cigar in mouth, wide-brimmed hat on head, and pistol by his side. His jacket is draped over his left arm and with his right hand he throws largesse in the form of gold coins and paper money at a young shirtless black boy in a cart with an andiron at its side, no doubt the poor beggar boy’s method of locomotion. Walking along dutifully behind our American youth is another young black boy, this one dressed as a Native American with feathers in his hair and an American flag draped around his middle as a sash. The youth carries two large, swollen bags of gold coins, some of which are falling from a tear in one of the bags. In the lower right corner is the full-sized obverse and reverse of a gold-toned embossed U.S. half eagle dated 1886 with the word AMERIQUE beneath. I can only guess that America was viewed by our French counterparts of the era as a land of adventurous, wealthy people who threw money at their problems and enjoyed the high life. As for me, I can’t help but wonder if Biscuits Pernot were as good as the advertisement made them seem!

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