Carnival Leftovers: The Ephemera of New Orleans Mardi Gras
John T. Magill
Every community generates its own unique ephemera. In New Orleans
such ephemera results from Mardi Gras. The Mardi Gras, or carnival,
season is one of the most important and eagerly anticipated annual
events in the Crescent City. It begins officially on January 6,
Epiphany or Twelfth Night, and concludes on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday,
a movable holiday varying in date from early February to early March.
weeks of parades make up the public spectacle of carnival. Its non-public
side revolves around numerous tableau balls, some of which are preceded
by a parade and are the culmination of the citys social and
debutante season. Both parades and balls are produced and financed
by carnival krewes, the private organizations that are the lifeblood
of Mardi Gras. The oldest is the Mistick Krewe of Comus, established
in 1857, followed by the Twelfth Night Revelers in 1870, and by
Rex, king of carnival, and the Knights of Momus, both founded in
1872. Later groups include Proteus, organized in 1882, and the Phunny
Phorty Phellows, which survived from 1878 to 1900.1
Every year krewes chose new themes and encouraged often-unnamed
artists and designerstraditionally most carnival activities
have been deliberately shrouded in secrecyto depict the themes
imaginatively.2 The results have been sometimes breath-taking
concoctions exhibiting exceptional artistic and production skills,
especially in the years before World War I. While mythology has
been the mainstay of carnival themes, others have been based upon
anything from the delights of earth, fairyland, and the heavens
to corrupt politicians and Dantes Inferno.
Each carnival season leaves Orleanians with an array of memorabilia.
This includes not only mounds of beads and doubloons tossed to excited
crowds by masked parade-float riders, but ball costumes and jewelry,
stage sets and props, and the original designs upon which much of
this was based. Among the most interesting and colorful carnival
leftovers are printed works, embracing parade papers and the ephemera
of long-past balls invitations, admit cards, and dance programs.
A parade paper was a special newspaper edition that hit the streets
on the day of the parade it described, providing richly detailed
depictions of parade floats based upon their designers drawings.
Costing ten cents and folded into a size suitable for mailing, a
parade paper when opened was about the size of a double newspaper
In the late 1870s James Hummel published the first parade papers
in the Weekly Budget. They were devoted to Comus, Rex, Momus,
and the Twelfth Night Revelers, the only parades at that time. By
1881 W. A. Fauch published parade editions entitled New Orleans
Carnival, printed by the Gravuretype Company of Boston. Both
presented float pictures in black and white, but New Orleans
Carnival interpreted them with greater clarity and detail and
included an illustration of the ball invitation as well.4
the mid-1880s the New Orleans Times-Democrat, a daily newspaper,
distributed parade papers, including among its earliest the 1882
edition highlighting the Knights of Momus. Although it was lithographed
by a Baltimore firm, A. Hoen & Co.,5 there was a
growing trend at the time for parade papers to be lithographed in
New Orleans. In 1884 the Southern Lithographic Company of that city
produced the Times-Democrat special editions of Comus, Rex,
At this time parade papers began to appear in color. Hoen lithographed
one in limited color, and the Southern Lithographic Company printed
some of the first multi-hued New Orleans parade papers. Those bright,
colorful editions ushered parade papers into the period of their
most elaborate design, which would last until World War I. Both
Hoen and the Southern Lithographic Company depicted floats in vignettes
arranged in four rows, filling one full side of the unfolded paper.
This format remained standard for most parade papers during the
next six decades.
About 1885 the Southern Lithographic Company ceased business and
the Times-Democrat turned to Shuber and Carqueville of Chicago
for the Proteus edition of 1885.7 Around the same time
the New Orleans Daily Picayune and the lithographer T. Fitzwilliam
& Co. of New Orleans began to produce and to distribute parade
papers, starting with Rex in 1885 and Proteus the next year.8
From the 1890s until the early twentieth century the Daily
Picayune dominated the parade paper business, continuing to
use the format and colorful production techniques initiated by the
Times-Democrat while making the papers appearance even
more lavish and imaginative. Both journals parade papers were
special issues entitled Carnival Edition under the banners
of their newspapers.
