Category Archives: animal-human interaction

Bulldog humor: trade card commentary on watchdogs in city life

Advertising trade cards, the little slips of paper that businesses handed out to promote their products, are rich (and under-used) sources for studying animal-human relationships in the late nineteenth century.  Tens of thousands of Victorian trade cards survive because they were meant to be kept.  Many were pasted into scrapbooks, but “metamorphic” trade cards like this one were little comic books before the comic book was invented.  They probably survived because they got shut into drawers or boxes and forgotten.   The wear on the folds suggests that this particular example was unfolded multiple times, suggesting that it was viewed repeatedly.

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Comic trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco, Weissinger & Bate, Louisville, Kentucky.  Chromolithograph published by Culver, Page, Hoyne & Co., Chicago, between 1870 and 1883.  This is what is called a “metamorphic” trade card because it unfolds to tell a story, usually a comic tale. It is only about three inches in height.

The card  tells the story of an unfortunate thief who takes advantage of the dozing woman minding an outdoor booth selling “Hold Fast” chewing tobacco.  He’s poor, just a barefoot youth, and his works (“I’ll be after taking a plug of HOLD FAST”) suggest that the figure is supposed to be an Irish immigrant.  But he is foiled by a bulldog named “Tige,” short for Tiger.

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First foldout, comic trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco.

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Buster Brown and Tige “rebus” (puzzle) valentine postcard.  Chromolithograph, Raphael Tuck & Co, publishers. Mailed from Williamsport, PA, 11 February 1908.

This is the same name given in 1902 to comic character Buster Brown’s pit bull-type dog, seen in the postcard above. Buster Brown’s bulldog Tige looks a little scary with his round eyes, wide mouth and array of teeth, but he was a a friendly boy’s pet — and he could talk, at least to Buster and the reader.  The Hold  Fast trade card’s “Tige” is a homely brute who means business. “By faith the dog was awake,” cries the thief while the woman yells “Sick him Tige.”

In the fully open card, the policeman, seen in the distance in the second view, has the thief by the ear while Tige has his leg — and the woman has Tige by the tail (an unintended visual pun, I think) and cries “Hold fast.”  “Hold-Fast” was both an order and a traditional name for bulldogs, reflecting their instinct to bite down and hold on to a bull’s nose or another fighting dog to the death.  (Don’t ask me how I know this — I will have to root around in old note cards for hours.  I know a note about bulldog naming is in a folder somewhere.)  This may suggest something about the attributes of Hold Fast chewing tobacco, which was first sold in 1878.

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Second foldout, comic trade card for Hold Fast tobacco.

The back center panel for the unfolded card offers another interpretation of “Hold Fast,” a tug-of-war between a child and the family dog over a doll, while the cat looks on from a chair back.  This dog is a terrier, another popular dog type in Victorian America.  Terriers were regarded as good family pets, but they were also esteemed as rodent-killers.

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Back panel, trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco.

Watch dogs like the Hold Fast seller’s Tige were common denizens of city life, and both families and businesses relied on them as four-legged security systems. Bulldogs, the ancestors of the pit bull and other bully breeds today, were the most popular types for this purpose because of their reputation for being protective and fearless.  They are often depicted as chained to a doghouse in a fenced back yard or alley.  Further, the idea that they would attack and bite trespassers was wholly acceptable, and even the source of humor.  Notice that this bulldog is wearing a spiked collar and has dragged the doghouse behind him.

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“The Dog I Left Behind Me.” Comic trade card, lithograph, printer unknown, probably 1870s. This card was sold widely as a blank, and businesses added their names to the bottom.  The caption refers to a popular folk song, “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”

Humor about bully-breed watchdogs sometimes took strange turns. Some humorous cards survive showing innocently naughty boys dealing with savage-looking watchdogs as big as they are.  The card on the left, below, is one of these.  The dog’s eyes are deeply unsettling!

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Comic trade card, lithographs, around 1880.  Grauer & Almstedt, St. Louis.  In 1883, the company advertised that it sold chromolithographed trade cards in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch classified ads.

