Category Archives: pet stores

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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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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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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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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A trip to the Milk-Bone Factory, 1938

Corporate magazines can be useful sources for historians interested in business and American consumer society.  Of course, the obvious interest of public relations departments in presenting firms in the best light possible has to be taken into account.  Even so, they often contain information and pictures that can’t be found anywhere else.

Studying the history of companies that made pet food has lots of obstacles; the absence of business archives from the many small firms operating in the first half of the 20th century is a big one.  I was lucky to find this issue of the National Biscuit Company’s corporate magazine from 1938.  The cover story was about Milk-Bone dog biscuits   Taking readers “behind the scenes,” the article stresses the modern, clean, mechanized facility, providing “good, wholesome nourishment, made with such scrupulous care.”  I especially like the last photo and caption, introducing the group of women who handled requests for free samples of Milk Bone and a booklet on dog care, received through mail-in coupons published in magazine advertisements.  “These girls keep busy….”

Remember that this dog-biscuit factory was in successful operation during the Great Depression.  My research on the history of dog food has suggested that the 1930s were actually a break-through decade for the use of commercial dog food, especially among urban and suburban households.  My post on the Canine Catering Company and its sales giveaway, the Puppy Puddle, discusses another Depression-era dog food business, one focused on a very well-to-do clientele in the greater Philadelphia area.

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Doggie Glamour of the 1950s and 1960s

Dog clothing interests me.  These days, our canine housemates have protective rain coats and boots, down vests, Christmas sweaters, and Halloween costumes.  Some years ago, I saw a “wiener dog parade” in New Orleans that included cheerleader outfits, superhero capes and — best of all — dachshunds dressed as wieners in buns with mustard and ketchup.   The humor that we dog owners seem to get out of canine dress-up seems unbounded by anything except our budgets and the tolerance of our foot-footed buddies.

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Catalog page of dog accessories, Von Lengerke & Antoine, Chicago, IL, ca. 1910.

In an earlier blog post, I discussed a pattern for a crochet dog coat that was publishined in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1873.  It was ornamented with a fringe and small jingle bells.  However, dog clothing of the late 1800s and early 1900s was simpler than that Victorian fantasy.  Here is a page from a catalog by Von Lengerke & Antoine, a Chicago sporting goods company that was in business between 1891 and 1938.  The page dates from around 1910, I believe. Dog owners shopping in the store or via the mails could purchase sweaters, “dog blankets” that looked like miniature horse blankets, and rain slickers.

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Dog coat, maker unknown, American, ca. 1950. Wool, buttons and metal buckle.

By the 1940s, the appearance of dog clothing increasingly paralleled human dress.  This little coat, which dates from the late 1940s or early 1950s, is made from a woolen fabric woven in a version of a “buffalo plaid.” In clothing for people, buffalo plaids are fabrics  woven in large-scale red-and-black checks; the patterns date back as far as the 1850s.  Buffalo plaids were  popular for mens’ and boys’ jackets in the 1940s and 1950s — and here it is made up the family dog.

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Dog coat, faux fur, cotton and metal buttons, between 1965 and 1974.  Made for Gigi Herman (1964-1974) by Lynda Herman Chaney.

The 1950s and 960s were the glamour decades  for doggy dress — just as they were for women’s clothing.  Most of the dog coats and accessories from the era that I have found were scaled for very small dogs — another fad of those decades.  This was the heyday of the miniature poodle in particular.

Lynda Herman Chaney  made this  faux fur coat for Gigi, the miniature poold owned by her mother Juanita Herman of Kansas City, MO.  Mrs. Herman was a fashionable dresser and, since Gigi needed protection from the cold winters, she dressed her in coats with boots and even matching hats.

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Pattern 4219, Dog collars and coats, size small. Dated in pen “1963 April.”

Lynda Chaney could have used this pattern for Gigi’s coats. This copy of Simplicity Pattern 4219 is dated in pen “1963 April,” but the pattern itself dates from the 1950s.   I like the array of dogs illustrated on the envelope:  poodles, a boxer, a Boston terrier, a beagle and a miniature schnauzer.  Most of these breeds were represented in my childhood suburban neighborhood in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Notice that the all-American beagle is wearing a manly plaid coat, rather like the one illustrated above.

There’s more to say about doggie glamour of the 1950s and 1960s.  From rhinestone-encrusted collars to nail polish, the developing pet products industry capitalized on the new prosperity of many Americans in those decades.  I’ll share some of those products with you in a future post.

 

 

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Pets for Christmas 1906: Lathrop’s Pet Stock Shop, Rochester, New York

IMG_5868Grading papers and all the other business of ending a semester temporarily halted my writing, but expect some Christmas items over the next week.

On December 18, 1906, Lathrop’s Pet Stock Shop in Rochester, New York, mailed this postcard to a local customer.  The message on the back offered “the best appreciated Holiday gifts,” including “Canary Birds of all varieties,” other song birds, gold fish, parrots, dogs, cats, and squirrels.  The shop also carried “Medicines for every known pet” and offered free advice to pet owners, who for the most part did their own doctoring.

 

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Here’s a detail of the central part of the image.  On the left, fish bowls are stacked all the way to the ceiling, while aquarium ornaments crowd the shelves below.  Lathrop’s promised its customers the “Largest assortment of Bird Cages,” and  you can see them in the picture, hanging from the ceiling and perched on an improvised shelf on the right side of the long, narrow shop.  On the right, an “illusion cage” sits on a round table.  These had been available since the late eighteenth century.  A double walled fish globe surmounts a bird cage.  A perch extends up into the globe, so that the bird will appear to be singing underwater, while fish swim around it.  This was not a great environment for a goldfish; I can’t imagine that they survived very long in the narrow confines of the double-walled globe.  By the early 1900s, goldfish were cheap enough that they could be given as inexpensive gifts, and they were, as they are now, disposable pets.

To the right of the “illusion cage” hang dog leashes, and the small boxes behind may be the dog medicines sold by the shop.  To the left of the illusion cage is a large parrot stand with two cups for food and water.  Notice too that the store offers supplies for urban chickens and for pigeons.

Where are the animals?  Probably in the back of the store, away from the drafts from the the front door. Or perhaps they were upstairs. This was the time of year when fresh shipments of canaries arrived in pet stores, many shipped all the way from Germany.  Notice that Lathrop’s, which sat in the heart of the downtown on prestigious East Avenue, also earned money by using the space right inside the door to sell magazines, newspapers, postcards and cigars, all of which are visible in the full card.  But the fact that the animals themselves are invisible suggest one of the fundamental truths of the pet supplies business:  buying the animal is just the first step in a long series of purchases of equipment, supplies and services.  These are what Lathrop’s highlighted inside the entrance to the store.

 

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