history of ‘come up and see my etchings’

Of American-English origin, the phrase come up and see my etchings is used as an invitation to sexual dalliance—synonym: come up and see me sometime.

The earliest occurrence that I have found is from the column On Broadway, by the gossip columnist Walter Winchell (1897-1972), published in The Morning Post (Camden, New Jersey) of Wednesday 25th December 1935—the addition of “and can you imagine—he really had some!” indicates that the phrase was already well established:

New York Heartbeat
Sounds About Town: In Brentono’s book store yesterday: “Have you unexpurgated versions of anything?” . . . Midnight Friday on a Bronx Express: “Isn’t that dame in that ad sappy-lookin’?” . . . In a W. 49th Street one-arm lunchroom Monday at 6:30: “He says I should come up and see his etchings—and can you imagine—he really had some!”

The second-earliest occurrence that I have found is from Sidetracked, a short story by Jean Johnson, published in several U.S. newspapers on Sunday 2nd August 1936, for example in The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio)—in this passage, one character explains to the other the meaning of the phrase:

Sally was walking through Central Park the next afternoon when she saw Irving Brandt approaching. Her heart skipped a beat as his eyes lightened with recognition.
“You’re looking very smart today,” he approved. And then he said, “Pardon me for rushing along to my office. I toy with a law practice, you know, in my spare time.”
“I didn’t know,” she murmured, stung by his brisk, casual manner. “I—I’m sorry you haven’t time to talk.” Then, as intuition warned her that she would not see him again unless she herself paved the way, she said, “Maxime tells me that you have a wonderful collection of etchings. She says you occasionally invite people up to see them—” She stopped short as a masklike inexpressiveness stiffened his pleasant features.
“Maxime is a clever girl,” he said slowly. “But not quite smart enough. Good afternoon, Miss Donovan.”
Sally looked after Irving Brandt wistfully. And when he disappeared, she felt lonelier than she had ever been in her life before.
The following evening Sally summoned the courage to telephone him. “Please, may I come to your apartment for a few minutes? I’m so wretched. I’m right around the corner.”
He met her at his apartment door. “You shouldn’t have come,” he scolded. “It’s risky.”
Exasperated, he strode over to her. “Look here, Sally, must I draw diagrams to make it clear that the invitation to come up and see my etchings is a ribald joke?” He cleared his throat. “A reputation for being ‘hot stuff’ is sometimes harder to live up to than live down, but that’s beside the point. Don’t you see why you shouldn’t have come to my apartment alone? You don’t want people to gossip about you, do you?”

The following is from the review by Herman J. Bernfeld of Champagne Waltz 1, published in The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) of Wednesday 10th February 1937:

“Champagne Waltz” has all the sentiment of an operetta to weigh it down. Its humor is derived from such incidents as mistaken identity, gum chewing, dialectal comedy and a fake countess who sells the boys tea sets from the household of the Czar when they come up to see her etchings.

1 Produced by Paramount, Champagne Waltz (1937) starred the U.S. mezzo-soprano opera singer Gladys Swarthout (1900-1969).

This is the beginning of an article published in the Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana) of Friday 12th March 1937:

What to Do When Gent Orders Pie And Asks for Date; Lesson No. 1 At New School for Waitresses
20 Public School Girls Find Absence of Makeup Helps to Ward Off Invitations to Come Up and Look at Etchings

By Harry Ferguson
United Press Staff Correspondent
Atlantic City, N. J., March 11—(U.P.)—What to do and say when a gent orders lemon meringue pie and then tries to date you up for the evening was the most important lesson on the agenda today when Mrs. Martha Sellers opened her school for waitresses.
A sure-fire formula, it was explained to the 20 pupils, is to keep conversation with the customers to the minimum on the theory that if you don’t open your mouth you won’t say “yes” or even “maybe.”
The 20 public school pupils reported for their class with their cheeks denuded of rouge and the paint taken off their finger nails. That also is part of the plot to keep the customers from getting fresh, because hardly anyone asks a gal with a shiny nose to come up and see the etchings.

On Tuesday 5th October 1937, several U.S. newspapers—for example The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington)—published the following by the British-born U.S. gossip columnist Sheilah Graham (born Lily Shiel – 1904-1988):

It is now taboo, by order of the Hays 2 office to say in pictures—“Come up and see my etchings.”

The column Talking Shop, in The Era (London, England) of Thursday 28th October 1937, also mentioned the ban of the phrase:

Will Hays 2 censorship office has now banned the classic Hollywood line—“Come up and see my etchings.”
But not the classic reply: “May I ’phone my sister? She loves dirty pictures.”

2 From 1922 to 1945, William Harrison Hays (1879-1954) was the Chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA); in 1930, the MPPDA adopted the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, i.e., a set of moral guidelines applied to U.S. motion pictures.

On Tuesday 5th December 1950, the Daily Mirror (London, England) reported the following:

They claim that Hollywood wolves have changed their line in keeping with America’s Red scare 3. They no longer ask a girl up to see their etchings. New line is: “Would you like to come up to my apartment and sign a loyalty oath?”

3 Popularly known as McCarthyism, with reference to the Republican senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy (1908-1957), the second Red Scare designates the fear of communism that permeated American politics, culture and society from the late 1940s through the 1950s, during the opening phases of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Anti-Communist loyalty oaths spread throughout the motion-picture industry during that period—cf. booked any good Reds lately? and Reds under the bed.

The paragraph published in the Daily Mirror of 5th December 1950 was probably inspired by the following from the column In Hollywood, by Erskine Johnson, published for example in the Dunkirk Evening Observer (Dunkirk, New York) of Wednesday 18th October 1950:

Hollywoodsman to a babe:
“Would you like to come up to my apartment and sign a loyalty oath?”