Americans liked bulldogs  — they certainly kept a lot of them, in a variety of shapes and sizes — but they were also afraid of them.  This was not without reason in the case of urban watch dogs.  In the case of the Hold Fast card, the bulldog was the secret weapon in a comic story about crime among the poor.  Yet the other images suggest other ways that people found humor in the discomfort that a large bully-type watchdog could create. This is a trade card that I reproduced in another post, on pet photography, but it encapsulates the tension nicely — and the drawing is still funny today.

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“Photographing the Prize Bull Dog.” Trade card for Pan Cake Flour. Lithograph, probably 1870s. Artist and printer unknown.

 

 

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, animal-human interaction, bulldog, Buster Brown, dog training, doghouses, dogs, pet humor, pets, pets in the comics

The Cub Scout Pet Show: A Howling Good Time

Sometimes I get especially lucky in my low-budget search for ephemera relating to the history of pet keeping in the United States.  This little brochure, which was published before 1963 when postal ZIP codes were instituted,  is a treasure.  I date it to the mid- to-late 1950s, when every suburban neighborhood, with its complement of stay-at-home moms, hosted a Cub Scout troop.  My own mother was a so-called “den mother” for a while.  I, being a few years older then my creepy little brother’s Cub Scout buddies, viewed the troop meetings with contempt.

That said, I would have been more enthusiastic if my mother had gotten her hands on this brochure and decided to hold a pet show!

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Let’s Have a Howling Good Time at the Cu Scout Pet Show.  Brochure, published by the Boy Scouts of America, New York City, between 1950 and 1963.

This brochure is a fold-out, so there is some repetition in my scans.  You can read the text on your own, but I want to call your attention to the cartoons of pet animals across the bottom of the panels.  Chickens,a frog, a duck, a snake, a pig and even a pet skunk (I’ve written about their popularity in an earlier post) join the expected cats and dogs, turtle and bunnies.

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Below, on the back cover and inside back  is a list of the suggested classes, which includes “Pet that most closely resembles its master” and “Noisiest pet (booby prize).  The Boy Scouts also offered a list of pet show props, including ribbons and posters.  The text advises, “Every boy should take something home from the show,” offering consolation prize buttons as well as ribbons for the winners.  Throughout the text, the Boy Scouts of America make clear that promoting scouting is an important subtext for the event.

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I think that this brochure is just the tip of the pet show “iceberg.”  Did the Brownies or Girl Scouts promote pet shows, too?  I’ll look for more material and write about it in future posts.  And let me know if you participated in a pet show as a child.

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Filed under advice literature on pets, animal-human interaction, pet humor, pet shows, pet supplies and equipment, pets

The Secret Life of Pets — in Victorian America

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“Friends.”  Stereoview, Carlton Harlow Graves.  Universal Photo Art Company, Philadelphia and Naperville, I, between 1895 and 1910

I recently saw (and enjoyed) the summer hit movie “The Secret Life of Pets,” and it got me thinking about how people gave “voices” to companion animals in the nineteenth century.  I’m not thinking about fairy tales or fables here, or even full-blown anthropomorphism, where a dog or cat becomes a little person in a fur suit, living the life of a human being.  I was interested in finding images or texts where animals “talked” or wrote about their lives from their points of view.

There are a number of famous autobiographies from the 1800s told in the voice of an animal. In the late nineteenth century, the most famous of these was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877), a story told in the first-person voice of a horse.  Black Beauty’s misadventures, and the cruelty with which people treated him (although the story does have a happy ending), made this book a crucial text for the animal welfare movement on both sides of the Atlantic. There were other important animal autobiographies, especially Beautiful Joe: the Autobiography of a Dog (1893), which helped to stigmatize dog fighting. I still can’t read either of these books without weeping.

But I was looking for something different: “diaries” that talked about the everyday life of dogs and cats, often with humor.  Here’s one for your perusal.

“Folly Frivolous. A Dog’s Diary,” is a story in Louise Stockton’s 1881 collection  The Christmas Thorn, and Other Stories which is available through Google Books. Folly gets into various forms of trouble and is often “whipped” and confined to the coal-shed.  He reports, “I have a little place out here where I keep all the bones I get, and one or two other little things that nobody knows about.” The ultimate insult is when he is forced to learn the trick of sitting up: “I have to beg for my ball…and beg for this, and beg for that, until life has got to be pretty much a burden.”  Folly has a strong sense of his own interests, and he knows how to manipulate the lady of the house by dropping one ear and looking “solemn.”  He seems a lot like the dogs and cats of “The Secret Life of Pets.”

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The first page of “From the Diary of a Cat,” with the unnamed protagonist dreaming of a feast of white mice.

Here’s another example, a more complex little work of fiction titled “From the Diary of a Cat.”  The full text is available through this link to a pdf:  HarpersMagazine-1904-08-0011290 copy

Published in the August 1904 issue of Harper’s Magazine, this story by Edwina Stanton Babcock is told in the voice of an alley cat who has figured out how to survive in the city.  Some of his adventures are funny, including his successful foray into a butcher shop looking for meat.  The cat experiences hunger and discomfort along with adventure, but he never feels sorry for himself even though he dimly recalls that he “must have been owned.”  He speculates whether he actually has nine lives.  At the close of the diary, he finds that he is unable to stay in the lap of a little girl who would keep him because he feels “the spell of the streets — a spell that draws me away from mere ease and plenty to the thrill and mystery of a roving life.”

Babcock (1875-1965) was a poet and fiction writer who was popular during her life but seems to be neglected today.  The historical context for this “diary” is worth noting, too.   At this time, abandoned and feral cats were receiving more attention from animal welfare groups — and also from city animal control officers, who killed hundreds of thousands of cats between 1890 and 1910.

I’ll work on finding other “secret lives” to share. But these two cases suggest that animal-loving Americans in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries wondered about the inner lives of their companions — and came up with funny “takes” on animals’ views of the world  —  just as we do today.

 

 

 

 

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Look at All My Toys!

I just purchased this snapshot of an unidentified Pomeranian and his stunning array of toys.  Fortunately, the image has a date. The film was developed and printed in December 1967. From the looks of this little fellow, he was well-loved, and the snapshot was clearly  meant to be funny.

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Unidentified Pomeranian with his squeaky and chew toys. Snapshot, photographer unknown, developed December 1967.

The 1950s and 1960s were decades when the array of products sold by the neighborhood pet store, along with the pet departments of local five-and-tens and the pet food aisles of large supermarkets, included a much-expanded array of toys, including squeaky toys of painted rubber or plastic  and chew toys made of nylon, hard rubber or rawhide.

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Detail of snapshot, showing the array of toys purchased for this dog.

Take a look at this incredible assemblage.  The squeaky toys are shaped like an opened pack of Winston cigarettes, hamburgers and hot dogs, a woman’s foot with painted toenails, a chicken head, a raw steak, an ice cream bar with a bite out of it and an array of cartoonish animal figures wearing clothing.  In the full photo, just behind the Pom’s head on the left side of the photo, there is a rubber toy shaped like a baby’s pacifier.  Along with rawhide bones in various stages of unraveling, hard rubber toys for chewing include a ball, a bone and a dumbbell.

After I looked at the snapshot for a while, I realized that I actually owned one of the toys in the picture!  Here it is, a dog in a Santa suit — in its original package, no less.

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“Squeaker” dog toy in original packaging, Stevens Company, United States, ca. 1967.  This toy appears in the right-hand side of the detail, above.

Of course, dogs don’t really care about the shape of their toys.  My childhood dog’s favorite toy was a pair of old socks that had been tied together, good for tugging and shredding and easily replaced in a house with growing children.  But since the 1950s, the people who own dogs have gotten a kick out of dog toys that are shaped like the everyday objects — often ones that dogs aren’t supposed to have — or that are visual puns.  Dog toys are as much fun for us as they are for our dogs.   A small dog carrying around an open pack of Winston cigarettes must have seemed pretty funny in a 1960s household where people smoked.  And the large pacifier was a self-conscious pun on the status of the dog as the household’s fur-covered baby.  I would love to know who thought up the shapes for these dog toys.

Further, there are parallels between the toys that babies have played from the mid-20th century to the present, and the toys that family dogs have enjoyed in the same era.  Rubber squeaky toys were common baby toys in the 1950s and 1960s.  Although I need to do more research on this, I believe that the same companies made both rubber baby toys and squeaky toys for dogs.  Nowadays, flexible rubber squeaky toys for babies have been largely replaced by other objects, including a much wider array of plush toys.  And now dogs often get plush-covered toys, too, in shapes that are funny to pet owners. My dog Stump  drags around a purple platypus that I bought for him because I thought it was cute.

