Monthly Archives: August 2015

“Three things that every home should have as pets…” The Henry Field Company, 1934

Pets Blog 1 July 15_0008In 1934, the Henry Field Company of Shenandoah, Iowa, published two spring catalogs. One was its seed and plant catalog, representing the largest and oldest part of the business.  However, the company’s “Fish and Bird Department” got its own catalog. The cover photo showed  Barbra Jane and Bonnie June Elson, daughters of two Field employees, enjoying their pet canary and a tank of fish.  “In my opinion,” wrote Mr. Field, “there are three things every home should have as pets, a dog, bird and some fish.”  Cats were left out of this equation;  since Mr. Field was an old farmer, it’s likely that he still regarded cats as workers rather than companions.

Henry Arms Field was born in Page County, Iowa, in 1871 and established a small seed company that he incorporated in 1907.  Known as a marketing innovator, he built a radio station KFNF (“Keep Friendly Never Frown”) on top of his seedhouse in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1924. (Thanks to Mike Dunton of the Victory Seed Company for the information on Henry Arms Field in his  Seedsman Hall of Fame.)

I don’t know how long Field stayed in the mail-order pet business.  Let’s take a look at some pages from his catalog to see what the Fish and Bird Department offered its customers.   The first pages were devoted to Field’s Famous Bird Seeds. Proof of their quality and the good results they broughtPets Blog plus auction cat 5 July 15 could be heard on KFNF, where Field’s “canary songsters” performed on the air two times a day.  “We are rewarded in rich melodious songs here at the bird room from early morning until late at night.”Pets Blog plus auction cat 5 July 15_0007

The Field Company also shipped canaries by express to their rural customers, offering a fine selection of imported birds and their own trained “Crooners.”  You may not know that all birds, wild and tame, have to learn their songs, and canary breeders, especially German and English fanciers, used both “bird organs” and older birds that were exemplary singers to get the songs they wanted.  Probably the most famous singers were Andreasburg Rollers, originally from Germany, and Field offered these, too.  But what I like about the “Crooners” is that the name invokes the mellow singing style of Bing Crosby and others of his ilk.

Like any pet store, the company also sold special supplies, including a recording of singing canaries to help keep your own bird in good voice and several lovely bird bathtubs.  Note also the bird houses and a feeder for attracting wild birds to the back yard.  This hobby really took off in the 1920s, and I’ll write more about it another time.

Pets Blog plus auction cat 5 July 15_0002Finally, the Henry Field Company also offered set-ups — containers, plants, and ornaments —  for old-fashioned balanced aquaria, which I wrote about in previous post.  Goldfish, turtles and salamanders were a separate expense.  Thus the Henry Field Company provided two of the “three things that every home should have as pets.”  Customers had to come up with their own dogs.

The mail order pet business made use of this country’s extensive rail system, which reached very small communities, to ship uncounted numbers of fragile creatures by express to eager pet owners. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1895 also played a role, especially for the distribution of supplies and equipment.  I’ve collected a number of catalogs from these mail order businesses, and their heyday appears to have been the 1920s and 1930s.  Very few of them were also seed businesses, however. In this, Henry Field Company was in tune with the role that florists played as sellers of songbirds and goldfish  in the first half of the nineteenth century.

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Filed under advice literature on pets, aquarium, bird cages, canaries, goldfish, goldfish, mail order catalogs, pet supplies and equipment, pets

Meet Wrinkles Vaughn — Happy National Dogs Day!

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“Wrinkles Vaughn,” real photo postcard, photographer unknown. Rochester, New York, about 1910.

Meet Wrinkles Vaughn, a very fine French Bulldog whose portrait was taken around 1910.  Quickie research suggests that Wrinkles’ owner was 37-year-old Ralph C. Vaughn, who shows up in the U.S. Census of 1910 as a bartender who owned a liquor store and lived in downtown Rochester at 119 East Avenue with his wife, Helen (age 28),  and his widowed aunt Mattie Durfie (age 58).  Vaughn’s fortunes seem to have been mixed.  in 1905, he showed up in the New York Census as a dentist;  by 1920, he was a machinist and his wife was absent from the household.  Since the card doesn’t say anything about the picture, I don’t know who took it, but it is an unusually good postcard portrait.  Whatever Ralph C. Vaughn’s personal tragedies,  he certainly owned a noble — and well cared for — dog!

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Message side of postcard depicting Wrinkles Vaughn. Mailed from Rochester, New York, by Ralph Vaughn 30 June, ca. 1920.

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Filed under bulldog, dogs, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, real photo postcard, snapshot

Dog Muzzles and City Dogs, 1900

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Dog muzzles, ca. 1900.

In 2005, I purchased this Victorian dog muzzle from an online auction.  I knew what it was because I had seen a wood engraving from 1900 of a similar (or perhaps it is the same) muzzle.  It’s a very rare survival of a utilitarian object — an artifact that, I imagine, no one loved or felt sentimental about.  It survived, even in its broken condition, because someone just didn’t throw it away.

The small image is a detail from a catalog from a sporting good company that also sold dog supplies and equipment.  I think that my muzzle is the “Patent Automatic Muzzle,” shown in use in the larger image of a dog’s head.  These muzzles were apparently designed to allow dogs to breathe easily, drink water and pant, while preventing them from opening their mouths wide enough to bite.

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Dog muzzle, steel wire and leather. Maker unknown, American, 1880-1920. The strap that fits around the back of the head is broken,

Muzzling the dog was once part of the routines of conscientious dog care.  That’s because many dogs were allowed to roam, even in cities, and dog bites were a real public health problem.  As late as 1917, Philadelphia city ordinances allowed dogs to roam as long as they wore a “wire basket muzzle” and a collar with the owner’s name inscribed on a metal plate. Enforcement of muzzling seems to have been especially stringent during summer months, when rabies was believed to be most common.  (I’m still trying to figure out when rabies shots for dogs became routine.  If you have information on this, I’d appreciate a comment to this post.)

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Another view of the dog muzzle, mounted on a form used in the exhibition of “Pets in America.”

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“All I Did Was Growl a Little,” after Vincent Colby. Lithograph, ca. 1910.

Another view of the muzzle shows one of its most extraordinary features:  it has loops of wire that are “nostrils.”  This embellishment can’t have made any difference in the muzzle’s effectiveness;  it seems to be purely a matter of style! The side view of the muzzle also has a kind of delicacy;  it seems to follow the head shape of an imaginary dog.

While muzzling was common, people also made fun of the practice, suggesting that people worried entirely too much about dog bites.  Around 1907, the postcard artist Vincent Covey published an image titled “All I Did Was Growl a Little.”  It became popular and was reprinted in a variety of forms, including a version  titled “For the Safety of the Public.”   The image was sold as prints to be framed (as in the illustration here) and even appeared as an outline drawing on a wooden plaque intended for use in the turn-of-the-century home craft of wood-burning.

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Dog muzzles and ties offered for sale by J. C. Decker, Inc., Montgomery, Pennsylvania, 1939.

By 1939, fancy wire dog muzzles were replaced by these sturdy leather examples from J.C. Decker, Inc., a company that made leashes, collars and other dog equipment.  Notice the muzzle on the lower right;  it is a “police dog” muzzle.

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Filed under dogs, pet antiques, pet supplies and equipment, pets, veterinary history