Monthly Archives: June 2015

A Mysterious Family Photograph, 1895 — with Dog!

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Cabinet card photograph, dated 1895 on verso. Photographer unknown.

Here’s a mystery for you!  As I recall, I found this photograph at a paper show, and the seller knew nothing about it.    It is dated “1895” in pencil on the back. Here’s how I parse it.

Given that the picture is taken in the corner of a room, and the child on the right has been cut off, I thnk that this was taken by an amateur photographer.   I interpret the two crayon portraits on the easels as the grandparents of this attractive brood of youngsters.  “Crayon portraits” are enlarged photographs enhanced with charcoal or crayon.  They were very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s because they offered the impressive size of painted portraits with the accuracy of the photographic image — and at an accessible price point. Photographers actually made most of their money on these by selling the pictures in fancy frames.

Why the dog is included is unknown — I’d like to think he or she is an honorary grandchild!  But it is amusing that the dog is seated higher than most of the children, and that he gets a lot of space in the image, while the kids are sort of squashed together, and the little boy on the right is only half a child.  Note that the dog is looking directly at the photographer and is holding very still while some of the children are squirming.

I can — and have — made up stories about this photograph.  Try your hand at one.  If you make up a good one, I’ll publish it!


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The Regulated Dog: House Training, 1865, 1907 and 1921

We’ve had a few unfortunate accidents around the house lately — the Puppini Brothers don’t like going out in driving rain —  so I’ve been thinking about house training and what we euphemistically call “accidents.”  I began to go through my library of books on dog care and my boxes of paper ephemera and found a couple items to share.

The first is from Francis Butler’s Breeding, Training , Management, Diseases, Etc. of Dogs. I own the third edition, published in New York City in 1865.  (My copy also has an instruction from an owner: “W. H. Townsend, Detroit March 18, 1865.)  How much of this book was actually written by Mr. Butler, and how much is copied from an English book on the subject isn’t known to me, but many of these types of advice books are heavily plagiarized.  That said, behavior toward dogs on both sides of the Atlantic was pretty much the same, so we can take this as advice a U. S. dog owner would have found useful.

Dogs are pretty quiet, during the digestive process, and should not have much exercise, after a heavy meal….Those kept in doors should be allowed to run a little after meals, when they generally require an evacuation.  If a dog be regularly exercised, he will seldom even dirt around his kennel, and a healthy house-pet is rarely troublesome, except after eating.  If a dog be dirty in the house, he should decidedly be broken of it, although he should not be corrected, unless he has had a fair opportunity of avoiding it.  He should be invariably taken to the spot, be sufficiently twigged there, and unceremoniously scolded into the yard.  It is important to catch him in the act, and administer summary chastisement.  The punishment will be far more justly administered, if the animal be let out at regular intervals; this being done, he will not attempt to infringe the law, except in cases of dire necessity.  Young puppies, however, must be, in a measure excused or more gently corrected, as they are incapable of self-restraint.  Nevertheless they may be very early initiated into habits of cleanliness. 

what’s striking about this passage is how fair-minded the writer is. The responsible dog owner must give the dog the opportunity to behave well.  “Twigging” I take to be hitting the dog with a bundle of small sticks.  While this is certainly not acceptable practice today, it is little enough in relation to the kinds of physical punishment that were meted out to both animals and human beings at the time.  I’m struck by the very modern insistence that the dog has to be caught in the act to be punished for undesirable behavior.

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“Now They’ll Blame Me for This!” Photographic postcard. Robert McCrum, published, 1907.

In 1907, the postcard publisher Robert Crum released this comic card that tells us something about dog and owner behavior at the time.  Faced with a puddle left be an improperly stored umbrella, the family dog worries about being punished for something he didn’t do.  The implication is that he’s worried because he has made similar puddles in the past, and that the owners have punished him after the fact.  And the published clearly assumed that purchasers would find this funny because it reminds them of their own dog.

Finally, here’s a passage from a 1921 book written by a veterinarian, Roy H. Spaulding, whose credentials include service as the “resident veterinarian at the New York Women’s League for Animals. Your Dog and Your Cat: How to Care for Them is very much directed to city people who wish to keep pet animals.

Cleanliness about the house is very essential in a pet.  Every puppy must be taught where he is to clean himself, for they have no other way of knowing.  In the apartment where a pan of sawdust or newspaper is provided, it should be so placed that the animal can at all times have access to it, and it should always be kept in the same place….As soon as he arrives he should be immediately taken to the paper, and, if possible, kept there until he uses it.  The paper is then left where it is, so that later in his travels about the house when he comes upon the paper, he is attracted by the odor and induced to use it again….Of course, sooner of later, he is bound to misbehave, and then he must be shown what he has done and severely scolded.  If, however, he persists in this, it will be necessary to punish him, provided this can be associated with the misbehavior.

