Comic Cats on Victorian Trade Cards

Nineteenth-century advertising trade cards are wonderful on so many levels, but my particular favorites are the comic ones.  Predating the appearance of comics in newspapers by decades (the “Yellow Kid” strip first appeared in 1895), the quality of trade card artists’ drawings can be as good as any of the more famous early comic artists.  Some comic trade cards even tell a story in series.  On July 6, 2014, I published a post on the story of a disastrous feline courtship told through six cards; you can take a look at this in the archives for the this blog.  Some comic trade cards are offensive today — they traffic in all sorts of stereotyping — but others are benign, as in the case of the comic cats I share with you here,

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Advertising trade card for Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil, around 1890. Chromlithograph, publisher unknown. The corners have been trimmed; they may have been glued to a scrapbook page.

The Excelsior Botanical Company, which began to sell Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil (yes, that’s “Eclectric”) in the 1880s, published a series of comic trade cards featuring anthropomorphic animals that was made specifically for the company.  Eclectric Oil, which was sold until at least the 1940s, was recommended for everything from insect bites to earaches. The artist for these is unknown, but the card in my collection, “Grandma’s little Wootsy Tootsy” features a cat scrubbing her “grandchild” in a basin with a sponge. A proper linen towel with a red band hangs nearby. I love her glasses, neck ribbon (she is a proper house cat with a clean white bib and tummy ) and determined expression.  And you get all this detail in 3 1/2 inches of paper….

“All Promenade” features the Cat and the Fiddle, who is now performing for two sets of dancing kittens in an alley.  They all wear big smiles.  I love the pink and blue dresses worn by the girl kittens.  This card was copyrighted by Philadelphia printer George M. Hayes, who was probably the artist, too.  He copyrighted a number of trade card designs in the early 1880s.  They were sold as blanks; the “Presented by” caption was added by E. & H. Dilworth.

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“All Promenade.”  Advertising trade card for E & H. Dilworth Hardware, Beloit, KS.  Published by  George M. Hayes, Philadelphia, 1882.  Hayes was probably also the artist.

The practice of attributing human characteristics to animals, called anthropomorphism, is an ancient practice; think of Aesop’s Fables, for example. It has had many uses, some quite serious — imparting moral lessons to children, stigmatizing marginalized “others” and critiquing the powerful are just three of these.  However, sometimes anthropomorphism was intended simply to delight both children and adults.

These cats delight me, and I hope that they delight you, too!

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Filed under advertising trade card, alley cat, animal humor, anthropomorphism, cats, material culture, pets

Dog repellents: suburban gardens, free-roaming dogs and Dogzoff

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“Dogzoff” repellant in an aerosol dispenser.  Bohlender Plant Chemicals. Inc.  Tippecanoe City, Ohio, ca. 1955.

Behold another of my unusual acquisitions — a 60-plus year old empty aerosol can!  Even as I work to de-clutter my own living spaces, I am grateful that so many Americans are such pack rats — or that they just can’t face that stuffed-full garage or basement workshop.  Their sloth is my gain — with a little help from flea markets, garage sales and online auction sites. ( Of course, my gain is also my ongoing storage problem….)

This can contained Dogzoff®, a popular repellent used by gardeners in towns and suburbs who wished to protect their prized shrubbery from blasts of dog urine.  The 1920s and 1930s were decades when the longstanding practice of letting dogs run free was challenged by changing attitudes toward the status of animals in towns.  These were the decades when family cows and backyard chickens were finally pushed out of many towns and cities by public health concerns, and wandering dogs and cats, but especially dogs, were also subject to renewed attention from the beefed-up ranks of animal-control officers — the dreaded dog-catchers. (1932 was the year that the Little Rascals films included one where Petey was nabbed by the dog catcher and almost “gassed” as an unwanted stray.)

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Back of Dogzoff aerosol can, circa 1955, showing the active ingredient, 2.75 per cent Oil of Mustard.