During the latter part of the 1880s another lithographer, Koeckert
& Walle, produced several parade papers, including the 1889
issue of the Knights of Electra, published by J. Hollander, and
the editions for the Phunny Phorty Phellows, issued during the krewes
waning years of the late l800s by the Daily ltem.9
Early in the twentieth century Koeckert & Walle evolved into
Walle & Co. and began to produce the bulk of parade papers.10
Walle & Co. printed its first Rex and Momus papers in 1902,
followed by those of Comus in 1905 and Proteus in 1912. In a new
move, Walle took over distribution, and by 1912 daily newspapers
ceased to be involved with special carnival editions. Walle dominated
the parade paper business until World War I (see Figure 1).11
The firm called each of its editions Carnival Bulletin, along
with the name of the krewe. This title continued in use until World
War II, and the term now is often applied to all parade papers,
regardless of actual title or date.
After the United States entered World War I in 1917, carnival festivities
were suspended for the duration. Parade papers became available
again in 1922, produced and distributed by the lithographic firm
of Searcy & Pfaff, Ltd.12 During this period, parade
papers grew less florid in style, less imaginative, and less colorful.
While the float illustrations remained essentially unchanged in
size, they became somewhat less detailed and noticeably less colorful.
These changes conformed to the less romantic, clean-lined tastes
of the 1920s and 1930s, but they must have also reflected increased
production costs. In 1925 the price per issue was raised to fifteen
Searcy & Pfaff continued to produce parade papers until 1941,
when the United States entered World War II. Again, carnival was
discontinued until hostilities ceased. This time the regular publication
of carnival bulletins was not resumed. A few post-war parade papers
were produced, but without the ambition or quality of their predecessors.
the years during which carnival bulletins were issued, some deviated
from the standard design. In the late 1870., issues of Weekly
Budget, for example, include a short story and a column of jokes.14
In 1896 Koeckert & Walle produced a splendid bulletin covering
the Phunny Phorty Phellows for the Daily Item. Here the floats
were shown not in rows, but as separate framed vignettes. Together
with a view of the New Orleans skyline from the Mississippi River,
these were arranged at varying angles on the page with playful elves
and accompanied by the symbols of the krewea bespectacled
donkey and an owl.15
Illustrated books sometimes served as parade souvenirs. One for
Comus in 1873 portrayed the famousor infamous theme
"The Missing Links to Darwins Origin of Species,"
which depicted Reconstruction officials as the missing links. In
1878 Comus issued a beautifully illustrated and poetic souvenir
picturing the "Metamorphosis of Ovid."16 Other
examples are more accurately described as book versions of parade
papers, because each float was allotted a full page. T. Fitzwilliam
& Co. and the Daily Picayune produced a book for Proteus
in 1888, wherein a description of the parade and a short history
of Mardi Gras preceded several pages of advertising. In 1900 the
Bucklin Advertising Concern distributed a similar issue for Rex,
containing full-page advertisements on the reverse of almost every
page, at a cost of ten cents per copy (see Figure 2).17
All carnival bulletins are a rich source of advertisements which
provide an interesting study in themselves. When taken as a whole,
they reveal how advertising trends altered between the 1870s and
World War II and suggest the changing readership to which the bulletins
were geared. In the early papers, advertising was directed toward
the local audience. Although publicity for hotels and restaurants
appeared, most advertisers were retail businessmen, such as proprietors
of stores that sold dry goods, clothing, household goods, and wholesale
hardware. By the early twentieth century, advertising for hotels
and the luxury retail trade became prominent. Along with a growing
number of tourist-oriented promotions, those touting business development
in Louisiana proliferated. In 1885, typical advertisements boosted
enterprises such as E. C. Kellers French Millinery Shop, Robinsons
Mammoth Dime Circus, and Duffy Malt Whiskey, which claimed to cure
"dispepsia, indigestion and all wasting diseases."18
Many advertisements were illustrated and constitute an important
source of imagery for research purposes. Parade papers in 1889,
for example, provided views of the New Orleans National Bank on
Camp Street, Vonderbanks Hotel on Magazine Street, and the
Junius Hart Music Store on Canal Street. By World War I, larger
single advertisements tended to replace the small ones that were
so common in the century just past. A growing number publicized
industrial and business promoters such as the Acme Oil Company,
which in 1917 declared "Louisiana a Loading Oil Producing State"
By the 1930s the New Orleans Association of Commerce was a prominent
advertiser. In 1932 the association urged businessmen to look toward
New Orleans and "build on a rising market."19
Anybody could purchase a parade paper. Less available, but more
eagerly sought, are invitations to carnival tableau bells. Among
the most lavish ephemera of Mardi Gras, invitations have often equaled
the color and brilliance of balls themselves. Generally portraying
the theme of the tableau, invitations are a happy keepsake of an
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, guest
lists were limited, partly because the krewes were exclusive organizations,
but also because the theaters where balls were heldthe French
Opera House, the Grand Opera House, and the Athenaeumwere
small. Consequently, invitations were few. At first, to prevent
theft, they and the accompanying admit cards were hand-delivered
by the Boylon Detective Agency. Later the telegraph company distributed
them, but finally the task was entrusted to the United States Post
Office. As krewes began moving into the large Municipal Auditorium
in 1930, some guest lists, although remaining very selective, were
allowed to expand.21
Multi-colored lithographed illustrations decorated Comuss
oldest invitations. They generally pictured some combination of
fairies, flowers, dreamy scenes, comic characters, and fat monarchs.
