Category Archives: cats

A mysterious pet photograph, 1890

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Albumen print, photographer unknown, American, dated 1890 on reverse.

Here is a photographic mystery for you.   This is a photograph taken by a hobbyist in the era of dry-plate amateurs.  It is mounted on an unmarked cardboard card;  professionals generally included their names and locations on cabinet-card mounts.  It has no identification except for a brief inscription in pencil on the back (below).  I’m not sure of the first word, but I think that it says “Drie and Gyp Scofield 1890.”  “Gyp” is probably short for Gypsy, which was a common name for dogs in particular.

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Drie and Gyp have been posed outdoors with a table covered by a small oriental rug, but what is so mysterious and unusual is the tabletop display easel resting o the shelf below the table’s top.  It displays a framed photo portrait of a young woman.  I can see the round mat circling the portrait and her hair, but the details are faded. Someone with photo editing skills might be able to get more out of this image than I am able to.  Albumen prints from the 1880s and 1890s are notorious for fading like this;  the technical reasons for this need not bother us here, except that we can mourn the lost detail.

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Is this a mourning picture?  Are these the pets of the woman in the picture?  This picture represents a relationship, but we cannot know what exactly it means.

What do you think?

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Filed under cats, dogs, pet portraiture, pets

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

“Some pictures of Etta’s pets…”: a real photo postcard

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Real photo postcard, between 1902 and 1907.  Photograph by “Etta” (no other information available).

At this busy time of year, I’ll share a short post about a card I purchased a while ago.  Here is a real photo postcard that features a pair of images taken by “Etta,” who I presume was a young woman, perhaps a teenager.  I’ve written about these kinds of cards in earlier posts, but let me review some history quickly. Eastman Kodak began selling pre-printed postcard stock with photo-sensitive fronts in 1902;  they offered a camera designed for amateur postcard photography in 1903.  Other companies soon followed; some began to offer accessories such as sets of black paper masking frames that allowed printed photos to have different shapes and borders.  This one is interesting because Etta printed two round images on the front, masking them but overlapping them by accident.   I’ve been unable to identify the recipient, the sender, or the writer — but this card is evidence of a young woman taking up amateur photography.   The photo of the cat is particularly nice.  I like that the horse is her “pet,” too.  This suggests that, at a time when horses still were crucial sources of motive power, some crossed the line from worker to beloved individual — and that girls were riders, too!

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Back, postcard of “Etta’s pets.”  Sent to Ruth Daniels, Middlesex, VT, no postmark.

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Filed under cats, horse photograph, horses, pet photography, pets, real photo postcard, rppc

Lombard’s Musical Cats

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“Lombard’s Musical Cats,” photographer unknown; poem probably by Harlan P. Lombard.  Auburn Post Card Manufacturing Company, Auburn, IN, between 1913 and 1929.  Postally unused.

On this very hot Saturday (a day when all wise pets are taking naps someplace cool), allow me to introduce you to Lombard’s Musical Cats.  I looked for information about this postcard on and off for months, and this pair, a mother and son team according to the poem, and their owner remained as mysterious as when I purr-chased the card. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself….)

I can tell you something about the Auburn Post Card Manufacturing Company, the publishers of this card.  The company began as the Whitten-Dennison Post Card Company in Maine, but L. G. Whitten, one of the founders, moved it to Auburn, Indiana, and renamed it in 1913.  The company made cards for businesses, cities, and tourist destinations.  They were also known for their “comic” postcards on subjects like courtship and holiday cards.  This, however, seems to be unique in their output.  It is clearly a commission from someone who felt that he could make use of the minimum 500-card order required by APCMC.

And now I think I know the identity of the man behind “Lombard’s Musical Cats.”

Harlan P. Lombard (c. 1862 – 1942) was a composer of spectacularly obscure popular songs in the 1910s and 1920s.  He lived in North Eastham, Massachusetts, according to copyright records.  The 1920 U.S. Census listed him as a widower and a “music composer.”  His works survive in a few pieces of sheet music in public collections.  “If You’re a True America, You’re All Right” was self-published in 1917;  a copy can be seen in the digital catalog of the Library of Congress.  The caption above the song title is “‘Harmony Harl’s’ Patriotic March,” suggesting that he was a recognized local character with a presence as a performer known as Harmony Harl.