Dr. Spaulding then discusses training a dog to relieve himself outdoors.  The amount of time associated with paper (or sawdust) training, however, suggests that many of his clients are living in apartments.  The paper or sawdust pan is an early version of the “wee-wee pads” that some pet owners purchase today.

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A Victorian Aquarium


Aquarium, maker unknown. America, 1890-1910. Cast and wrought iron frame, slate bottom, adhesive and paint.

I purchased this aquarium some years ago, entranced by its gilded “hairy paw” feet.  It’s a neoclassical aquarium! I dated it between 1890 and 1910, but it may be a bit newer.  A 1920s catalog of Cugley and Mullin, a Philadelphia pet store that also did a substantial mail-order business in the mid-Atlantic, offers an aquarium of similar design called the “Chief,” with a green frame and gold striping and feet.

This aquarium is small by our standards.  Excluding the feet, it is ten inches in height, nine inches in depth and thirteen and one half inches in length and held less than than five gallons of water.  While somewhat larger vessels were available, most home aquariums were small and and held only a few animals.  The ideal was to have a “balanced” aquarium  — that is, the plants and animals had to create equilibrium, with the plants producing enough oxygen to sustain the small pond fish or goldfish that were the denizens until the late 1920s, and the carbon dioxide produced by the animals supporting the plants.

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Aquarium and flower stand, 1876. Made by the Racine Hardware Company, Racine, Wisconsin.

The concept of the balanced aquarium appeared in the late 1850s. (I discuss the idea in more detail in Pets in America.) Here is an image of a balanced aquarium and plant stand exhibited at the Centennial in 1876.  The artist who made this image took a certain amount of poetic license with the interior of the aquarium;  there are too many fish to survive, even with the abundance of water plants emerging from the top of the round glass fishbowl.

The requirements for “balance” set the limits of the home aquarium until the 1920s, when the small electric-powered pump first appeared on the scene.  Its invention coincided with the appearance in general pet shops of the first tropical fish — guppies, platys and a few other types.  These freshwater animals needed more oxygen than did goldfish, who were, and are, notable for their ability to survive in less-than-ideal conditions.

Aquariums like mine were parlor ornaments, as the trade card for Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills suggests.  Apart from the elaborate aquarium stand ornamented with chains, what’s interesting about this little picture is the equipment being used by the little girl:  the tin scoop with a long handle and small bucket.  These kinds of items — essential equipment for the home aquarist — don’t survive in collections today, as far as I know.

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Advertising trade card for Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills, lithograph, ca. 1880. Published by Cosach (?) & Clark, Buffalo, New York.

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Photographing the Prize Bull Dog

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Photographing the Prize Bull Dog.” Trade card for Pan Cake Flour, ca. 1880. Chromolithograph. Publisher unknown.

Studio photographs of dogs from the second half of the 19th century are abundant.  Thus it was inevitable that someone would satirize the process of getting a good image of an unwilling canine subject.

There are a number of interesting things  about this little trade card from the 1870s. First, photography of dogs is a “specialty” of this studio!  The camera is a typical expanding camera of the 1870s with a large portrait lens and the drape for the photographer.  Terrified, he has jumped out of the large window that provides light for the studio and is watching his subject, a very muscular bulldog with a docked tail and cropped ears who has taken a position on top of the camera and looks very pleased with himself.  I wonder where the owner is?

This fellow may be a fighting dog who has been brought in for a portrait.  If he has won a prize (since competitive dog shows were just beginning to appear in the U.S. in the mid-1870s), it would for prowess in the ring. Although dog fighting was a controversial, stigmatized, and increasingly illegal activity at this time, it was a common betting sport.

However, bulldogs or bull terriers of several sizes and shapes were popular watch dogs because of their reputation for aggression. At a time when police protection was uneven, they were a common means of security for private households. Bulldogs and bull terriers do show up in photo portraits as pets, often as the companions of men.  Here is a carte-de-visite of an unidentified man and his  bull terrier- type dog from the early 1860s.  I don’t think this dog threatened the photographer;  the man looks scarier than the dog!

Unidentified man with bull terrier.  Carte-de-visite, R. H. Lincoln, Photographer, Somerville, NJ.  The two-sent tax stampe on the back dates the image to the Civil War.

Unidentified man with bull terrier. Carte-de-visite, R. H. Lincoln, Photographer, Somerville, NJ.  A two-cent tax stamp on the back dates the image to the Civil War.

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