Lithographers names seldom appeared, but many invitations,
such as the Comus summons of 1867 which was created by E. Boehler,
were printed in New Orleans.22 Rex at first sent simple
engraved invitations written in French, but in 1875 the king of
carnival too began issuing colorful illustrated invitationsin
that year an image of the Rex coat-of-arms.23 During
this period invitations became increasingly elaborate. Often printed
beautifully, die-cut, and folded into intricate patterns, they set
the standard for the next two decades. As new krewes formed, they
vied to produce the most elegant ones.24
Gras costumes and jewelry commonly were made in France, and in the
early 1880s Rex captain George H. Braughn began having the organizations
invitations, admit cards, and dance programs lithographed there,
often with splendid results.25 Lithographers signed a
few invitations, disclosing the origins of some of these lovely
works. In 1885 the Rex invitation, a die-cut tournament tent which
when opened revealed a series of chivalric scenes, was executed
by F. Appel, 12 Rue du Delta, Paris. Two years later Sicard, another
Paris firm, produced one of the most lavish Rex invitations, which
unfolded on a stately king surrounded by vignettes of eighteenth-century
French courtiers (see Figure 3). At least one other krewe followed
Rex to France to engage a lithographer. Proteus in 1890 authorized
F. Appel to produce a multi-winged affair of fairies and knights.26
Despite Rexs preference for French engravers, other carnival
krewes still employed American firms. In 1875 the Twelfth Night
Revelers commissioned A. Hoen of Baltimore for that years
simple folded invitation. Proteus in 1884 hired Meyer, Merkil and
Ottmann of New York to create a folded series of vignettes depicting
imperial views of ancient Rome and other locales.27 The
Phunny Phorty Phellows, which sent some of the finest late nineteenth-century
invitations, preferred local concerns. In 1883 T.
Fitzwilliam & Co. produced a folding invitation with scenes
from A Midsummer Nights Dream and, on the back, a padded
sachet Koeckert & Walle made the Phunny Phorty Phellows
intricate 1896 die-cut invitation in the shape of an owl with its
wings attached by a silken cord. The wings lifted to reveal several
light-hearted social vignettes.28
Dance programs were an important part of most balls as late as
the 1930s. Here were listed the dances played during the evening,
with blanks where a lady wrote the names of her partners. Dance
programs often resembled invitations and could be equally lavish.