Dogzoff® repellent was the first marketed in 1933, and it appears in newspaper advertising all over the United States by the mid-1930s.  “DOGS — keep them away from shrubs and flowers — Dogzoff will do it,” promised an ad from Kadotani & Son, Florists in the 7 April 1935 edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  The company that made and marketed Dogzoff, Bohlender Plant Chemicals, Inc., was an outgrowth of the nursery business started by Bavarian immigrant Peter Bohlender (1837-1914) and continued by his family.

Peter Bohlender is an interesting fellow.  His obituary in the Florists‘ Review says that he came from a “family of gardeners” that arrived in Ohio when he was only six, and that he started first nursery when he was quite young.  In 1889, he relocated his growing wholesale business to Tippecanoe City (now Tipp City), Ohio, just outside of Dayton.  According to the obituary, Bohlender had been an advocate for Arbor Day, and he was able to pass on his sizable business, which included nurseries and orchards in Oklahoma, Missouri and California, to four sons and a son-in-law. By 1912, Peter Bohlender & Sons had been rechristened Spring Hill Nurseries, the name it operates under today, and it had begun to shift its operations to mail-order rather than wholesale.  What, Where, When and How to Plant, a 1913 booklet written by son E. E. Bohlender, focused largely on suburban gardens with illustrations of large houses with spacious grounds, and included plans for long perennial borders, small domestic orchards, evergreen wind breaks and plantings of ornamental shade trees.

This is another context for the Bohlender family’s experiments with repellents, although I have not been able to find out more  about the decisions that led to the product.   Middle-class householders now enjoyed gardening as a leisure activity rather than a requirement for provisioning the family, and their ornamental plantings were apparently under assault by their neighbors’ dogs.  This June 20, 1931, letter to the editor of the Muncie Evening Press sums up the position of these avid gardeners:

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Dogzoff®, used mustard oil to irritate sensitive canine noses.  It was sold as a concentrate in a small bottle,  to be diluted and applied around the base of plantings using a hand-pump sprayer.   An instructional advertising flyer (below) pointed out that the solution also could be used to drive off rodents and keep cats away from birds (presumable nesting in the garden), but its primary use was to break dogs of “bad habits,” even away from the garden.  In the flyer, the repellent also cures dogs of dumping trashcans, chewing shoes and sitting on the porch furniture.

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Brochure for Dogzoff, interior spread, no date (1930s – 1940s).

Putting Dogzoff® into an aerosol can made it possible for an outraged gardener (or shoe lover) to reach for the product on impulse, and it also made more money for the firm since the product was premixed and sold only in 11-ounce cans.  Aerosol cans have a complex history, and you can click on the link to take advantage of Wikipedia’s thorough article on the subject For our purposes, the important thing to know is that the “crimp-on” valve was developed in 1949;  it made possible the creation of low-pressure aerosol cans for household use.  During the 1950s, a decade of innovation and expansion in the pet products industry, aerosol flea sprays and dog shampoos also appeared on garden center and pet store shelves.  (These novelties are a subject for a post in the future.)

Dogzoff® had a sister product Mosquitozoff®, about which little is known at present.  I theorize that both products relied upon the oil from mustard seeds, and I have found recent recommendations for the use of mustard oil in both “green” mosquito repellents and one element of garden sprays. Mustard oil has a number of traditional medicinal uses, too.  It is used in anti-inflammatory ointments; women in India use it as a tonic that stimulates hair growth.

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Advertisement for Dogzoff, Sedalia (MO) Democrat 1 May 1953.

What I’m struck by in the advertising for Dogzoff is how candid the text is about shooting dogs.  I also found this in a number of letters of complaint about dog damage to gardens.  I wonder how many of these gardeners actually carried out summary execution, or whether it was mostly a devout wish.

