Category Archives: material culture

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

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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Dog Toys: Amusement from Two Points of View

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Lemony with her toy basket, 24 October 2017.  The bedraggled Horton, at her feet, is a favorite.

How many of you have a basket or bin (or just a pile) of these bedraggled objects:  the toy box for your dog(s)?

When I was a child, our first dog, Gussie the basset hound, had a much smaller collection of possessions including an old tennis ball, a well-chewed soup bone that was periodically replaced by my mother, and — her favorite — a smelly toy made from two worn-out sweat socks, one stuffed in the toe of the other and tied off with a knot.  The sock toy was good for both playing fetch indoors (no danger of breaking a lamp) and for games of tug.

Beginning in the early 1970s, our family dogs began to have a larger collection of toys, all purchased from pet stores.  Rubber squeaky toys were especially popular.  Our Lab/Golden Retriever mix, Jenny, had a very soft mouth, and she had one squeaky toy, a rubber peanut that had a  face like a cartoon “bandito” and wore a sombrero. We called the peanut Roy, after the friend who presented this treasure, and Jenny played with it until just before she died.  Roy is still somewhere in a drawer at my mother’s house; my father saved it along with Jenny’s collar.  If I can find it, I’ll put it into this post.

The cover of my book Pets in America: A History (the hardcover edition) features a photograph from the 1880s of a man getting ready to throw a ball for a dog who is absolutely rigid with anticipation.  The ball may be a baseball.  It is certainly not a ball made just for the dog.  I own a number of trade catalogs and photos that suggest the evolution of toys produced intentionally for the amusement of dogs.  Let’s look at some of them.

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Cover, Catalog of Dog Furnishings. Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc., New York City, 1937.

Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc. seems to have begun as a distributor of pottery, but by 1905 the company sold chain and leather dog collars wholesale.  The company existed until 1976, although it moved away from a focus on dog “furnishings.”

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Catalog page of dog toys offered by Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc. in 1937.

There are many interesting things about this catalog, which offers a wide array of products in the heart of the Depression.  The pages of toys are our subject today; I’ll share more of this catalog later.  Notice that the rubber balls are shaped to look like animal heads.  This is the beginning of marketing dog toys that are meant to be equally amusing to owners.  The rubber rat relates back to the traditional role of terriers as vermin-catchers in barns and households.  The “Sani-Bone” and “Happidog Bone” reflect new concerns about the health of dogs.  (As I have noted elsewhere, the 1920s was the decade when small animal veterinary clinics proliferated, and concerns about the impact of germs on treasured pets appear in the popular literature.  And they also imply that consumption of said bone would take place indoors, rather than out in the yard.  No grease spots on the carpets!

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Counter-top dog toy display and Christmas stocking, Walter B. Stevens & Co, 1937.

The counter-top display box, depicted above, suggests that pet store owners present toys as impulse purchases.   And the Christmas stocking is the earliest holiday packaging  I’ve found so far.

Now let’s look at some dog toys from 1947, ten years and a world war later.  Below is a catalog page from Lehman Bros. of Cleveland, Ohio, a company that I have not been able to find out much about.  The  letter to store owners in the June 1946 wholesale catalog and price list for “Sterling Quality Dog Furnshings” states that the firm had been in the pet supply business since the mid-1920s.

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Page of dog toys from Lehman Bros., Sterling Quality Pet Supplies, Dog Furnishings. Catalog No. 41. 1830-1838 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.  June 1946.

This page depicts rubber “squeaky” toys (which would not have been available when rubber was a strategic material) and tug toys. The rubber toys look like, and may be, identical to squeak toys for babies marketed at the time.

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Rubber dog toys, maker unknown.  Probably 1960s.

The rubber dog toys in the photo above , which I discussed in a post in January 2016,  are a more complete expression of the trend toward toys taking shapes that dog owners would find amusing.  Here the toys represent things that dog are NOT supposed to chew.  In the pages of toys from Du Say’s, a mail-order pet business that has been the subject of a previous post, whimsy continues to shape the latex rubber toys.  By now they include a Smurf called “Flower Boy,” Hillbilly Bears and even Magilla Gorilla.

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Dog toys, Everything for Pampered Pets.  Du Say’s, New Orleans, around 1975.

The “All Time Favorite” Collection, at the bottom of page 12 above, recalls the simple toys of the 1930s and 1940s:  tug toys, burlap squeaky toys and rubber ball and bones.  Compare them to the Stevens catalog pages.

It’s clear that dog owners shared their postwar prosperity with their dogs by buying them lots of new toys. Take a look at the post titled “Look At All My Toys” from 26 January 2016.  It analyses two snapshots of a black Pomeranian dog with all his prized possessions, dated December 1963.  Here’s a detail of one.  The rubber hamburger and steak, disembodied feet, and rubber pack of Winston’s cigarettes, along with the sheer number of toys, suggests how funny the photographer (presumably one of the owners) found the whole accumulation of squeaky things.

