Once a parade passes, it is gone forever.
Distracted by the crowds, bands and throws, viewers often miss the grandeur and satire of the best processions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the entire parade could be frozen in time to be appreciated later?
Enter one of the most collectible of all genres of Mardi Gras memorabilia — the “Carnival bulletin.”
These fold-out chromolithographs, long printed by newspapers, date back 140 years and stand as the premier chronicle of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. To revive the tradition, The New Orleans Advocate will print six bulletins starting today, depicting the processions of Endymion, Bacchus, Proteus, Orpheus, Rex and Zulu.
The bulletins will appear as an insert in the newspaper on the day the parade rolls, printed on paper that is thicker and more durable than newsprint. Glossy versions also will be available for purchase at www.theadvocatemarketing.com beginning Fat Tuesday.
Historically, bulletins have shared a standard format, generally measuring 48 inches by 28 inches, with full-color float drawings and thematic “corner art” at the top left of the front page. While the scales of the illustrations are subject to artistic license, the designs are faithful to the artwork adorning the actual floats. The backs of the bulletins feature detailed float descriptions flanked by advertisements, many of them relics of a bygone age.
The New York Daily Graphic produced the first collection of black-and-white Mardi Gras float drawings in 1874, the year of the 14th parade of the Mistick Krewe of Comus. Two years later, the Momus and Comus parades appeared within the pages of the same paper. In 1877, local newspapers began getting into the action when the New Orleans Weekly Budget illustrated the Rex parade of that year. Color would come seven year later.
The New Orleans Times Democrat and the Daily Picayune engaged out-of-state lithographers such as A. Hoen & Company (Baltimore), Gravuretype (Boston) and Shuber & Carqueville (Chicago) to print their bulletins.
Bidding wars were fierce for distribution rights to produce these pieces. James Curtis Waldo proudly announced in 1881 that his Southern Publishing and Advertising House of New Orleans was awarded the contract to print 15,000 Carnival Bulletins for the 1881 Phunny Phorty Phellows parade.
New Orleans printer T. Fitzwilliam & Company eventually supplied most bulletins for the newspapers during the final two decades of the 19th century. From 1902 until World War I, Walle & Company had the rights for all of the bulletins.
This concluded the association with daily newspapers.
After World War I, local company Searcy and Pfaff took over production until 1941, when the final bulletins were issued.
Though initially produced for local newspapers, bulletins were not inserted into newsprint. Instead, they were hawked on the day of the parade on street corners, at newsstands, on streetcars and at stores such as D.H. Holmes and Maison Blanche. They were advertised for a dime each, or 12 cents mailed as souvenirs.
In recent years, interest in memorializing parades has increased. Since 2003, Rex has published a mini-bulletin, a copy of which is included as an 11-by-14-inch pullout in Gambit. The New Orleans Levee has included a spread for the Knights of Chaos for several years. Starting in 2004, Le Krewe d’Etat members have handed out their own Carnival bulletins along their parade route.
Given the New Orleans climate, home to paper-eating insects and tropical storms, it is remarkable that any of these original pieces remain in good condition. No single institution or private collector owns a complete set of the 205 bulletins produced for Comus, Momus, Proteus and Rex. The most significant collections are at the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University, the New Orleans Public Library, the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana State Museum.
In spite of the large size and expense involved in the framing of Carnival bulletins, they remain extremely popular collectors’ items. At a December auction, a 1906 Rex Carnival bulletin fetched $1,838.
Carnival historian Henri Schindler speculates that the bulletins’ early producers couldn’t have foreseen the historical significance of their products.
“Because so few collections of original float designs have survived,” he said, “these lithographs became the visual records of the great processions.”