Most were simple booklets, but one of the loveliest, made far Proteus
in 1892, was colorfully printed on pasteboard, die-cut in the shape
of pansies and butterflies and when opened was threedimensional.29
By the late 1890s invitations were becoming less ornate. In 1896
the Twelfth Night Revelers began sending a simple, worded card with
its initials set against a burst of sunlight. Proteus in 1896 presented
a large card engraved with a scene from A Midsummer Nights
Dream. Two years later Proteus sent a die-cut scene of a devil
playing a lute to an angel, but by 1902 the krewe had abandoned
intricate die-cut invitations in favor of cards illustrated with
colorful, romantic, or exotic scenes. Finally, in 1916, Proteus
adopted simple worded invitations.30 In 1902 Rex stopped
sending the French invitations for which the krewe had become so
famous and turned to Walle & Co. to print simple unillustrated
invitations. Rexs dance programs, which were also made by
Walle, remained pictorial but were less ambitious than earlier programs.31
Some krewes continued to send lithographed invitations. For several
years beginning in 1899, Comus sent invitations designed in the
then-popular art nouveau style. In 1908 Comus sent one of the most
lavish of the early twentieth-century invitations. It unfolded into
a series of birds wings to reveal scenes of life in exotic
countries. By 1916 even Comus had abandoned die-cut invitations
for illustrated cards similar to those adopted by Proteus.32
After World War I Comus and other krewes continued to send illustrated
invitations (see Figure 4) , but they were not of the quality found
before the warespecially before 1900. In recent years, numerous
carnival organizations have begun to revive the tradition of illustrated
invitations. While some are artistically imaginative and of high
quality, none have approached the grandeur of the finest of the
late nineteenth-century Mardi Gras invitations.33
The glory days of printed carnival ephemera stretched from the
late 1870s to World War I. We are fortunate that much of it survives,
especially because our own age no longer produces the rich quality
of Mardi Gras ephemera that our ancestors knew. Carnival krewes
may try to revive the look of past work, but past quality is prohibitively
expensive. Old-fashioned parade papers, for example, undoubtedly
would be so costly to produce that they would not be feasible commercially.
Past carnivals will always be with us. Most Orleanians have been
slow to dispose of even the simplest carnival leftover. Certainly
such ephemera is consciously and lovingly preserved, because, like
most souvenirs, it provides enjoyable memories that last a lifetimeand,
as part of the community of memories, last for generations.
1 Few general histories of the New Orleans Mardi Gras
exist, and those are of a popular nature. Arthur Burton La Cour
and Stuart Omer Landry, New Orleans Masquerade: Chronicles of
Carnival (New Orleans: Pelican Publishing Co., 1956), and Leonard
V. Huber, Mardi Gras: A Pictorial History of Carnival in New
Orleans (Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing Co., 1977) provide
useful overviews of the festival.
2Huber, Mardi Gras, 26-27.
3lbid., 35; La Cour, New Orleans Masquerade,
4La Cour, New Orleans Masquerade, 209; Weekly
Budget: Rex, Mar. 5, 1878, and Comus, Mar. 6, 1878; New
Orleans Carnival: Rex and Comus, Mar. 1, 1881. All materials
footnoted are from the holdings of the Historic New Orleans Collection.
5La Cour, New Orleans Masquerade, 210; Knights
of Momus Carnival Edition,
The Times Democrat, Feb. 16, 1882.
6 The Times Democrat Carnival Edition of Rex,
Feb. 26, 1884, Proteus, Feb 25, 1884, and Knights of Momus,
Feb. 21, 1884. The Southern Lithographic Company began business
in 1883. In 1884 it merged with the New Orleans Lithographing Company
and around 1885 went out of business. Patricia Brady Schmit, Rosanne
McCaffrey, and John A. Mahé II, eds., Encyclopaedia of
New Orleans Artists, 1718-1918 (New Orleans: The Historic New
Orleans Collection, 1987). During the companys short-lived
history the high quality of its work was often praised. The Daily
States of Feb. 3, 1884 said, "...no doubt all of our great
Mardi Gras receptions and balls will employ this company to do their
work...." Figero of Dec. 8,1883 reported, "...it
compares favorably with similar work done anywhere in the country...."
7 The Times-Democrat Carnival Edition of the Krewe
of Proteus, Feb. 16,1885.
8 T. Fitzwilliam and Co., Ltd. was active in New Orleans
from 1860-1932. Thomas W. Fitzwilliam came to New Orleans from Ireland
and began a printing establishment that by 1872 was producing lithography.
With the demise of the Southern Lithographic Company about 1885,Fitzwilliam
had a near monopoly in the field of lithography in New Orleans.
The company was especially noted for its parade papers. Schmit [and
others], New Orleans Artists; Carnival Edition of The Picayune:
Rex, Feb.17, 1885, and Krewe of Proteus, Mar. 9, 1886. *See note below
* "T. Fitzwilliam opened his business in October, 1859 and, as best I understand the situation, sold it to the Garcia Printing Co. in 1928. My great grandfather, Thomas W. Fitzwilliam, and his son, John, my grandfather, continued to work there for a few years, then left the business entirely. Thomas W.'s father, Thomas (no W.) was the founder of the business and was operating it as president up until the time of his death in 1917. At that time, my great grandfather took over. No living family members are quite sure why the business was sold and I haven't taken the time to review old newspapers of the day to learn of the reason." Submitted by Mike Fitzwilliam
9 Koeckert & Walle was founded by Gustave Koeckert and Bernard
John Walle in 1889. The Company was active until 1896. Koeckert
had previously been with the New Orleans Lithographic Company, which
later merged with the Southern Lithographic Company. Schmit [and
others], New Orleans Artists; La Cour, New Orleans Masquerade,
210; The Daily Item Carnival Edition ... 9th Representation
Phunny Phorty Phellows, Feb. 18, 1896; Carnival Knights of
Electra, Feb.28, 1889.
