It’s a busy time of year, and I’m very behind in my blog posts — but here’s something for the fish lovers out there (including my friend Jacqui, fish enthusiast extraordinaire). The Lion Coffee Company apparently put out a series of trade cards on ‘How to Care for Domestic Pets.” Here’s the first I have been able to acquire, advice on keeping goldfish. I’m guessing that it dates from around 1900. The card itself has seen better day — it was clearly handled a lot and has pencil scribbles on the back. I’d like to thing that a child handled it and enjoyed looking at the pictures.
This history of Lion Coffee comes from the website of the current roasters of Lion Coffee, who purchased the rights to the brand after it had been dormant for years.
Lion Coffee started in 1864 as a small company that offered pre-roasted beans at a time when many housewives purchased the green beans and had to do the roasting at home. By the 1870s, the company sold its beans in one-pound bags with the lion’s head trademark that is still in use. In 1882, Alvin Woolson of the Woolson Spice Company purchased the company. He was an aggressive anda creative marketer who made use of all the avenues available at the time, including the a premium program that offered prizes for wrappers. The company also blanketed the U.S. with advertising trade cards, including paper dolls and other toys, which were probably given out at the point of sale. Type in “Lion Coffee” on eBay, and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of items, including some wonderful paper toys.
The images on this card are interesting because they are of “fancy” goldfish rather than the common carrasius auratus found in most fish globes or aquaria. And the advice is of interest since it includes such home doctoring advice as giving an expiring fish “a tiny drop of brandy down its throat.” I’m wondering what the source is for this text, since it feels like it was copied from an advice book on pets.
At the time this card was published, people who wanted to keep fish only had a few options, including trying to keep small pond minnows in what was called a “balanced aquarium” of still water since small electric pumps did not yet exist. Goldfish are so tolerant of poor water conditions that they were the most popular choice, however, and they were widely available in the shops of florists and the pet stores that that were beginning to thrive in larger towns and cities. There was also a thriving mail-order trade in goldfish, about which more on another occasion.