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Filed under advice literature on pets, animal-human interaction, attitudes toward dogs, dog repellents, dogs, pet industry, pets

“The Intermission”: a playful dog in a real photo postcard, 1910

Documenting the history of play with pet animals is a challenge.  Think about your own games with your pets.  They are casual, often lasting a few minutes in odd moments of leisure or pauses during housework.  They may take place while something else is going on: I often find myself throwing a small rubber ball for my dog while I watch television.  Nowadays, quick snapshots and short videos of play with pets record these casual yet pleasurable and emotionally satisfying moments for posterity — and in enormous numbers. (As I write this, a Google search for “dog video” yields 204 million results.) But finding manuscript sources that recount these games in an earlier era is a treat.  And this real photo postcard, sent in 1910, even includes a snapshot of the dog in question! What it does not include, however, is the name of the writer, the name of the dog, or information on who took the photo.  Oh, well.

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Real photo postcard with cyanotype snapshot, postmarked 20 October 1910, Sweetwater, Texas.  Unsigned, and photographer unknown.

Here is a transcript of the message: “The Intermission.”  “The scamp” paused for an instant on top of the storm-cellar, and, huffing and panting, “dared” me to romp with him some more!  I “snapped” him and then jumped at him – and off he dashed, plowing the dust up so that Arnold had to wash his paws again before taking him into the house.  His hair dries in tufts, as you see here, and I call him “an old porcupine” until he gets combed out!

The message seems to describe one of those spontaneous running-and-chase games where the dog tucks his butt and runs in circles; at my house, we call this “scudding.” I’m not sure about the breed of the dog.  He seems to be a collie or a collie mix of some kind.  And we know that he was a house dog.

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Verso of postcard of “The Intermission.”

The verso of the postcard, above, recalls a day spent with Mrs. Burnside, the recipient, and mentions an “S” who is apparently near the end of a fatal illness.  But it is unsigned.

So pause in your labors and make your dog (and  you) happy by inviting her to play.

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Filed under animal-human interaction, dogs, pet humor, pet photography, pets, play with pets, real photo postcard, rppc, snapshot

Dr. Hyde, Pet Vet, 1939

I try to purchase paper items relating to early small-animal veterinary practices when they come my way. (Check out my post from July 2015 on the an early New York City animal hospital, based on a 1900 pamphlet that promoted the practice.)  I was pleased to be able to purchase this group of snapshots of a veterinarian and his practice, all dated 1939.  I’m still trying to figure out who Dr. Hyde is.  I made the mistake of not quizzing the seller of these snapshots about the source, and I will try to contact him as time permits.  If I learn more, I’ll revise this post.

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The office appears to be in a residential neighborhood, and it looks like a converted two-car garage.

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The operating/examination room is very simple, but it follows the ideas about small-animal practice that took hold in the 1920s, when many large-animal vets in cities and towns reoriented their practices toward the care of pets.  It has a white enamel sink on the left side and the operating table has a white enamel surface.  There’s a locker, perhaps for supplies, beyond the sink and a cabinet of medicines  on the upper right.

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And here is Dr. Hyde with either his own dog or one of his patients, who looks serious — perhaps at the prospect of getting a vaccination.  Dr. Hyde has his arm around the little fellow and they both look into the camera, like a studio photograph of a man and his dog.

I’m only sorry that there was apparently no photo of the waiting room.  I’d like to see whether Dr. Hyde followed the advice of the American Animal Hospital Association (founded in 1933) to create an office environment that paralleled that of the family physician.

If you know anything about Dr. Hyde, please share it with us!  I’d be happy to credit you as co-author of this post.

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Filed under dogs, pets, small animal hospital, small animal medicine, snapshot, veterinary history, veterinary medicine

Buster’s photos of his pets, 1916

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Lots of children kept rabbits as pets in the 1800s and early 1900s. The child’s plate below, which dates from the 1830s, shows a girl caring for her “favourite rabbits.”  (I have been searching for the source of the verse on this plate;  any leads will be much appreciated and fully credited!)

