“The Bookmaker’s Sweetheart,” a hand-colored lithograph by Clarence Paul Meier, was created during the Prohibition, but it vividly rejects the ideals of moral sobriety that the “noble experiment” hoped to encourage. The vibrant print depicts a raucous and irreverent scene: a voluptuous woman flirts with and distracts the clientele of the titular bookmaker as they make illegal wagers on a horse race. A second woman on her own drinks contentedly while a third flirts with a jockey. The jockey’s picture hangs on the wall over a crack and beneath a reversed horseshoe, hinting at an underhanded attempt to influence the results of the race. It seems that a loss would be in the bookmaker’s best interest and he is throwing drinks, women, and superstition at the jockey to ensure it happens.
The scene pictured obviously predates the era in which the print was designed. For instance, the figures are clothed in fashion that harkens back to the “Gay ‘90s,” nearly forty years before the image’s 1931 printing (“1890s in Western Fashion”). The men are in ascot ties, top hats, and exaggeratedly high heeled boots. The women are heavily corseted creating an unnatural hourglass figure that would fall out of popularity by the 1920s. Even so, it nicely reflects the backlash of society in the 1930s against Prohibition and the quickly worsening economic situation by depicting activities that were criminalized during the time of the piece’s printing.
In 1931, both gambling and the sale of alcohol were outlawed in the state of New York where C.P. Meier resided and followed his eclectic career path (Dunstan). In the 1920 census Meier is listed as a cartoonist (qtd. in Jay). Only five years later his career is recorded as “accountant” in the New York census. However, an article in the Daily Star out of Queens in New York City, dated October 6th, 1930, describes him as having some very odd duties for an accountant. In 1923, while working for Club Lido in Manhattan, Meier suggested they shade an “annoyingly bright” lamp. Not finding a shade large enough, he made one himself (qtd. in Jay). From that point on he worked as an accountant/designer hybrid for the club. He found a measure of success in that field and in the 1930 federal census his industry was officially recorded as interior decoration (United States).
As an interior designer, his specialty was private bars. During prohibition, home bars became an increasingly important part of homes for the wealthy, due to the illegality of public drinking establishments. Meier himself discusses the importance of the home bar in the 1930 article on his design business:
Let me tell you there is a lot of truth about the driving of liquor out of the saloons and into the drawing rooms. Why, a Westchester man found he was unable to rent his home before leaving for Europe because he didn’t have a bar. I have to design the thing… I mean not just the bar and brass rail, but also the surroundings… (qtd. in Jay)
“The Bookmaker’s Sweetheart” may have been a part of the type of surroundings about which Meier was talking. As an interior decorator he did not merely pick and place furniture and decorations; he designed wallpaper, textiles and bar accessories. He also created distinctive lithographs depicting lively bar and horseracing scenes. These played on the nostalgia for a happier era before the outlaw of alcohol sales and the encroaching economic depression of the early 1930s. “The Bookmaker’s Sweetheart” is an intriguing memento of those turbulent years and a fascinating piece from a little-known, but multi-talented American designer.
“1890s in Western Fashion.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.
Dunstan, Roger. “History of Gambling in the United States.” History of Gambling in the United States. California State Library, Jan. 1997. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <http://www.library.ca.gov/crb/97/03/chapt2.html>.
Jay, Alex. “Ink-Slinger Profiles: C.P. Meier.” Stripper’s Guide. N.p., 25 July 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
United States of America, Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.