10 Walle & Company was incorporated by Bernard
and John Walle in 1897 after the demise of Koeckert & Walls.
The new firm was noted for its use of chromolithography and is credited
ac one of the first in the United States to master a four-color
printing process. Following Walles death in 1929, the company
was dissolved and reorganized as Walle & Co. It continues to
operate as Walle Corporation. Schmit [and others], New Orleans Artists.
11 Rex Edition Carnival Bulletin, Feb. 11, 1902;
Momus Edition Carnival Bulletin,
Feb. 6, 1902; Proteus Edition Carnival Bulletin, Feb. 19, 1912;
La Cour, New
Orleans Masquerade, 210.
12 Searcy & Pfaff, Ltd. was founded in 1889 by
David J. Searcy and William Pfaff; later Luke Gaharn joined the
partnership. Following Searcys death ca. 1901, his widow Wanda
became a partner. The company last appeared in the New Orleans City
Directory in 1960. New Orleans, Louisiana: The Crescent City
(New Orleans: George W. Engelhardt, 1903-1904), 216; Soards and
Polks City Directories, 1894-1960.
13 Rex Edition Carnival Bulletin, Feb. 24, 1925;
Comus Edition Carnival Bulletin, Feb. 24, 1925.
14 Weekly Budget: Rex, Mar. 5, 1878, and Comus,
Mar. 6, 1878.
15 The Daily Item Carnival Edition ... 9th
Representation Phunny Phony Phellows, Feb. 18, 1896.
16 Ye Mistick Krewe of Comus 1873; Mistick
Krewe of Comus Festival, Shrove Tuesday 1878.
17 Krewe of Proteus Fifth Presentation (New
Orleans: Daily Picayune, 1886); Carnival Rex Edition (New
Orleans: Bucklin Advertising Concern, 1900).
18 Daily Picayune Carnival Edition: Rex, Feb.
19 Daily Picayune Carnival Edition: Rex, Mar.
5,1889; Rex Edition Carnival Bulletin, Feb. 20, 1917, and
Feb. 9, 1932.
20 "Invitation to the Ball," The Times
Picayune New Orleans States Magazine (Feb. 16, 1947), 16.
21 Huber, Mardi Gras, 29; "Invitation to
the Ball," 16, 18.
22 Invitation to Comus ball, 1867.
23 Invitation to Rex ball, 1875.
24 Huber, Mardi Gras, 33.
25 Charles Dufour and Leonard V. Huber, If Ever I Cease
to Love: One Hundred Years of Rex, 1872-1971 (Gretna, LA: Pelican
Publishing Co., 1972), 43.
26 Invitations to Rex balls, 1885, 1887, 1890; invitation
to Proteus ball, 1884.
27 Invitation to Twelfth Night Revelers ball, 1875;
invitation to Proteus ball, 1884.
28 Invitations to Phunny Phorty Phellows balls, 1883,
29 Dance program from Proteus ball, 1892.
30 Invitation to Twelfth Night Revelers ball, 1896;
invitations to Proteus ball, 1896, 1898; sample of invitations to
Proteus balls, 1902-1916.
31 Invitation to Rex ball, 1902; dance program from
Rex ball, 1911; Dufour and Huber, If Ever I Cease to Love,
57; Huber, Mardi Gras, 29.
32 Sample of invitations to Comus balls, 1899-1908;
Huber, Mardi Gras, 29.
33 Sample of invitations to various balls, 1922-1941;
Huber, Mardi Gras, 31.
John T. Magill is assistant curator at the Historic New
The Ephemera Society acknowledges with thanks the editor of Louisiana
Libraries for granting permission to reproduce this article from
Volume 53, Number 2, published in Fall 1990.