Category Archives: pet portraiture

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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Filed under animal-human interaction, cabinet card, dog photography, dogs, pet antiques, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, pugs

A cdv portrait of a poodle from the Pennsylvania coal country

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Unidentified dog, probably a poodle.  Carte-de-visite photograph by Kirby & Brothers Fine Art Gallery, Carbondale, Pennsylvania, probably late 1860s.

Here’s a handsome fellow who decided to pose at the Kirby & Brothers Fine Art Gallery by of Carbondale, Pennsylvania, by lying down.  This little dog is probably a poodle or a poodle mix, which made him unusual and special at the time this image was made.

William E. Kirby and John B. Kirby were probably the Kirby & Brother on the back of this card.  William was listed in as a Carbondale photographer in the 1868-69 edition of Reilly’s Pennsylvania Business Directory.  John appeared as a photographer in Susquahanna Depot, Pennsylvania, in the same book.  At the moment, I can’t say for certain whether they had been working together but had severed the partnership prior to 1868.  I do know, however, the William went on to become a merchant of rugs, fancy goods and furniture in Scranton in the 1870s, while John’s subsequent whereabouts are unknown.

Carbondale, 15 miles northeast of Scranton, played an important role in the early decades of the Pennsylvania coal industry.  It was the site of the first deep vein anthracite coal mine in the United States, and by 1829 it was a terminus for the young Delaware & Hudson Railroad.  Incorporated as a city in 1851, it was a city of immigrants:  Irish, Welsh and German at the time this image was made.  The individual or family who had this photograph made was almost undoubtedly well-to-do, probably a local businessman or, perhaps, a manager for a mining company or the railroad or someone from his family.

Just a reminder:  cartes-des-visite, or “cdvs” appeared on the scene in the mid-1850s and were generally printed in multiples.  They were originally intended as photographic visiting cards to be shared, and they are the first type of photographs collected into albums.  Because they were contact prints (the negative was as large as the printed image), the resolution of these little photographs is often very high.  It’s fun examining them closely, using a magnifying glass of some kind.

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Verso of the carte-de-visite.

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Filed under animal-human interaction, carte des visit, carte des visite, dog photography, dogs, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, poodle

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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“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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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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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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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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