Pretty “Fido” the Ladies Pet: Pugs and Studio Portraiture

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“Pretty ‘Fido’ the Ladies Pet,” advertising trade card, signed “W” on the stone, probably 1880s.

This cross-eyed pug appears on a “stock” chromolithograph advertising trade card.  This seems to have been a popular card;  numbers of them survive in collections.  Mine is not printed on the back, so the business that gave it away is unknown. The front images on trade cards orten didn’t have much to do with the businesses giving them out. I found one example online that was distributed  by a company that sold trusses!

While this is specifically targeted to pugs, the genealogy of this kind of image lies in the satirical representations of tiny “lady’s dogs” (spaniels, little poodles, and others of uncertain breed) in eighteenth-century comic prints.  The pug became a target for trade-card satire when the breed enjoyed a burst of popularity in the U.S. beginning in the 1870s.  It was admitted to the stud book of the American Kennel Club in 1885, the year after it was founded.

The trade card satire is intended to represent a studio photograph.  The subject is dolled up with a ribbon collar and looks into the “camera.”  The number of studio photographs of pugs surviving from the last quarter of the nineteenth century suggest how much their owners prized them, and why.

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Portrait of an unidentified gentleman pug. Cabinet card, ca. 1890. Edgecomb photography studio, Stoneham, Massachusetts.

Take this pug, for example.  Leaning against the back of a photographer’s “posing chair,” the well-fed subject (male or female, it’s impossible to tell) looks serious, even worried.  I’ve always thought that this photo, which I purchased many years ago, is of a little human trapped in a dog suit!

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Unidentified girl and her pug.  Photograph by Prezeau & Tougas, San Francisco, California, dated 1904. Prezeau & Tougas seem to have been photographic itinerants who worked in New England after 1906.

Not all pugs were portly members of the bourgeoisie, however.  This San Francisco pug, a young male, looks like an energetic fellow;  his mistress has to hold his collar to keep him in the chair for a photo that seems to have been taken in the family’s back garden.

In both these portraits, I’m struck by how different the pugs’ faces look compared to pugs today.  While the trade card satirizes the short muzzle of its subject, the pugs in these photos actually have much longer snouts than the ones I see today.  This is one more tiny piece of evidence about how much dog breeders have been able to reshape the appearance of purebred dogs since the “fancy” for them arrived in Victorian America.

 

 

A very busy semester and a bout of the flu have meant that I’ve been unable to post as often as usual, but with the break of the holidays approaching, I will share some new artifacts in my collection of the material culture of pet keeping.  Stay tuned!

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Filed under cabinet card, dogs, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets

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