Category Archives: anthropomorphism

Comic Cats on Victorian Trade Cards

Nineteenth-century advertising trade cards are wonderful on so many levels, but my particular favorites are the comic ones.  Predating the appearance of comics in newspapers by decades (the “Yellow Kid” strip first appeared in 1895), the quality of trade card artists’ drawings can be as good as any of the more famous early comic artists.  Some comic trade cards even tell a story in series.  On July 6, 2014, I published a post on the story of a disastrous feline courtship told through six cards; you can take a look at this in the archives for the this blog.  Some comic trade cards are offensive today — they traffic in all sorts of stereotyping — but others are benign, as in the case of the comic cats I share with you here,

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Advertising trade card for Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil, around 1890. Chromlithograph, publisher unknown. The corners have been trimmed; they may have been glued to a scrapbook page.

The Excelsior Botanical Company, which began to sell Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil (yes, that’s “Eclectric”) in the 1880s, published a series of comic trade cards featuring anthropomorphic animals that was made specifically for the company.  Eclectric Oil, which was sold until at least the 1940s, was recommended for everything from insect bites to earaches. The artist for these is unknown, but the card in my collection, “Grandma’s little Wootsy Tootsy” features a cat scrubbing her “grandchild” in a basin with a sponge. A proper linen towel with a red band hangs nearby. I love her glasses, neck ribbon (she is a proper house cat with a clean white bib and tummy ) and determined expression.  And you get all this detail in 3 1/2 inches of paper….

“All Promenade” features the Cat and the Fiddle, who is now performing for two sets of dancing kittens in an alley.  They all wear big smiles.  I love the pink and blue dresses worn by the girl kittens.  This card was copyrighted by Philadelphia printer George M. Hayes, who was probably the artist, too.  He copyrighted a number of trade card designs in the early 1880s.  They were sold as blanks; the “Presented by” caption was added by E. & H. Dilworth.

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“All Promenade.”  Advertising trade card for E & H. Dilworth Hardware, Beloit, KS.  Published by  George M. Hayes, Philadelphia, 1882.  Hayes was probably also the artist.

The practice of attributing human characteristics to animals, called anthropomorphism, is an ancient practice; think of Aesop’s Fables, for example. It has had many uses, some quite serious — imparting moral lessons to children, stigmatizing marginalized “others” and critiquing the powerful are just three of these.  However, sometimes anthropomorphism was intended simply to delight both children and adults.

These cats delight me, and I hope that they delight you, too!

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Filed under advertising trade card, alley cat, animal humor, anthropomorphism, cats, material culture, pets

Buster Brown and His Dog Tige Wish You Happy Holidays!

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“A Merry Xmas.”  Giveaway postcard from the American Journal-Examiner, 1906.

Holiday greetings from the most famous cartoon dog of the early 1900s, Tige.  Tige, a bull terrier who could speak to his owner and to other animals (but not to adults), belonged to the cartoon character Buster Brown, the little boy in the Lord Fauntleroy suit with the blonde pageboy haircut.  Buster and Tige are accompanied here by Buster’s friend Mary Jane.

Created in 1902 by pioneering comic strip artist Richard F. Outcault (1863-1923), Buster Brown was the celebrity face of a popular line of children’s shoes. Buster Brown and Tige also hawked many other products; a quick web search suggests just how popular the character was.  (I remember Buster Brown shoes in the late 1950s, although Buster and Tige didn’t register with me.)  In fact, Buster Brown is still a brand name for children’s clothing, although the characters have disappeared from the labels.

Buster also appeared in the early Sunday comic pages, and some of the strips are really beautiful and are still quite funny today.  This particular card, printed on cheap paper, is not one of Buster and Tige’s finer manifestations.  It appeared in the American Journal-Examiner, a New York periodical that published many such postcards, along with joke books and early comics.  I think that this postcard was part of a comic-page giveaway.  This particular example was never mailed, and it is a small miracle that it even survived.

Buster was a sweet-faced jokester and naughty boy, but from what I can tell, it was Tige who really sold the strip. All sorts of bull terriers were popular pets in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Unfortunately, dog fighting was a popular, albeit outlawed, betting sport at the same time that Buster and Tige appeared, and bulldogs like Tige were the dogs of choice for the pit.

It is hard to find collections of Buster Brown strips today, but here is a link to Buster Brown’s Autobiography, published in 1907.  It offers Buster’s story of meeting Tige at his grandmother’s farm and tells how Tige became his dog.  The pictures throughout are wonderful.

Buster, Tige, Mary Jane and I wish you a happy holiday season!

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, anthropomorphism, bulldog, Buster Brown, Christmas, material culture, pet humor, pets, pets in the comics, post cards

Tiger Summers. A Dignified Cat Visits the Photographer’s Studio, ca. 1870

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“Tiger Summers,” carte des visite (cdv), no date (ca. 1870).  William A. Judson, New Britain, Connecticut, photographer. Judson was active in New Britain between 1856 and 1880.

Meet Tiger Summers who, at the time of this formal portrait, weighed 18 pounds, 3 ounces. Or so the penciled notation on the front of this carte de visite informs us.  The back, however, has a note that Tiger Summers weighed 19 pounds and 10 ounces.  In either case, this is a cat of substance.

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Tiger is posed in a child’s Windsor chair.  This plays with the scale of the image.  Without the notation of his weight, and therefore his implied size, Tiger could be the size of a human being — or a real tiger, for that matter.

Remember that this image was made at a time when a trip to the photographer’s studio was required.  I like to imagine Tiger’s owners arriving at William Judson’s studio with their prize cat in a large travel basket. If I can find out about Tiger Summers or his owners, I’ll update this brief post.