I’ll write more about the origins of pet toys in future posts.

 

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Filed under animal-human interaction, anthropomorphism, Christmas gifts for pets, dog toys, dogs, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, snapshot

Pets…for Assurance of a Fuller Life

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Pets for Assurance of a Fuller Life. New York: The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 1956. Fifth in the series Assurance of a Fuller Life.

In 1956, The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, purveyor of life insurance since 1859, published a series of booklets, the “Assurance of a Fuller Life” series.  Produced by the Medical Department of the Company as a public health initiative, the series focused on vacationing, health and safety in the kitchen, and “making the most of personal health resources at work, rest and play.”  Number Five in the series was this booklet, Pets for Assurance of a Fuller Life (hereafter PAFL).    

This booklet promoted pet keeping as a form of family leisure and another opportunity to cultivate close family relationships: “Owning a pet is like playing a good game.  It’s exciting, stimulating, absorbing, challenging, and above all — it’s fun!”    The text also assumed that its readers were pet-less and encouraged  a family meeting to determine what kind of pet would be “best-suited” to its circumstances:

If you feel a dog or a cat would burden your family too much — ADMIT IT!  You need not face a petless future.  You can get pleasure when your canary sings as you enter the room, when your tropical fish swarm to the side of the tank, when your white mice do wild acrobatics just to amuse you.  None of these pets scratch at the door and imperiously demand to be taken for a walk just when you’re deep in a mystery story or putting a souffle in the oven — and it’s raining outside.

As I discuss in Pets in America, advice about pet keeping from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries promoted the idea that children’s (especially boys’) moral development required the presence of  pets, who stood in for the human dependents every pater familias could expect to support: elderly servants or family members, invalids, and wives and children, of course.  Kindly stewardship to animals taught children the patience, restraint and sense of duty that would make them good family members and good citizens. These early books didn’t discuss having pets as an activity that parents and children could share; ideals of family life at the time viewed relationships between parents (particularly fathers) and children as being loving but hierarchical.

PAFL reflects a couple of important changes in both “domestic culture”  and the practice of pet keeping by the time it was written.  While it promoted kindness (each pet was “a playmate, not a plaything”), the text’s perception of the ability of children to care for pets was grounded in new understandings of child development.  Parents were advised to give each child “plenty of help” in caring for an animal.

IMG pet blog images_0007The booklet also promoted the use of small animal veterinarians.  It’s telling that an entire page was devoted to explaining what a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine actually was.  Prospective pet owners were admonished that “diagnosing disease in animals is not a job for amateurs.”  Veterinarians also provided advice on a relatively new concern, whether to spay or neuter.  In case there was any confusion on the topic, PAFL  advised, “neutering is final, and once it is done you have lost the chance of mating or breeding your pet.”

Pets for the Assurance of a Fuller Life is an artifact of the 1950s, in both its graph design and its contents.  It reflects the increasing popularity of pet keeping as part of suburban family life and an avenue for family fun, and it reflects an era  when more pet owners began to pay for professionalized services such as grooming and  medical care.

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In honor of National Cat Day

Henry's Household Companion

Trade card for Henry’s Household Companion soap. Chromolithograph, mid-1880s.

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A Satire on Pet Keeping

Pet keeping has been a subject for occasional satire for a long time.  In the future, I’ll offer a post on satires of “lady’s pets,” lap dogs in particular.  This small trade card offers a distinctively Victorian satirical take on pet keeping by equating the obnoxious small boy and the array of animals: everyone in the window is a “pet.”

In Pets in America, I discuss how this cultural equation developed, as the status of children and also of selected animals was raised thanks to sentimental culture’s particular domestic logic.  I do love the work of this anonymous illustrator. The small card (no larger than four inches by two inches) is laugh-out-loud funny. Feel free to cut and paste!

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“Our Neighbor’s Pets.” Advertising trade card, chromolithography, copyrighted by W.J. Morgan & Co, Cleveland, Ohio, 1882.

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