Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Christmas Stocking for a Parakeet


Christmas stocking for a parakeet. Acme Pet Products Corp., Pelham, New York, 1950s or early 1960s.

About ten years ago I had the chance to purchase this unopened Christmas stocking intended as a gift for a parakeet.  The contents consist of two rolling toys on wheels, one made of wood, and a roly-poly plastic bird.  I don’t know how long the plastic bag will survive, but it seems to be holding up well for now.  The roly-poly ‘s head has broken.  Eventually I may have to disassemble this item for better long-term storage.

Parakeets enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s.  At the Woolworth’s five-and-ten, I used to look at the cages of cheerful, squacking yellow, green and blue birds longingly.  My mother was not a fan of birds in the house, although just about anything with fur was acceptable.

Parakeets like toys, and their cages were often well-stocked with bells, mirrors, roly-poly toys and other items.  I’ll write more about parakeet pets, including efforts to teach them to speak, another time.  For now, it is enough to note that pet owners could spend 39 cents at the five-and-ten or the neighborhood pet store to give their feathered friends a Christmas stocking of their own.

Merry Christmas!  If you would like to share information on the gifts you are giving your pets this Christmas, please feel free to add comments below.

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Filed under Christmas gifts for pets, material culture, parakeets, pet antiques, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets

Pets for Christmas 1906: Lathrop’s Pet Stock Shop, Rochester, New York

IMG_5868Grading papers and all the other business of ending a semester temporarily halted my writing, but expect some Christmas items over the next week.

On December 18, 1906, Lathrop’s Pet Stock Shop in Rochester, New York, mailed this postcard to a local customer.  The message on the back offered “the best appreciated Holiday gifts,” including “Canary Birds of all varieties,” other song birds, gold fish, parrots, dogs, cats, and squirrels.  The shop also carried “Medicines for every known pet” and offered free advice to pet owners, who for the most part did their own doctoring.



Here’s a detail of the central part of the image.  On the left, fish bowls are stacked all the way to the ceiling, while aquarium ornaments crowd the shelves below.  Lathrop’s promised its customers the “Largest assortment of Bird Cages,” and  you can see them in the picture, hanging from the ceiling and perched on an improvised shelf on the right side of the long, narrow shop.  On the right, an “illusion cage” sits on a round table.  These had been available since the late eighteenth century.  A double walled fish globe surmounts a bird cage.  A perch extends up into the globe, so that the bird will appear to be singing underwater, while fish swim around it.  This was not a great environment for a goldfish; I can’t imagine that they survived very long in the narrow confines of the double-walled globe.  By the early 1900s, goldfish were cheap enough that they could be given as inexpensive gifts, and they were, as they are now, disposable pets.

To the right of the “illusion cage” hang dog leashes, and the small boxes behind may be the dog medicines sold by the shop.  To the left of the illusion cage is a large parrot stand with two cups for food and water.  Notice too that the store offers supplies for urban chickens and for pigeons.

Where are the animals?  Probably in the back of the store, away from the drafts from the the front door. Or perhaps they were upstairs. This was the time of year when fresh shipments of canaries arrived in pet stores, many shipped all the way from Germany.  Notice that Lathrop’s, which sat in the heart of the downtown on prestigious East Avenue, also earned money by using the space right inside the door to sell magazines, newspapers, postcards and cigars, all of which are visible in the full card.  But the fact that the animals themselves are invisible suggest one of the fundamental truths of the pet supplies business:  buying the animal is just the first step in a long series of purchases of equipment, supplies and services.  These are what Lathrop’s highlighted inside the entrance to the store.


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Filed under advertising trade card, aquarium, bird cages, goldfish, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pets, small animal medicine

National Mutt Day!

I’ve been informed that someone has declared December 2 to be “National Mutt Day.”  Far be it from me to miss out on an occasion like this, especially since I have been the owner of some completely wonderful mixed breed dogs.  Where did the word “mutt” come from, anyway?

In fact, it was an insult — “mutt” is short for “muttonhead.”  The comic strip “Mutt and Jeff,” which was created in 1907 and ran for about 75 years, followed the misadventures of two not-very-smart guys.  The assumption behind the application of the word “mutt”  to mixed-breed dogs was that they were not very intelligent.  When the word “mutt” came into use at the end of the nineteenth century, underlying it was a set of assumptions about immigrants and working-class people of dubious “breeding.” “Mutt” dogs were also of dubious breeding — that is to say, character. By the early twentieth century, the discourse in favor of purebred dogs had a lot in common with the rantings of supporters of eugenics.  (I discuss this in more detail  in Pets in America.)

So should we abandon the word “mutt” when discussing our beloved mixed-breed dogs?  It’s probably too late to banish it.  I presume that “National Mutt Day” is an effort to own, and thus defuse, the implications of, the word.

In any case, lots of Americans in the past loved their mixed-breed dogs, as this photo postcard of Gyp suggests.  And lots of us love them today, too.

"Faithfully yours, Gyp."  Real photo postcard, 1911, sent to Mrs. C. B. Watson, Ashland, Oregon.  Photographer unknown.

“Faithfully yours, Gyp.” Real photo postcard, 1911, sent to Mrs. C. B. Watson, Ashland, Oregon. Photographer unknown.


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