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Filed under anthropomorphism, carte des visite, cats, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, 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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Filed under alley cat, animal-human interaction, anthropomorphism, diaries, dogs, feral cats, pet humor, pets, pets in literature

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

More on Courting Cats

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Cartoon from “Chip” (pseud. F. P. Bellew), “Chip’s” Dogs: A Collection of Humorous Drawing. R. H. Russell & Son, 1895.

The trade-card saga of courting cats got me thinking about other images I might have that help tell the story of cat life in the days before spaying, neutering and all-indoor cats.  This is a cartoon from a wonderful late-nineteenth century cartoonist named F. P. Bellew, who drew under the pseudonym of “Chip.” The dog, watching backyard courtship underway, says: “Say, you Venus and Psyche, if only I could get up there, I’d know the stuffin’ out of that living picture.”  The dog is referring to their silhouettes in front of the full moon, suggesting that they look like a much-satirized parlor entertainment of the time.  He’s also got his classical allusions mixed up:  the courting couple should be Cupid and Psyche.  But he’s a mutt — his classical education was probably neglected!

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Filed under anthropomorphism, cats, pets

Feline Courtship, Victorian Style

Charles & Co. Grocers

“I Hear His Footfalls Music.” Trade card, A.B. Seeley, American, 1881. Chromolithography. Overprinted with advertising for Charles & Co, Grocers.

Pressed Cigarettes

“Ha! Tis He The Maltese Me Rival.” Advertising Trade Card, A. B. Seeley, American, 1881. Chromolithography. Overprinted with advertising for “Our Little Beauties” Pressed Cigarettes.

Our topic today is love — feline love as these comic trade cards present it.  This is a series copyrighted in 1881 by a printer named A. B. Seeley.  For those of you unfamiliar with advertising trade cards, these small images (about 2 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches in size)  became popular as a novel form of advertising in the 1870s.  Local businesses often bought printed trade cards and had their names and other information added on the back side and front. Three different businesses are represented in this assembled set.  Advertising trade cards were advertisements, but they were also intended to be collected and saved.  Tens of thousands of them survive because people did just that, often pasting them into albums as a pastime.

Charles & Co.- Before Cat Fight

“Well Sir, What Are You Going to Do About It?” Advertising Trade Card, A.B. Seeley, American, 1881. Chromolithography. Overprinted with advertisement for Geo. E. Charles & Co. Grocers.

This set of comic trade cards survives in numbers enough to suggest that it appealed to both business owners and collectors.  It tells the story of a love triangle: the protagonists are a female house cat (wearing a red bow), a male house cat (blue bow) and a dark brown striped tabby who, it is implied, is an alley cat.  The set is full of comic references that would have been clear to many people at the time, and I’ll discuss a few that I have figured out below. First, however, let’s talk about cats in love.

At the time this set was published, almost all pet cats spent at least part of their lives out-of-doors.  The reasons for this blend custom and practicality (this is a world without cat litter, after all).  In the countryside and the city, many cats were not pets at all;  they worked for their livings controlling rodents in barns, livery stables, warehouses, and the garbage-stewn alleys of urban neighborhoods.  Not only that, but all cats, even the most beloved pets, were sexually intact.  Fighting tomcats, females in heat and subsequent litters of kittens were all part of neighborhood life.

Charles & Co.- Cat Fight

“For Pity Sake Gentlemen Be Calm.” Advertising Trade Card, A. B. Seeley, American, 1881. Chromolithography.

Charles & Co.- Not Dead But Weary

“Not Dead But Weary.” Advertising Trade Card, A. B. Seeley, American, 1881. Chromolithography.

Two of the cats are identified as house cats by the ribbons around their necks. The female is ready for courting — that is, mating.  In this story, the tough alley tomcat is outfought by his house-pet rival although he insists that he got the better in the fight.  But while the cards tell a likely story about cat behavior, the cats also have human characteristics — and this is what makes the card humorous. The story is a double story, of cats and of people. too.  This is an example of what scholars call “anthropomorphism,” where human characteristics are attributed to animals. Aesop’s fable rely on anthropomorphism to teach a moral lesson;  here it is used to deepen the humor of the story.

Charles & Co.- The Winner

“Did You See Me Get the Best of Him?” Advertising Trade Card, A. B. Seeley, American, 1881. Chromolithography.

We can “get” the basics of the humor in the story, even from a distance of 130-plus years.  But there are other elements that at least adult viewers at the time would have appreciated.  In the first card, the girl-cat thinks, “I Hear His Footfalls (sic) Music.”  This is a quotation from a popular sentimental poem and song titled “Waiting.”  The words are by Ellen H. Flagg, who enjoyed considerable popularity after the Civil War for a poem about dying soldiers titled “The Blue and the Gray.”  The caption of the second card, when the striped tomcat notes the appearance of “me rival,” suggests that he is an Irish street tough.  He’s an interloper, too;  the girl-cat is clearly waiting for her social equal.  The street tom is thrashed by the upper-class house cat, who still retains his spiffy blue ribbon as he and his lady love leave the scene. I am still working out the source of “Not Dead but Weary,” the caption on the fifth image. My sense at this point is that it is baed on a biblical reference or a hymn.  The concept of weariness was often used to describe a mental state at the end of life.  The final image, where the defeated tom insists that he won the fight, is a cat version of a type of comic image associated with both street fighting and boxing.

I’ll keep working on parsing out the meanings of the captions, and I’ll report on what I find.  In the meantime, I think I can say that what made this set of images so popular is their double meanings, a report on feline love and a genre story about a cross-class rivalry for the hand of a pretty girl that includes a satire on sentimental culture.

 

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July 6, 2014 · 2:02 pm