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Detail of snapshot of Pomeranian dog and his toys, December 1963.  Photographer unknown.

Dogs like to chew, tug, chase and carry the objects we give them to play with.  My dog Gussie was happy with an old pair of sweat socks.  While Lemony enjoys chewing on and tossing around toys from her basket, she doesn’t care that one depicts Dr. Seuss’ elephant Horton and another is a long purple snake with bug-eyes.  Dog toys make us happy.

 

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Filed under animal humor, animal-human interaction, attitudes toward dogs, dog toys, dogs, Du Say's of New Orleans, material culture, pet antiques, pet humor, pet industry, pet stores, pets, play with pets, snapshot

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.

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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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A Canine Supermodel of the 1970s: Meet Pooch of Du Say’s for Pets

I recently purchased a very interesting mail-order catalog of dog (and a few cat) supplies from about 1975.  Titled Everything for the Pampered Pet, the catalog was published by Du Say’s, a New Orleans pet business.  Here’s the cover:

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Du Say’s for Pets (originally Du Say’s Pet & Seed Company) was founded in the 1930s by Charles Albert Dusse;  the store name is the phonetic pronunciation of his surname. Charles was an enterprising fellow who sold both animals and their supplies and equipment.  Details about his operation are hard to come by, but my research located one article in the 29 July 1947 edition of the Texas Panhandle daily the  Amarillo Globe Times titled “New Orleans Pet Shop Would Buy Panhandle Pests.”  This was on the front page!  It reported that the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce had received a letter of inquiry from C. A. Dusse of the “Du-Say Pet Supply Company” expressing his desire to purchase prairie dogs “trapped when babies and hand raised, as we understand it is rather difficult to tame old, adult ones.”  Subsequent activity on this matter by either  the Chamber or Dusse is unknown, but it does offer a glimpse into the enterprising spirit of the pet shop owner.

By the 1960s, the business had two retail locations, one in downtown New Orleans — the building apparently still stands, now occupied  by a restaurant called “Ye Olde College Inn”  — and the other at the Lakeside Shopping Center in nearby Metaire.  Around that time, one of Charles’ three sons, Richard, took over the business.

Richard’s was the hand behind the Pampered Pets catalog.  I share a few pages in this post; others will appear later.  The array of novelties was directed primarily to the owners of small dogs, as in the case of the elegant dog bed on the cover with its happy Pomeranian demonstrator.  But as you look through these pages, I want you to focus on one particular thing: the unsung canine model who was pressed into service.   Meet Pooch, Richard Dusse’s own dog.

Sometime after the catalog was published, Richard Dusse’s remarkable catalog was highlighted in a wire-service newspaper article that was picked up in newspaper around the country.  Sometimes the article included the photo below; sometimes the photo appeared as filler alone. Here it is.  Richard Dusse’s expression doesn’t look much like that of a warm-hearted dog lover.  He holds out his dog “Pooch,” a chihuahua-terrier mix who sports a hat, shades and a collar that looks like a shirt collar with a bow tie.

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Now look at the picture promoting the “Ivy League” hat below.  Don’t you think that Pooch looks fetching (no pun intended)? Pooch also models a “Jewish Yamulka” (sic), a “Calypso” hat adorned with tiny fake fruit and appears as Santa Paws, a cowboy and a French sailor.  Like any good supermodel, Pooch kept his face deadpan for the photographer.

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Pooch also appears above demonstrating the “Piddlin’ Plug,” a red vinyl “fire hydrant” intended as a house training aid.  Below, he was pressed into service as the model for the “Rain or Shine Coat” and the “Fisherman’s Raincoat,” below. He was loaded into the “Pet Tote Basket” to demonstrate its size.  At least Pooch didn’t have to wear the Doggie Life Jacket.

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In the two-page spread below Pooch models a “Happy Hound” bed, the “Curl-Up Bed” and the four-poster bed on the catalog cover. He is stuffed into the “Doggy Bathrobe,” a “Pet Playsuit” and a pair of “Doggie Pajamas.”  The identity of the Pomeranian in the high chair is unknown — just another catalog model.

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There are more treasures to be had in the pages of the Du Say’s catalog.  It represents the full flowering of the modern pet industry.  I’ll be sharing pages on dog fashions and collars in the future, along with a feature on the evolution of dog toys.  But for now, let’s think fondly of little Pooch, the unsung canine supermodel of  Everything for Pampered Pets.

 

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Filed under Christmas gifts for pets, dog clothing, dogs, Du Say's of New Orleans, fire hydrant, mail order catalogs, material culture, newspaper articles on pets, pet furniture, pet humor, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pets

Fleas and Other Itches, Part III: The Comb-A-Flea Atomizer, 1950

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Counter-top display, Comb-A-Flea atomizer, Comb-A-Flea Company, Seattle, Washington, between 1950 and 1952.

