Category Archives: cats

“Crosby’s Hungry Pets”: breakfast with the dog, cat and parrot, around 1907

I don’t know about meals at your house, but even when I dine “alone” I am actually not — I’m being observed intently by my dog.  And this is the case here, in this remarkable real photo postcard labeled “Crosby’s Hungry Pets.”  This is the only text on the postcard, which was taken between 1902 and 1907 but was never sent as a postcard.

The photograph shows a couple at home,  with three animals joining them at the table.  I’ve included details so that you can get a good look at the trio of pets. The picture seems to have been taken in a dining room.  It’s a middle-class household, and the space is decorated with a framed print, lace-trimmed shelf  drapery and a two-panel screen behind the man. There are lots of interesting details, including the stacked champagne glasses behind the man.  I think that the meal might be breakfast. The photographer is unknown, but the woman and the dog  (and maybe the parrot) are looking at someone.  The cat and the man are focused on whatever is in the bowl.  The woman actually has a tidbit in her hand to attract the dog’s gaze.

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Real photo postcard of unidentified couple with cat, dog and parrot, location unknown. Between 1902 and 1907.

Until photography became easy and inexpensive enough for lots of people to try their hands at it, many everyday behaviors with pets were undocumented unless people mentioned them in writing.  Along with evidence of mealtime with pets, this postcard suggests peaceful coexistence among the animals, who look very well cared-for.  Let me note here that there are some odd reflections behind the woman’s head;  I think they are an artifact of the exposure.

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Enjoy looking at “Crosby’s Hungry Pets.”  I wish we knew more about the subjects of this wonderful real photo postcard!

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Filed under cat photography, cats, dog photography, dogs, parrots, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, real photo postcard, rppc

The Michigan Stove Company Pets, Chicago, 1893: “Garland” the fox terrier and “Garland” the Maine coon cat

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.

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Advertising trade card for Garland Stoves and Ranges, Michigan Stove Company.  Chromolithograph, Hughes Litho Co., 1893?

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.

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Advertising trade card for Garland Stoves and Ranges, Michigan Stove Company. Chromolithograph, Hughes Litho Co., 1893?

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.

Garland Stove cat card back

Verso of the card for “Garland” the coon cat.  The back of the card for “Garland” the fox terrier is identical.

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.”

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Filed under advertising trade card, animal-human interaction, cats, dogs, fox terriers, Maine coon cat, pet history, pet portraiture, pets

Measuring Dogs: “Why Guess? Be Accurate!” (1944)

My post of January 26 shared two pairs of dog booties from the 1940s and 1950s.  The earlier pair was sold by the U.S. Specialties Co. of New York City, a rather mysterious firm that wholesaled a wide variety of pet products in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  As I learn more about the company, I’ll share it in future posts.  But here is an object that they actually sold to pet stores and “kennel shops” like the Macy’s Kennel Shop I mentioned in my post of February 13.

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Dog Measuring Chart, 1944.  U. S. Specialties, Co. New York City.  Cardboard and white metal.

The Dog Measuring Chart is a wheel with a cutaway that allows the user to select a specific dog breed (in the outer black ring printed on the card) and find the ideal measurements for collars, harnesses and coats for that breed.  The handy diagram of a rough-coated fox terrier shows the user where to measure the dog.  It also explains the differences in measuring collars made in England, as opposed to American ones.

The other side of the card offers an amazing array of illustrations for products sold by the U. S. Specialties Co. It shows toys, equipment and supplies for both cats and dogs.  The cat supplies include an early litter tray, catnip mice, a scratching post and a packet of “Vo Toys” catnip that I illustrated in my post of January 16.  (I know — amazing!)

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Back of Dog Measuring Chart.

The dog merchandise includes a nice wicker bed and another folding bed that looks like a small bed for people, leashes and collars, and an array of toys.  It also includes a number of pieces of dog clothing.  (I’m working some posts on dog clothing, and I’ll return to this chart in that.)  And in the upper left corner is the “Doggy Xmas” stocking, full of bones and toys.

There’s a lot to “chew over” in this interesting object!  It certainly makes me rethink the nuances of “wartime austerity.”   Meat may have been rationed, but dog clothing apparently was not!

 

 

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Filed under attitudes toward dogs, cat litter, cat products, cats, Christmas gifts for pets, dog advertising, dog clothing, dog toys, dogs, material culture, pet industry, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, U.S. Specialties Co.

Vo Toys Catnip Leaves: “Makes Cats Playful”

This almost empty envelope for Vo Toys Catnip probably dates from the 1940s.  I have written before (16 October 2014) about the invention of the catnip mouse in the 1910s. When a household had an herb garden, catnip or catmint was a valued traditional medicinal herb used to soothe digestive upsets.  But people knew that cats were susceptible to its active ingredient, which we now call nepetalactone.   Loose catnip was sold in drugstores in the past; it is still sold in health food stores in bulk and in teabags as a tummy soother. (It works, too.) Around 1900, some companies that made over-the-counter veterinary remedies began to sell catnip for cats as a “tonic.”  Pet shops began to include catnip and cat toys in their stock, although  the real take-off point for cat products is the 1940s and 1950s, the era of this packet. (See my post of 26 December 2017, on the mail-order catalog from Felix’s General Store and the Katnip Tree Company of Seattle, Washington.)

