Category Archives: cats

We Will All Be at the Cat Show!

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Trade card for G.B. Bunnell’s cat show, chromolithograph, printed by Sefford (?), Boston & New York, 1881.

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A while back I was able to purchase this trade card, which intrigued me because it was an early advertisement for a cat show.  I had never seen a trade card or broadside for a nineteenth-century cat show, and I decided that I needed to learn who G. B. Bunnell was, and when and why he held one.

“Exhibitions” or “Congresses” of cats, dogs and other small animals were a sideline of the for-profit museums that dotted American cities in the nineteenth century.  The most famous of these, of course, is P.T. Barnham’s American Museum, which burned in 1865.  In 1863, Barnum held, and promoted the dickens out of, the “Great National Dog Show,” which offered cash prizes.  After that, dog shows popped up in many settings, including local agricultural fairs (where dogs were shown alongside fancy poultry) and the Centennial Exposition in 1876.  By the 1880s dog breeding was organized through kennel clubs, the most important being the American Kennel Club (1884).  Dog enthusiasts quickly established breeding registries and standards for judging;  they imported dogs from Europe and even created new breeds of dogs such as the Boston Terrier.

Cat shows were another beast entirely.  By the early 1870s, newspapers reported on cat shows in Great Britain, which probably encouraged the organization of American events.  However, cats did not (and still don’t) come in a large variety of distinctive breeds.  Reportage on cat shows in the late nineteenth century reveals that they were mainly an attraction created by for-profit museums or charitable groups as fundraisers.  As I was tracking Mr. Bunnell, I found this brief article on a cat show in Philadelphia, printed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on 30 November 1877: “Philadelphia is enjoying a cat show.  The exhibition is being held at the Museum [another for-profit attraction], and the display is varied.  The competition is principally as to weight and age, and the largest weighing from fourteen to thirty pounds.  The ages of some run up to twenty years, and there are animals two yards long.”  That’s the entire article. It does suggest that some Americans were already feeding their cats much too much, however.  Shortly thereafter, the Daily Eagle reported bad news about a cat show at the American Museum in the Bowery: “There was nothing about any of them [the cats, that is] that particularly excited attention.”  G. B. Bunnell was the operator of this attraction, and this was his first run at showing cats.

By 1878, the Daily Eagle began to report on cat shows in Brooklyn. A cat show at the Music Hall in January of 1878 received coverage because there was “little of note” in the “world of amusements.” The 271 cats in this display were displayed because of “their large or small size, color and condition of fur, species, deformities, and so forth.”  Some were trained to perform tricks.

In March of 1881, TWO cat shows competed for the attention of Brooklynites, and this is where my trade card comes in.  On the 13th, James Jukes, manager of “Brooklyn’s New Museum” at 424-426 Fulton Street, announced the impending opening of a cat show including “some of the finest specimens of the feline species in this country.”  Jukes invited Brooklynites to enter their own pets in this display.  The next day, Jukes took out a classified advertisement announcing that his “Great Cat Show” would open on March 21.  Ten cents bought not only this display but a “pantomime of Puss in Boots”…”to amuse the children.”

Right below this ad, G. B. Bunnell advertised his “Annex” at 325 Washington Street in Brooklyn, starring “Signor Giovanni’s Performing Canaries and Musical Glasses” for a ten-cent admission.  Bunnell was apparently worried that Jukes’ “Great Cat Show” would outdraw the musical canaries, however, and on March 21, he opened his own cat show at the Annex. In fact, he imported specimens from a cat show he had opened at his Manhattan location on March 7.  That 180-animal show, which was covered by the New York Times in a very funny article on March 8, continued the “anything goes” approach to cat display:  “Tom is a tiger cat, weighing 18 pounds and valued at $150.  He…has the heavy chops and expression of untutored intelligence of a Tammany Alderman.”  The imports to the Brooklyn show were similarly various and included a couple of three-legged cats — and Tom, one hopes.

My trade card is part of the publicity for Bunnell’s recycled cat show.  It was a freebie, the kind of card that a young person would keep to put in a scrapbook along with the other chromo trade cards that puffed brands of coffee, over-the-counter medicines,sewing machines and shoe stores.

The terrific blog The Hatching Cat of NYC also discusses Bunnell’s museum and his 1881 and 1882 cat shows in more detail in this post of 28 February 2016:  Featured Felines of the Cat Congress on Broadway

 

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, alley cat, animal humor, animal-human interaction, cat shows, cats, pet antiques, pet humor, pet shows, pets

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

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