Category Archives: pet humor

Bulldog humor: trade card commentary on watchdogs in city life

Advertising trade cards, the little slips of paper that businesses handed out to promote their products, are rich (and under-used) sources for studying animal-human relationships in the late nineteenth century.  Tens of thousands of Victorian trade cards survive because they were meant to be kept.  Many were pasted into scrapbooks, but “metamorphic” trade cards like this one were little comic books before the comic book was invented.  They probably survived because they got shut into drawers or boxes and forgotten.   The wear on the folds suggests that this particular example was unfolded multiple times, suggesting that it was viewed repeatedly.

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Comic trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco, Weissinger & Bate, Louisville, Kentucky.  Chromolithograph published by Culver, Page, Hoyne & Co., Chicago, between 1870 and 1883.  This is what is called a “metamorphic” trade card because it unfolds to tell a story, usually a comic tale. It is only about three inches in height.

The card  tells the story of an unfortunate thief who takes advantage of the dozing woman minding an outdoor booth selling “Hold Fast” chewing tobacco.  He’s poor, just a barefoot youth, and his works (“I’ll be after taking a plug of HOLD FAST”) suggest that the figure is supposed to be an Irish immigrant.  But he is foiled by a bulldog named “Tige,” short for Tiger.

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First foldout, comic trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco.

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Buster Brown and Tige “rebus” (puzzle) valentine postcard.  Chromolithograph, Raphael Tuck & Co, publishers. Mailed from Williamsport, PA, 11 February 1908.

This is the same name given in 1902 to comic character Buster Brown’s pit bull-type dog, seen in the postcard above. Buster Brown’s bulldog Tige looks a little scary with his round eyes, wide mouth and array of teeth, but he was a a friendly boy’s pet — and he could talk, at least to Buster and the reader.  The Hold  Fast trade card’s “Tige” is a homely brute who means business. “By faith the dog was awake,” cries the thief while the woman yells “Sick him Tige.”

In the fully open card, the policeman, seen in the distance in the second view, has the thief by the ear while Tige has his leg — and the woman has Tige by the tail (an unintended visual pun, I think) and cries “Hold fast.”  “Hold-Fast” was both an order and a traditional name for bulldogs, reflecting their instinct to bite down and hold on to a bull’s nose or another fighting dog to the death.  (Don’t ask me how I know this — I will have to root around in old note cards for hours.  I know a note about bulldog naming is in a folder somewhere.)  This may suggest something about the attributes of Hold Fast chewing tobacco, which was first sold in 1878.

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Second foldout, comic trade card for Hold Fast tobacco.

The back center panel for the unfolded card offers another interpretation of “Hold Fast,” a tug-of-war between a child and the family dog over a doll, while the cat looks on from a chair back.  This dog is a terrier, another popular dog type in Victorian America.  Terriers were regarded as good family pets, but they were also esteemed as rodent-killers.

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Back panel, trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco.

Watch dogs like the Hold Fast seller’s Tige were common denizens of city life, and both families and businesses relied on them as four-legged security systems. Bulldogs, the ancestors of the pit bull and other bully breeds today, were the most popular types for this purpose because of their reputation for being protective and fearless.  They are often depicted as chained to a doghouse in a fenced back yard or alley.  Further, the idea that they would attack and bite trespassers was wholly acceptable, and even the source of humor.  Notice that this bulldog is wearing a spiked collar and has dragged the doghouse behind him.

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“The Dog I Left Behind Me.” Comic trade card, lithograph, printer unknown, probably 1870s. This card was sold widely as a blank, and businesses added their names to the bottom.  The caption refers to a popular folk song, “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”

Humor about bully-breed watchdogs sometimes took strange turns. Some humorous cards survive showing innocently naughty boys dealing with savage-looking watchdogs as big as they are.  The card on the left, below, is one of these.  The dog’s eyes are deeply unsettling!

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Comic trade card, lithographs, around 1880.  Grauer & Almstedt, St. Louis.  In 1883, the company advertised that it sold chromolithographed trade cards in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch classified ads.

Americans liked bulldogs  — they certainly kept a lot of them, in a variety of shapes and sizes — but they were also afraid of them.  This was not without reason in the case of urban watch dogs.  In the case of the Hold Fast card, the bulldog was the secret weapon in a comic story about crime among the poor.  Yet the other images suggest other ways that people found humor in the discomfort that a large bully-type watchdog could create. This is a trade card that I reproduced in another post, on pet photography, but it encapsulates the tension nicely — and the drawing is still funny today.

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“Photographing the Prize Bull Dog.” Trade card for Pan Cake Flour. Lithograph, probably 1870s. Artist and printer unknown.

