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Wednesday, 2.2.05: Researching the Guerre

I sink into the process of researching a postcard -- one among several World War I cards that Tom sent me. When I sort through them, even though they all look basically the same and are all French, I see there are 3 different series. This one is Guerre 1914-1915 (early in the war -- I know that much about the dates) and L.L. appears after all the captions. Luckily, Jim has a book on military postcards. It takes me a while to find that L.L. is Levy & Sons, a respectable publisher of many WWI series.

I give the card a look under the magnifying glass (my favorite tool). It is not a photograph, that's clear. But it isn't a cheesy half-tone either -- no dots. I think it's a collotype -- a printing process using a glass plate with a gelatin surface that carries the image. But could it be a photogravure? The books never seem to be definitive on these fine points of construction, but I want to know. Gradually I am piecing together that photogravure is a much more expensive process -- more likely in artsier productions, not mass-produced postcards.

The caption is in English and French: "In Argonne -- Zouaves lying in wait with a mitrailleuse."

Argonne. I know that was a famous WWI site. My grandfather fought there. But this was before the Americans entered the war (Jim reminds me of that).

Mitrailleuse. That's the gun, but the caption-writer didn't translate it more specifically. The internet dictionary also gives a vague definition, more or less saying it's anything that shoots something from one place to another. Consult with Jim: we agree it's a "machine gun."

Zouaves. You can't really see it in the picture, but these guys are wearing skirts. This also needed a consult with Jim because I couldn't quite believe the internet info I was getting, since "Zouaves" were also prominent in the Civil War and there seems to be a line of colorful Zouave toy soldiers. Oh, yes, he said, they're the guys who wore skirts.

As I'm writing this I realize that I misspelled Zouave ("Zuoave") in my ebay description. Damn, damn, damn. I was using it as one of the keywords in my title to attract bidders (all those toy soldier fans). Since there has been one bid, I can't correct it. I can only add a note and hope the Zouave fans search descriptions as well as titles. For all my careful research, now I feel like one of those run-of-the-mill idiot sellers I scoff at. Oh, well...