Category Archives: pet antiques

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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Noble Pugs of San Francisco Visit Famous Photographer I.W. Taber’s Studio

One day, probably in the 1880s, the owner or owners of these three noble beasts gathered them up for an outing to downtown San Francisco.  At the corner of Montgomery and Market Streets, the three dogs and their people may have entered an elevator that carried them to the famous photography studios of Isaiah West Taber (1830-1912), a photographer noted for his portraits of famous Californians and his large series of stereo views of his adopted state.

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Three noble pugs, owner unknown.  Cabinet card,  W. Taber & Co; Photographic Parlors, San Francisco, probably 1880s.  The image is an albumen print and has toned to this brown color over time.  On the body of the pug on the left, here is a scrape through the emulsion layer.

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Taber Photographic Parlors, 8 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, 1884 (?). Detail of advertisement, source unknown.  Courtesy California State Library.

The pugs probably passed through, or even waited in, a parlor like the one depicted in the image below — or perhaps even this one. Successful city photographers in this period often created elaborately decorated parlors — versions of parlors in the houses of well-to-do people — to attract clients.  In research I did for a book on Victorian parlors, I discovered that these rooms were not only a marketing tool, they also allowed waiting customers to imagine themselves as refined, cultivated people. I don’t think that the noble pugs cared about anything in the parlor depicted below;  still, they may have enjoyed the warmth of the wall-to-wall carpet on their little pug toes!

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Advertising cabinet photograph for Taber “Photographic Parlors,” ca. 1880.  Courtesy California State Library.

The studio where the noble pugs posed probably contained a number of different theatrical-style props — backdrops of architecture or natural scenery, drape-y curtains, posing chairs and carpets.  But the unknown photographer (I.W. Taber had a staff) who captured this image chose a setting of papier-mache rocks with an evident seam where two pieces were joined together.  Excelsior!  The detail below, which I have edited a bit to improve contrast, demonstrates that the pugs were not concerned about holding still for the camera.

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Verso of the original photograph.  The array of portrait work undertaken by I. W. Taber & Co.  was wide-ranging.

I’ve published quite a few studio portraits of dogs in this blog, and there will be more in future posts, but this is one of my very favorites.  As I go through my own smallish collection of nineteenth-century pet portraiture, I find that pugs are over-represented.  I’m not sure whether this is because they were especially treasured companion dogs, hence more likely to be taken to the studio for a portrait, or whether it is because they were a relatively new introduction to the array of dog breeds found in the United States in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  I’ll write about the fad for pugs in a future post.

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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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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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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 Portrait of Snoozer the Pug

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“Snoozer,” carte de visite, E. T. Bowdle, photographer, Lima, Ohio, probably 1880s.

Meet Snoozer the pug puppy, who took a very appealing likeness at Elisha T. Bowdle’s photography studio, probably in the early 1880s.  He is posed on what looks like a pedestal made of wood  (a studio prop, I suppose), and his name seems to have been added to the negative prior to printing.

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Reverse of Snoozer’s portrait.

Elisha T. Bowdle opened his photography studio in Lima, Ohio, in 1879.  Here’s the notice that appeared in the Lima Times Democrat and one other local paper on 20 November 1879.  Bowdle’s employees were called “operators,” and this photo was taken by one named C. J. Young, who I have not been able to trace.  I am dating this photograph to the 1880s because the larger cabinet-sized cards seem to have been more popular by the 1890s.

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E. T. Bowdle grew rather prosperous by the 1880s.  He probably owned the building, “Bowdle’s Block,” advertised on the back of the photograph, and the Lima newspapers reported periodically on his businesses and his involvement founding the Good Templar Lodge in 1888.  He also helped to found the Lima Y.M.C.A. that same year.

This is the only trace remaining of Snoozer, who was clearly prized by his owner or owners.  The 1880s were the first years of a craze for pugs that was several decades long.  Pugs show up all over the country, which is quite extraordinary when you think that they were really introduced to the entire country at the Centennial Exposition dog show in 1876.  I hope he lived a long and happy life!

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