 

 

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, animal-human interaction, bulldog, Buster Brown, dog training, doghouses, dogs, pet humor, pets, pets in the comics

The Cub Scout Pet Show: A Howling Good Time

Sometimes I get especially lucky in my low-budget search for ephemera relating to the history of pet keeping in the United States.  This little brochure, which was published before 1963 when postal ZIP codes were instituted,  is a treasure.  I date it to the mid- to-late 1950s, when every suburban neighborhood, with its complement of stay-at-home moms, hosted a Cub Scout troop.  My own mother was a so-called “den mother” for a while.  I, being a few years older then my creepy little brother’s Cub Scout buddies, viewed the troop meetings with contempt.

That said, I would have been more enthusiastic if my mother had gotten her hands on this brochure and decided to hold a pet show!

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Let’s Have a Howling Good Time at the Cu Scout Pet Show.  Brochure, published by the Boy Scouts of America, New York City, between 1950 and 1963.

This brochure is a fold-out, so there is some repetition in my scans.  You can read the text on your own, but I want to call your attention to the cartoons of pet animals across the bottom of the panels.  Chickens,a frog, a duck, a snake, a pig and even a pet skunk (I’ve written about their popularity in an earlier post) join the expected cats and dogs, turtle and bunnies.

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Below, on the back cover and inside back  is a list of the suggested classes, which includes “Pet that most closely resembles its master” and “Noisiest pet (booby prize).  The Boy Scouts also offered a list of pet show props, including ribbons and posters.  The text advises, “Every boy should take something home from the show,” offering consolation prize buttons as well as ribbons for the winners.  Throughout the text, the Boy Scouts of America make clear that promoting scouting is an important subtext for the event.

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I think that this brochure is just the tip of the pet show “iceberg.”  Did the Brownies or Girl Scouts promote pet shows, too?  I’ll look for more material and write about it in future posts.  And let me know if you participated in a pet show as a child.

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Filed under advice literature on pets, animal-human interaction, pet humor, pet shows, pet supplies and equipment, pets

Buster Brown and His Dog Tige Wish You Happy Holidays!

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“A Merry Xmas.”  Giveaway postcard from the American Journal-Examiner, 1906.

Holiday greetings from the most famous cartoon dog of the early 1900s, Tige.  Tige, a bull terrier who could speak to his owner and to other animals (but not to adults), belonged to the cartoon character Buster Brown, the little boy in the Lord Fauntleroy suit with the blonde pageboy haircut.  Buster and Tige are accompanied here by Buster’s friend Mary Jane.

Created in 1902 by pioneering comic strip artist Richard F. Outcault (1863-1923), Buster Brown was the celebrity face of a popular line of children’s shoes. Buster Brown and Tige also hawked many other products; a quick web search suggests just how popular the character was.  (I remember Buster Brown shoes in the late 1950s, although Buster and Tige didn’t register with me.)  In fact, Buster Brown is still a brand name for children’s clothing, although the characters have disappeared from the labels.

Buster also appeared in the early Sunday comic pages, and some of the strips are really beautiful and are still quite funny today.  This particular card, printed on cheap paper, is not one of Buster and Tige’s finer manifestations.  It appeared in the American Journal-Examiner, a New York periodical that published many such postcards, along with joke books and early comics.  I think that this postcard was part of a comic-page giveaway.  This particular example was never mailed, and it is a small miracle that it even survived.

Buster was a sweet-faced jokester and naughty boy, but from what I can tell, it was Tige who really sold the strip. All sorts of bull terriers were popular pets in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Unfortunately, dog fighting was a popular, albeit outlawed, betting sport at the same time that Buster and Tige appeared, and bulldogs like Tige were the dogs of choice for the pit.

It is hard to find collections of Buster Brown strips today, but here is a link to Buster Brown’s Autobiography, published in 1907.  It offers Buster’s story of meeting Tige at his grandmother’s farm and tells how Tige became his dog.  The pictures throughout are wonderful.

Buster, Tige, Mary Jane and I wish you a happy holiday season!

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, anthropomorphism, bulldog, Buster Brown, Christmas, material culture, pet humor, pets, pets in the comics, post cards

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

“Runt.” An Epic Poem about an Epic Piddling Dog from the Miller Dog Food Company

This masterpiece of doggerel (sorry, I couldn’t help myself….) is a promotional brochure for the products of the Miller Dog Food Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.  The company started out as the Battle Creek Dog Food Company, and I am not yet sure when it changed its name, but the typography and design suggest the 1920s to me.  Located in the same community where Kellogg’s cereals were produced and where Dr Kellogg had his famous sanitarium, the early ads I have found for Miller’s Dog Food promoted it as health food for dogs.  I’m having trouble imagining this as a pet shop giveaway, given its barroom tone. But I leave you to peruse it.  In fact, I suggest reciting it out loud!

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Filed under advertising trade card, dog food, dogs, pet food, pet humor, pets, veterinary medicine

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