Flea season is back upon us, and pet owners everywhere are emptying their wallets for those expensive, but very effective, topical monthly treatments.  There is also a thriving online community of pet owners who share less expensive and chemical free approaches to managing fleas, from feeding dogs brewers yeast and garlic to spraying pets and their beds with solutions made from the herb pennyroyal.

I’ve written a couple of posts on “Fleas and Other Itches” (10 May 2014 and 5 October 2016).  These will give you background on the traditional use of flea combs, which I still use to check whether my pets are showing evidence of infestation despite my best efforts, and on the origins of commercial flea powders.

This entry focuses on the “Comb-A-Flea Atomizer,” a patented novelty that attempted combine the traditional flea comb with an atomizer that delivered powder close to the skin of the cat or dog.  My collection includes this unused counter-top display of ten Comb-A-Flea Atomizers. The comb head of each is carefully sealed in cellophane and contains a small instructional pamphlet.  The head of the comb is plastic; the bulb appears to be rubber and the material has become too stiff to squeeze.

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Detail, Comb-A-Flea atomizers in their display package.

The Comb-a-Flea Atomizer was patented in 1952 by John L. Sullivan, who assigned it to the Comb-A-Flea Company of Seattle, Washington.   Here is the drawing for his patent. The cutaway diagram shows how the powder was pushed up the neck of the comb when the pet owner squeezed the bulb.  Comb A Flea 2017-06-24 at 9.56.49 PM

It took almost three years between this application and the issuing of the patent, and around the same time, several other people also applied for patents for combs that dispensed flea powder.  Here is another patent drawing for an “Insecticide Comb-Applicator,” which was actually received two years before the Comb-A-Flea applicator.

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I have no idea why this kind of insecticide applicator became a topic of interest by more than one inventor, and so far I can find no evidence of contact among the inventors, or lawsuits about patent infringement.  This may just be one of those things — several minds facing the same problem and coming up with similar solutions.  One thing that almost certainly made the Comb-a-Flea possible is the proliferation of plastics after World War II.  Molding a hollow comb with a little hole at the base of each tooth was easy with plastics.

Each Comb-A-Flea came with an instruction pamphlet, and I was able to work one of them out without damaging the cellophane cover.

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Instructional brochure for Comb-A-Flea applicator. Front side, unfolded.

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Instructional brochure for Comb-A-Flea applicator, reverse side.

The Comb-A-Flea suggests a couple of interesting things to think about.  First, it is one example of the sudden increase in products for pet keepers in the two decades following World War II.  Examining magazines like All-Pets, which was aimed at pet-shop owners and wholesalers, suggests that small companies, perhaps associated with other post-war novelty businesses, pumped out many novelties intended to improve the experience of owning dogs, cats, parakeets and other creatures.   (I’ll discuss the novelties associated with the 1950s craze for keeping parakeets in another post.)  The Comb-A-Flea was intended to be convenient, a sales pitch used for many kinds of household goods at the time. This was because it combined grooming the animal AND treating it for flea, ticks and lice with one implement.  If you go back and read the instructions, however, you’ll see that the applicator wasn’t really any easier to use than a comb and a shaker of flea powder.  For one thing, the text suggests that it clearly had problems with clogging.

Second, the Comb-A-Flea did NOT make use of DDT, the toxic but ubiquitous insecticide that was introduced into many household products including flea powders. Pulvex, which made a line of over-the-counter remedies for dogs, introduced DDT into its flea powder as early as 1946.  The Comb-A-Flea powder contained Pyrethrins, Rotenone and Piperonyl, all of which had been around for a while and which are still in use in garden sprays and, in the case of a variant of Piperonyl, lice shampoos. Notice that the Comb-A-Flea brochure makes a point of assuring pet owners that the insecticidal powder is safe, and that it has been approved by veterinarians and dog breeders.

The Seattle-based Comb-A-Flea Company didn’t last long, and I haven’t yet been able to learn anything about it.  In 1951, the “Atomizing Comb-A-Flea” did appear in advertisements in a few East Coast newspapers;  here is a 1951 ad from Gimbel’s in Philadelphia. But the company seems to have been gone by 1953.

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Advertisement for Comb-A-Flea Atomizer, Philadelphia Inquirer 19 August 1951. The pet department of the Comb-A-Flea

The next innovation in flea control for pets, was the invention of the flea collar, a thick plastic strip impregnated with a flea-killing chemical.  I’ll discuss this, along with the use of DDT in flea powders, in a future post.  In the meantime, we might think about the balancing act in which we pet owners engage as we struggle between the desire for relief  (for both our animals and ourselves) from biting insects and the potential dangers  of prolonged intimate contact with potentially toxic chemicals.

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Filed under advice literature on pets, animal-human interaction, attitudes toward dogs, cats, dogs, flea powder, fleas, material culture, pet industry, pet supplies and equipment, pets, veterinary medicine

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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