So let’s raise a glass of iced tea to the memory of Harmony Harl, Baby, and Thomas Boy!

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, cats, pet humor, pet portraiture, pets, real photo postcard, rppc

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

“Fatherless;” or, Dead Cats and Urban Trash

Here’s a sad tale of city cat life, published as a comic trade card. “Father” is deceased and has been unceremoniously dumped into the trash barrel, along with a broken broom and some other odds and ends, waiting for pickup by the urban scrap collector.  I know that the bodies of larger dead animals were “recycled” in a variety of ways, their hides salvaged for leather, their bodies used for fertilizer and their bones used for a variety of purposes, including brush handles.  But I don’t know what happened to dead cats!  I guess that, unless a city cat owner had a bit of land to bury pets, even a beloved pet cat wound up in the trash.  This fellow, however, may be a neighborhood alley cat.  I’m inclined to think that Mama cat is also living by her wits. For one thing, she has all five of her kittens; it was common for nineteenth-century cat owners to euthanize all but one kitten, typically by drowning the rest soon after they were born.  It’s interesting that the strategy for presenting these cats anthromorphizes them — but only up to a point.  Mama and her kittens are walking on their hind legs and weeping, but they are not wearing clothing or supported by other props that make them more “human.”

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Huckleberry Finn is introduced dragging around a dead cat, which he obtained from another boy.  He plans to use it for a charm to get rid of warts.  He is also an object of admiration for his ability to trade in the currency-less world of small boys.  If you have other examples of uses for dead cats, I’d be pleased to learn them.

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“Fatherless.”  Advertising trade card for H. O’Neill & Co. dry  and fancy goods store, New York City, ca. 1880.  Lithograph by E. Wells Sackett & Bro., New York.

This is another one of those images of animals that calls on another area of popular culture for its humor.  In 1870, A. W. Havens published a tearjerker of a song titled “Fatherless”:  “Father is dead, gone from us now.  No one to care for us here.”  The humor here is uncomfortable to my sensibilities, however.  It’s important to remember that what people think is funny changes over time, and that humor often has a cruel edge.  Trade cards were often collected by children for scrapbooks, and I don’t think that we’d approve of a child having an image like this today. Children are shielded from this kind of offhand depiction of dead animals.

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, cats, pet humor, pets

A Cat Fancier of the San Fernando Valley, 1960s

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An unidentified cat fancier with two of her prizewinning cats, undated (1960s). Photograph by Mil Fries, San Fernando, Caliifornia.

This fantastic photograph of a ’60s cat fancier and two of her prizewinning felines may have  appeared in the Valley Times, the newspaper of the San Fernando Valley between 1946 and 1970. It has editing marks on the back suggesting it appeared in the paper.  Milt Fries, whose stamp is on the back of the photo, mostly took photographs of local sports.  I’d love to get identities on both the owner and the cats.  I”m not sure whose birthday is being celebrated here!  There is a handwritten message on the lower right that says “Happy Birthday Sammy.”

The walls and shelves are bedecked with ribbons and trophies from the Cat Fanciers Federation, which was founded in 1919. The CFF and the Cat Fancier’s Association, which was founded in 1906, still run two separate breed registries and cat show circuits. I can read part of the text on the ribbon on the far right.  It was awarded in competition at the “Land of the Verdugos” cat show in Glendale, California.  (The Verdugos are a small chain of mountains completely surrounded by Los Angeles development.)

I believe that the cats are Birmans, a breed that had only been introduced to the U.S. in 1959.  Notable for their blue eyes and gentle temperament, the most famous Birman these days is Karl Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette, who has been featured in ad campaigns, travels with the fashion designer on his private plane and even has her own book.  If these two handsome creatures are Birmans, they would have been quite rare in the 1960s — and worthy of a newspaper “human interest” feature.

 

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Filed under cat shows, cats, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets