Category Archives: pet portraiture

A Victim of Cat Hypnosis (1904)

Meet Sport, whose cross-eyed portrait graced the Indianapolis News On June 11, 1904.

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I was doing research on something else entirely (a future post) when my combination of keywords led me to this treasure. I had to share it!  The tongue-in-cheek article reported that Sport, a Scotch terrier owned by an Indianapolis grocer, had suffered a youthful encounter with a cat:  “Long did the cat hold his frightened gaze, the pup powerless to break the spell.  Since then, people who know Sport say, he has been cross-eyed.”

All cat owners have experienced the efforts that our household adversaries and master manipulators make to hypnotize us.  It’s a well-known hazard of cat ownership.  Poor Sport never had a chance….

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Filed under animal humor, anthropomorphism, attitudes toward dogs, dogs, newspaper articles on pets, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets

“Thought I’d send you some cats,” 1907

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Cats on a ladder, real photo postcard.  Postmarked 8 October 1907.

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Verso of real photo postcard above.

While I prepare some longer posts after some time off, here’s a terrific real photo postcard of a mother cat and four kittens posed on a stepladder. Two things are unusual in this image:  the entire family appears to be white, and there are four kittens.  It was often the case that, in the days before surgical spaying became available, all the kittens but one or two were drowned at birth.  Perhaps the little fellows all survived because of their unusual color.

Presumably the photographer is “Glen,” who sent the postcard with the comment “thought I’d send you some cats.”  However, this pose probably required more than one person: a cat arranger and a photographer ready with the camera before the subjects jumped down and ran off.

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Filed under cats, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, real photo postcard, rppc, snapshot

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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Filed under animal-human interaction, attitudes toward dogs, carte des visit, carte des visite, dogs, pet antiques, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets

Buster’s photos of his pets, 1916

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Lots of children kept rabbits as pets in the 1800s and early 1900s. The child’s plate below, which dates from the 1830s, shows a girl caring for her “favourite rabbits.”  (I have been searching for the source of the verse on this plate;  any leads will be much appreciated and fully credited!)

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Children’s plate. Creamware with transfer and enamel designs, 1825-1850.  Maker unknown.

I’m not completely sure why, but rabbits were regarded as perfect pets for children, perhaps because they could be kept outdoors in hutches; were gentle (although my rabbit-owning friends will tell you that they can and do bite); were relatively tolerant of over-enthusiastic handling; and multiplied quickly, offering replacements for casualties.  They could also be eaten, although many Americans seem to have been losing their taste for roasted or stewed rabbit by the time this card was sent in 1916.  While I can’t identify them for certain, Buster’s bunnies are probably “Rex” rabbits, a larger breed kept as both pets and meat animals.

Play with pet rabbits could become quite elaborate.  My book Pets in America offers a detailed account of the “Bunny States of America,” a pretend-play world of pet rabbits, chickens and other animals enjoyed by the children who lived at the house Cherry Hill in Albany, New York about a decade before Buster wrote this postcard to his friend John.

While I can’t say this for certain, I think that Buster was also the amateur photographer here, with access to a simple box camera and, I presume, the ability to print his negatives on postcard blanks.  Since he was studying geometry, he was probably a young teenager in 1916.  I also like the set-up for this photo shoot.  The “Friends” at the top were photographed on a tapestry carpet dragged outdoors for the purpose.  Commercial postcards that featured photography of pet animals sometimes included set-ups like this, where several animals were depicted together.  The handsome rabbit in the image below seems to be sunning him or herself on a worn tablecloth.

 

 

 

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Filed under pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, post cards, rabbits, real photo postcard, rppc, snapshot

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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Pretty “Fido” the Ladies Pet: Pugs and Studio Portraiture

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“Pretty ‘Fido’ the Ladies Pet,” advertising trade card, signed “W” on the stone, probably 1880s.

This cross-eyed pug appears on a “stock” chromolithograph advertising trade card.  This seems to have been a popular card;  numbers of them survive in collections.  Mine is not printed on the back, so the business that gave it away is unknown. The front images on trade cards orten didn’t have much to do with the businesses giving them out. I found one example online that was distributed  by a company that sold trusses!

While this is specifically targeted to pugs, the genealogy of this kind of image lies in the satirical representations of tiny “lady’s dogs” (spaniels, little poodles, and others of uncertain breed) in eighteenth-century comic prints.  The pug became a target for trade-card satire when the breed enjoyed a burst of popularity in the U.S. beginning in the 1870s.  It was admitted to the stud book of the American Kennel Club in 1885, the year after it was founded.

The trade card satire is intended to represent a studio photograph.  The subject is dolled up with a ribbon collar and looks into the “camera.”  The number of studio photographs of pugs surviving from the last quarter of the nineteenth century suggest how much their owners prized them, and why.

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Portrait of an unidentified gentleman pug. Cabinet card, ca. 1890. Edgecomb photography studio, Stoneham, Massachusetts.

Take this pug, for example.  Leaning against the back of a photographer’s “posing chair,” the well-fed subject (male or female, it’s impossible to tell) looks serious, even worried.  I’ve always thought that this photo, which I purchased many years ago, is of a little human trapped in a dog suit!

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Unidentified girl and her pug.  Photograph by Prezeau & Tougas, San Francisco, California, dated 1904. Prezeau & Tougas seem to have been photographic itinerants who worked in New England after 1906.

Not all pugs were portly members of the bourgeoisie, however.  This San Francisco pug, a young male, looks like an energetic fellow;  his mistress has to hold his collar to keep him in the chair for a photo that seems to have been taken in the family’s back garden.

In both these portraits, I’m struck by how different the pugs’ faces look compared to pugs today.  While the trade card satirizes the short muzzle of its subject, the pugs in these photos actually have much longer snouts than the ones I see today.  This is one more tiny piece of evidence about how much dog breeders have been able to reshape the appearance of purebred dogs since the “fancy” for them arrived in Victorian America.

 

 

A very busy semester and a bout of the flu have meant that I’ve been unable to post as often as usual, but with the break of the holidays approaching, I will share some new artifacts in my collection of the material culture of pet keeping.  Stay tuned!

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Filed under cabinet card, dogs, pet photography, 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