Here’s a mystery I have not cracked, and I may never be able to solve it. Below is a pair of oversized advertising trade cards (about 3 x 4 inches each) for the Michigan Stove Company’s famous “Garland” line of cast-iron heating stoves and cooking ranges. The printing of these two little chromolithographs is very fine. They were published, and I presume designed, by the Hughes Litho Co. of Chicago, a firm noted for its fine printing of birds-eye view maps as well as trade cards.
Having said that, I have been foiled in my efforts to find out more about these two images, both of which seem to represent store pets named “Garland.” The “Chicago House” referenced in the cards is the company’s local sample room which was called, in an 1893 issue of Metal: A Practical Journal of the Stove Trade, “the finest of its kind.” Certainly the “Art-Garland” heating stove, seen below, was extraordinary, either fabulous or horrendous depending upon one’s take on popular Victorian design. The card declares it “the most artistic of anything that has ever been attempted in stove decoration.”
The Michigan Stove Company of Detroit was founded in 1872, and access to both iron ore via the Great Lakes and transportation of finished stoves via ship and train meant that, by the 1890s, Detroit was regarded as the “Stove Capitol of the World.” The Michigan Stove Company was one of the most adept at marketing, it seems, and the apex of its achievements was construction of a 25-foot-tall model of a Garland cooking range that was displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (It survived in Detroit until 2011, exhibited outdoors at the Detroit History Museum, when it was struck by lightning and burned.) The all-out effort at the Exposition may have occasioned the fine sample room, and it may have inspired these trade cards.
But back to the dog and cat. Judging from the era’s photography of dogs, smooth coated fox terriers, or their close cousins, seem to have been pretty common by the 1890s. The Maine coon cat, however, was regarded as a rare and noble beast at the time, and specimens always received press attention in early cat shows. The Maine coon cat’s origins were the subject of some speculation, and occasional claims that the cat was a cross between a feline and a raccoon did appear in newspapers. This fine fellow is clearly a house cat, depicted sitting on top of a table against a backdrop of wallpaper and a floral arrangement.
I wonder whether these animals were the pets of Frederic W. Gardner, the brilliant advertising manager for the Michigan Stove Company who lived in Chicago. A 1905 biography of Gardner in The Metal Worker, Plumber, and Steam Fitter magazine noted his responsibility for the national advertising for the firm, and his spectacular success in sales. Under his purview, the company produced an extraordinary array of booklets, trade cards, and even a free magazine full of uplifting advice, poetry and sheet music. They are still common on auction sites and in collections of ephemera.
If you know anything about these cards, or about the circumstances of their creation, I’d love to share your information in another blog post. In the meantime, enjoy these handsome “mystery pets.”