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Children’s plate. Creamware with transfer and enamel designs, 1825-1850.  Maker unknown.

I’m not completely sure why, but rabbits were regarded as perfect pets for children, perhaps because they could be kept outdoors in hutches; were gentle (although my rabbit-owning friends will tell you that they can and do bite); were relatively tolerant of over-enthusiastic handling; and multiplied quickly, offering replacements for casualties.  They could also be eaten, although many Americans seem to have been losing their taste for roasted or stewed rabbit by the time this card was sent in 1916.  While I can’t identify them for certain, Buster’s bunnies are probably “Rex” rabbits, a larger breed kept as both pets and meat animals.

Play with pet rabbits could become quite elaborate.  My book Pets in America offers a detailed account of the “Bunny States of America,” a pretend-play world of pet rabbits, chickens and other animals enjoyed by the children who lived at the house Cherry Hill in Albany, New York about a decade before Buster wrote this postcard to his friend John.

While I can’t say this for certain, I think that Buster was also the amateur photographer here, with access to a simple box camera and, I presume, the ability to print his negatives on postcard blanks.  Since he was studying geometry, he was probably a young teenager in 1916.  I also like the set-up for this photo shoot.  The “Friends” at the top were photographed on a tapestry carpet dragged outdoors for the purpose.  Commercial postcards that featured photography of pet animals sometimes included set-ups like this, where several animals were depicted together.  The handsome rabbit in the image below seems to be sunning him or herself on a worn tablecloth.

 

 

 

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Filed under pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, post cards, rabbits, real photo postcard, rppc, snapshot

Air Travel with Dogs: A Comfort Station at the Philadelphia International Airport 2017

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Service Animal and Pete Relief Area, Philadelphia International Airport.  Photograph by the author, 24 March 2017

Trudging along in the Philadelphia International Airport, I came across this extraordinary example of the material culture of modern pet keeping.  I noticed a small dog and his owner, who was also toting a nylon carrier, and they drew my eye to this comfort station.  Most of the two million animals transported by the airlines must travel in the hold (a situation that has led to a number of tragedies and a lot of bad publicity for the airlines that, in the past, have operated been in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.  However, small animals and service animals now must be accommodated in the passenger compartment.  With security regulations preventing canine passengers accessing  the exterior of terminals as impromptu dog potties, airports are now apparently creating these public restrooms for dogs.

One of the design elements that is so interesting about this is the survival of the fire hydrant as a vertical surface for the use of male dogs.  This one is made out of cast plastic, but it is full size and the regulation red. This has been a standing joke in humor about city dogs for at least 100 years.

If you would like to share images of other airport canine comfort stations, let me know;  I’ll be happy to post them.  And if you have had experience with getting your dog to use one of these, I’ll share the stories, too.  Kudos to PHL for taking care of our canine companions.  Now I’m waiting for a public litter box for our flying feline friends.

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Filed under dog training, dogs, fire hydrant, pets, travel with pets

Bulldog humor: trade card commentary on watchdogs in city life

Advertising trade cards, the little slips of paper that businesses handed out to promote their products, are rich (and under-used) sources for studying animal-human relationships in the late nineteenth century.  Tens of thousands of Victorian trade cards survive because they were meant to be kept.  Many were pasted into scrapbooks, but “metamorphic” trade cards like this one were little comic books before the comic book was invented.  They probably survived because they got shut into drawers or boxes and forgotten.   The wear on the folds suggests that this particular example was unfolded multiple times, suggesting that it was viewed repeatedly.

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Comic trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco, Weissinger & Bate, Louisville, Kentucky.  Chromolithograph published by Culver, Page, Hoyne & Co., Chicago, between 1870 and 1883.  This is what is called a “metamorphic” trade card because it unfolds to tell a story, usually a comic tale. It is only about three inches in height.

