Monthly Archives: November 2017

A cdv portrait of a poodle from the Pennsylvania coal country

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Unidentified dog, probably a poodle.  Carte-de-visite photograph by Kirby & Brothers Fine Art Gallery, Carbondale, Pennsylvania, probably late 1860s.

Here’s a handsome fellow who decided to pose at the Kirby & Brothers Fine Art Gallery by of Carbondale, Pennsylvania, by lying down.  This little dog is probably a poodle or a poodle mix, which made him unusual and special at the time this image was made.

William E. Kirby and John B. Kirby were probably the Kirby & Brother on the back of this card.  William was listed in as a Carbondale photographer in the 1868-69 edition of Reilly’s Pennsylvania Business Directory.  John appeared as a photographer in Susquahanna Depot, Pennsylvania, in the same book.  At the moment, I can’t say for certain whether they had been working together but had severed the partnership prior to 1868.  I do know, however, the William went on to become a merchant of rugs, fancy goods and furniture in Scranton in the 1870s, while John’s subsequent whereabouts are unknown.

Carbondale, 15 miles northeast of Scranton, played an important role in the early decades of the Pennsylvania coal industry.  It was the site of the first deep vein anthracite coal mine in the United States, and by 1829 it was a terminus for the young Delaware & Hudson Railroad.  Incorporated as a city in 1851, it was a city of immigrants:  Irish, Welsh and German at the time this image was made.  The individual or family who had this photograph made was almost undoubtedly well-to-do, probably a local businessman or, perhaps, a manager for a mining company or the railroad or someone from his family.

Just a reminder:  cartes-des-visite, or “cdvs” appeared on the scene in the mid-1850s and were generally printed in multiples.  They were originally intended as photographic visiting cards to be shared, and they are the first type of photographs collected into albums.  Because they were contact prints (the negative was as large as the printed image), the resolution of these little photographs is often very high.  It’s fun examining them closely, using a magnifying glass of some kind.

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Verso of the carte-de-visite.

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Filed under animal-human interaction, carte des visit, carte des visite, dog photography, dogs, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, poodle

For “Extra Cat and Kitten Pleasure”: the Early Days of Cat Litter and the Changing Status of Cats after World War II

Cat “litter” and litter boxes are facts of life for cat owners.  Hauling heavy boxes and bags; finding a good spot for the litter box; monitoring litter-box behavior; sweeping up litter carried out of the box on busy little paws; scooping out poop and “clumps” of petrified pee; dumping used litter; and figuring out how to get rid of that distinctive litter box smell:  these constitute a considerable part of cat ownership, especially now that many pet cats are indoors-only.  (By the way, the word litter, which has its archaic origins in French for “bed,” was used mainly to describe either trash or livestock bedding until “cat litter” entered the lexicon.)  By 2015, cat litter was a $1.8 billion business in the United States.

Until the 1940s, keeping a cat indoors exclusively took more determination than  I could probably have mustered.  Cat owners had to improvise a latrine, filling a wooden box, probably a discarded shipping box from a store, with sand, cinders or torn-up paper.  As I did research on these early versions of cat-box filler, I was struck  by how little anyone talked about it.  Even a 1903 volume on breeding and showing cats, whose author was obsessed with cleanliness, failed to offer specific instructions for creating and keeping a sand box.

The story of cat-box fillers made from absorbent clays such as fuller’s earth begins with industrial-clay salesman Edward Lowe and Kitty Litter™, which Lowe first marketed under that name in 1947.  Here is an early Kitty Litter™ bag that I found online in a Washington Post article about Edward Lowe ,the inventor and brilliant marketer of bagged clay.

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Early Kitty Litter bag, no date. 1950s? Courtesy the Edward Lowe Foundation.

The appearance on the scene of bagged granulated clay for use in cat latrines soon led to a number of competitors.  The little brochure below advertises Pet Pamper®, a short-lived litter-box filler marketed by the Southern Ezy-Mix Company of Memphis, Tennessee.  The firm was known primarily for its bagged cement mix, sold through regional hardware and feed stores.  The ads I have found for Ezy-Mix concrete mix suggest that it was marketed to do-it-yourselfers tackling home improvement projects. Pet Pamper® was a sideline product that competed for a short time with Kitty Litter™.  It seems to have disappeared by the early 1960s.

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Kitty Care and Training by NoKo.  Brochure promoting Pet Pamper litter-box filler, published by Southern Ezy-Mix Co., Memphis Tennessee, between 1952 and 1955.

Below, the 1958 newspaper advertisement for Pet Pamper® informs cat owners that the product replaces sand and sawdust and does a better job preventing “kitty odor.”

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Advertisement for Pet Pamper, 1958.

A decade after launching Kitty Litter™,  Lowe’s branched out into other products for cat owners, promising a “Better Life for Kitty.”

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“The Better Life for Kitty,” brochure for Lowe’s Cat Products, between 1958 and 1963.

Along with litter box filler, Lowe’s offered toys, a dry shampoo, a laxative that was intended to help hair balls move through Kitty’s digestive system, flea powder and even a disposable cardboard litter tray.

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Inside of brochure for Lowe’s Cat Products.

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Inside of brochure for Lowe’s Cat Products.

What’s interesting about the pitches for Pet Pamper and Lowe’s cat products is that they promised a better life for cats, not just their owners.  And all these products were associated with keeping cats indoors rather than letting them roam freely: “Kitty Litter will keep your cat safe, clean, indoors.” I’ll be writing more about products for cats and the rise of the indoor cat in future posts.  The idea of keeping pet cats at home where they could be supervised closely couldn’t get much traction until dealing with cat waste became less unpleasant.

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Filed under animal-human interaction, cat litter, cat products, cats, Kitty Litter, material culture, pet history, pet industry, pets