For folks who no longer had access to fresh catnip, packets like this, sold in pet stores and five-and-ten pet departments, could be used to “recharge” the wooden and rubber balls with stoppers that were sold as cat toys, or rubbed on one of the new scratching posts offered for sale beginning in the 1930s.  A pinch of catnip could also be administered directly to the willing subject, of course.

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Vo Toys Catnip packet, 1940s.

Vo Toys (now Vo-Toys, Inc. ) was founded in 1939 and is still around as a distributor of pet products including, of course, catnip toys for today’s feline consumers.

But the main reason that I’m sharing this now is, I just REALLY like the design on the front of the packet!  Especially the red cat lounging across the word “catnip” while his companions play with catnip leaves.

 

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Filed under cat products, catnip, cats, material culture, pet history, pet industry, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets

More About Cats in the 1950s: Felix’s General Store, Seattle, Washington, 1956

Welcome to Felix’s General Store!

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Felix’s General Store. Front and back covers of catalog, 1956.

Imagine my surprise when I found this catalog, the first one I’d seen that was devoted completely to products for cats.  It was published by The Katnip Tree Company of Seattle, Washington.  The firm seems to have operated a wholesale and mail-order business.  The company offered an array of products designed specifically for cats, and its text includes long passages of advice that read like books on pet care today.  The Katnip Tree Company’s business reflected the evolving status of cats as pets that lived either exclusively or mostly indoors.

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Products offered by Felix’s General Store, 1956.

On the page to the left, above, business owner Dan Yoder explains how The Katnip Tree Company got its start, with the arrival of Felix, a black-and-white kitten, in 1933.  Felix was the “inspiration for the development of the useful and unique things we produce for cats.” (Felix’s photograph appears on the same page.) Yoder recalled, “When Felix first gave me the incentive to make things for cats there was little one could buy for these pets except a stuffed mouse or a few cents’ worth of catnip.”

As I read the catalog, Yoder’s name reminded me of something I’d written about in Pets in America: A History.  The first cat scratching post I’d been able to find was patented in 1935 — and who was the inventor but Dan Yoder, the owner of this company!

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Illustration for U.S. Patent 2,005,817.  Cat Scratching Post, invented  by Daniel D. Yoder.

The original design evolved into a number of options, shown below, covered with heavy  canvas and made more desirable by the inclusion of container holding catnip inside the pole.

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Two-page spread on the company’s own “Katnip Tree,” its signature product.

The catalog is full of other accommodations for the new “indoor cat,” including “Furnishings for Kitty’s Powder Room.”  The litter box kit consisted of an enameled metal tray with a decorative cover along with sheets of waterproof paper that were intended to keep moisture in the layer of sand or granular litter, which was finding its market in the 1950s.  (See my post of 15 November for a discussion of the “invention” and marketing of cat litter.). I especially like the optional “Powder Room Screen,” intended to shield the litter box.  This was probably intended for settings such as city apartments, where litter boxes occupied space in bathrooms or kitchens.

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A page from the “Sanitation and Hygiene” section of the catalog.

Indoor cats required “education,” according to Dan Yoder.  The training kit below was intended to teach the cat to come when the owner called.  (The catalog also offered a water pistol for use in training cats to leave household furnishings and plants along; this is a method that to be recommended for training cats today.) And the catalog also offered a special set of clippers for the claws of indoor cats.  Around the time, the practice of declawing was being introduced in some small-animal clinics, but Yoder did not mention it and would probably not have approved.

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Equipment for training and trimming claws.

Finally, the Katnip Tree Company catalog promoted the idea of traveling with cats using its Felix C-Vue Deluxe Carrier.  Noting that some veterinarians already used this product, the catalog pointed out that the plastic top and ventilation holes made cats more comfortable for car, train and airplane trips.

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Inside back cover of Felix’s General Store catalog.

The price list below shows the entire range of products offered by Dan Yoder’s small business in 1956.  Add in cat food and cat-box filler and you have a pretty complete  picture of the material culture associated with the changing home lives of pet cats in the mid-twentieth century.

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Filed under animal-human interaction, cat litter, cat products, catnip, cats, pet antiques, pet industry, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, small animal medicine, travel with pets

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

My 100th Post! Reader Feedback Welcomed.

This is my 100th post as The Pet Historian!  I’ve got lots of plans for  future posts — next up is one on dog toys — and plenty of new objects and images to share.  I’d love to hear from you about what you especially like and want to see more of.

Family Portrait with Dog

Amateur photograph three children and the family dog, after 1900. Photographer unknown.

My goals in creating The Pet Historian were three-fold:  1) to share my still-growing collection relating to the history of keeping pets in the United States; 2) to use my posts to show how close study of these items can inform our understanding of the complexities — both past and present —  associated with living with animals in and around our living spaces; and 3) to keep practicing my writing during a period  in my professional life when finding long stretches of time has been a challenge.  I’ve tried to share my own delight in the collection, and my sense of humor, in my posts, and I hope that you enjoy them.  I don’t pretend to be a disinterested observer;  my own daily experiences with animals underlie everything I write about.

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Postcard for Sharkey’s Tropical Fish and Pet Supply Company, 1940s?

So what would YOU like to see more of?  Has anything in particular pricked your curiosity?   I am also thinking about putting together a self-published book on my collection.  If I do, what would you especially like to see?

Kasey Grier

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Bird cage with “japanned” stenciled base, maker unknown, United States. Wood, brass and plated tin.

P. S.   And look for a redesigned site in the next couple of months, with new features.

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