The card  tells the story of an unfortunate thief who takes advantage of the dozing woman minding an outdoor booth selling “Hold Fast” chewing tobacco.  He’s poor, just a barefoot youth, and his works (“I’ll be after taking a plug of HOLD FAST”) suggest that the figure is supposed to be an Irish immigrant.  But he is foiled by a bulldog named “Tige,” short for Tiger.

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First foldout, comic trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco.

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Buster Brown and Tige “rebus” (puzzle) valentine postcard.  Chromolithograph, Raphael Tuck & Co, publishers. Mailed from Williamsport, PA, 11 February 1908.

This is the same name given in 1902 to comic character Buster Brown’s pit bull-type dog, seen in the postcard above. Buster Brown’s bulldog Tige looks a little scary with his round eyes, wide mouth and array of teeth, but he was a a friendly boy’s pet — and he could talk, at least to Buster and the reader.  The Hold  Fast trade card’s “Tige” is a homely brute who means business. “By faith the dog was awake,” cries the thief while the woman yells “Sick him Tige.”

In the fully open card, the policeman, seen in the distance in the second view, has the thief by the ear while Tige has his leg — and the woman has Tige by the tail (an unintended visual pun, I think) and cries “Hold fast.”  “Hold-Fast” was both an order and a traditional name for bulldogs, reflecting their instinct to bite down and hold on to a bull’s nose or another fighting dog to the death.  (Don’t ask me how I know this — I will have to root around in old note cards for hours.  I know a note about bulldog naming is in a folder somewhere.)  This may suggest something about the attributes of Hold Fast chewing tobacco, which was first sold in 1878.

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Second foldout, comic trade card for Hold Fast tobacco.

The back center panel for the unfolded card offers another interpretation of “Hold Fast,” a tug-of-war between a child and the family dog over a doll, while the cat looks on from a chair back.  This dog is a terrier, another popular dog type in Victorian America.  Terriers were regarded as good family pets, but they were also esteemed as rodent-killers.

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Back panel, trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco.

Watch dogs like the Hold Fast seller’s Tige were common denizens of city life, and both families and businesses relied on them as four-legged security systems. Bulldogs, the ancestors of the pit bull and other bully breeds today, were the most popular types for this purpose because of their reputation for being protective and fearless.  They are often depicted as chained to a doghouse in a fenced back yard or alley.  Further, the idea that they would attack and bite trespassers was wholly acceptable, and even the source of humor.  Notice that this bulldog is wearing a spiked collar and has dragged the doghouse behind him.

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“The Dog I Left Behind Me.” Comic trade card, lithograph, printer unknown, probably 1870s. This card was sold widely as a blank, and businesses added their names to the bottom.  The caption refers to a popular folk song, “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”

Humor about bully-breed watchdogs sometimes took strange turns. Some humorous cards survive showing innocently naughty boys dealing with savage-looking watchdogs as big as they are.  The card on the left, below, is one of these.  The dog’s eyes are deeply unsettling!

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Comic trade card, lithographs, around 1880.  Grauer & Almstedt, St. Louis.  In 1883, the company advertised that it sold chromolithographed trade cards in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch classified ads.

Americans liked bulldogs  — they certainly kept a lot of them, in a variety of shapes and sizes — but they were also afraid of them.  This was not without reason in the case of urban watch dogs.  In the case of the Hold Fast card, the bulldog was the secret weapon in a comic story about crime among the poor.  Yet the other images suggest other ways that people found humor in the discomfort that a large bully-type watchdog could create. This is a trade card that I reproduced in another post, on pet photography, but it encapsulates the tension nicely — and the drawing is still funny today.

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“Photographing the Prize Bull Dog.” Trade card for Pan Cake Flour. Lithograph, probably 1870s. Artist and printer unknown.

 

 

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, animal-human interaction, bulldog, Buster Brown, dog training, doghouses, dogs, pet humor, pets, pets in the comics