Category Archives: pet supplies and equipment

Lion Coffee and “How to Care for Domestic Pets”: The Goldfish

It’s a busy time of year, and I’m very behind in my blog posts — but here’s something for the fish lovers out there (including my friend Jacqui, fish enthusiast extraordinaire).  The Lion Coffee Company apparently put out a series of trade cards on ‘How to Care for Domestic Pets.”  Here’s the first I have been able to acquire, advice on keeping goldfish.  I’m guessing that it dates from around 1900.  The card itself  has seen better day — it was clearly handled a lot and has pencil scribbles on the back. I’d like to thing that a child handled it and enjoyed looking at the pictures.

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Trade card for Lion Coffee, no date (c. 1900).  Chromolithograph, printer unknown.  Probably United States.

This history of Lion Coffee comes from the website of the current roasters of Lion Coffee, who purchased the rights to the brand after it had been dormant for years.

Lion Coffee started in 1864 as a small company that offered pre-roasted beans at a time when many housewives purchased the green beans and had to do the roasting at home.   By the 1870s, the company sold its beans in one-pound bags with the lion’s head trademark that is still in use. In 1882, Alvin Woolson of the Woolson Spice Company purchased the company.  He was an aggressive anda creative marketer who made use of all the avenues available at the time, including the a premium program that offered prizes for wrappers.  The company also blanketed the U.S. with advertising trade cards, including paper dolls and other toys, which were probably given out at the point of sale.  Type in “Lion Coffee” on eBay, and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of items, including some wonderful paper toys.

The images on this card are interesting because they are of “fancy” goldfish rather than the common carrasius auratus found in most fish globes or aquaria.  And the advice is of interest since it includes such home doctoring advice as giving an expiring fish “a tiny drop of brandy down its throat.”  I’m wondering what the source is for this text, since it feels like it was copied from an advice book on pets.  Goldfish Lion Coffee card back

At the time this card was published, people who wanted to keep fish only had a few options, including trying to keep small pond minnows in what was called a “balanced aquarium” of still water since small electric pumps did not yet exist.  Goldfish are so tolerant of poor water conditions that they were the most popular choice, however, and they were widely available in the shops of florists and the pet stores that that were beginning to thrive in larger towns and cities.  There was also a thriving mail-order trade in goldfish, about which more on another occasion.

 

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Measuring Dogs: “Why Guess? Be Accurate!” (1944)

My post of January 26 shared two pairs of dog booties from the 1940s and 1950s.  The earlier pair was sold by the U.S. Specialties Co. of New York City, a rather mysterious firm that wholesaled a wide variety of pet products in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  As I learn more about the company, I’ll share it in future posts.  But here is an object that they actually sold to pet stores and “kennel shops” like the Macy’s Kennel Shop I mentioned in my post of February 13.

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Dog Measuring Chart, 1944.  U. S. Specialties, Co. New York City.  Cardboard and white metal.

The Dog Measuring Chart is a wheel with a cutaway that allows the user to select a specific dog breed (in the outer black ring printed on the card) and find the ideal measurements for collars, harnesses and coats for that breed.  The handy diagram of a rough-coated fox terrier shows the user where to measure the dog.  It also explains the differences in measuring collars made in England, as opposed to American ones.

The other side of the card offers an amazing array of illustrations for products sold by the U. S. Specialties Co. It shows toys, equipment and supplies for both cats and dogs.  The cat supplies include an early litter tray, catnip mice, a scratching post and a packet of “Vo Toys” catnip that I illustrated in my post of January 16.  (I know — amazing!)

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Back of Dog Measuring Chart.

The dog merchandise includes a nice wicker bed and another folding bed that looks like a small bed for people, leashes and collars, and an array of toys.  It also includes a number of pieces of dog clothing.  (I’m working some posts on dog clothing, and I’ll return to this chart in that.)  And in the upper left corner is the “Doggy Xmas” stocking, full of bones and toys.

There’s a lot to “chew over” in this interesting object!  It certainly makes me rethink the nuances of “wartime austerity.”   Meat may have been rationed, but dog clothing apparently was not!

 

 

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Filed under attitudes toward dogs, cat litter, cat products, cats, Christmas gifts for pets, dog advertising, dog clothing, dog toys, dogs, material culture, pet industry, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, U.S. Specialties Co.

Macy’s Kennel Shop at the Westminster Dog Show, 1956

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is upon us, so I thought I’d share a photograph of some of the merchandise offered for sale at the 1956 edition of the show.  By the 1920s, many department stores had pet departments of one type or another;  Macy’s had a “Kennel Shop” featuring attractive collars and leashes, beds, bowls, toys, grooming supplies and equipment, and treats, too.  This is the booth Macy’s created for Westminster.  I wish I could find other photos from the vendor area!

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Macy’s Kennel Shop booth at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, February 13 and 14, 1956. Photographer by Wm. Brown, “Photographer of Dogs,” Forest Hills, New York.

Take a look at the detail below and you’ll see the advertisement for Dog Yummies from Hartz Mountain.  The sign says, “REWARD YOUR PET WITH DOG YUMMIES THE VITAMIN RICH SUGAR FREE TREAT.”  Okay, stop and think about this.  We think that worrying about dogs eating too much sugar is something that goes along with our own current obsessions with diet and health.  Here is an avowedly sugar-free dog treat from more than sixty years ago.

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Detail of photograph.

In the display of collars in the front left case, I can see fancy collars.  In the 1950s and 1960s, these kinds of collars — examples from my collection appear in the photo below —  made dressing up poodles and other small dogs fun for owners.

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Fancy dog collars, 1950s and 1960s. From the top: R. L. McEleney, Inc., South Hollar, MI; Poodle Town Manufacturing Co.; Richter Co; and George Miller (ACC) Ltd., London, England. Leather, artificial leather, glass gems; white metal, brass and plated brass. 

I have mixed feelings about the Westminster Kennel Club show and its role in promoting the global business of “purebred” puppies. But it’s interesting to see what the world of products for pets looked like in the 1950s, before the industry for pet supplies and equipment — and for the dogs themselves — really took off.

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Filed under animal-human interaction, attitudes toward dogs, dog advertising, dog food, dogs, material culture, pet industry, pet shows, pet supplies and equipment, pets

Winter’s here! Vintage Dog Booties from New York City and Hollywood

I have a small collection of vintage dog clothing, and I recently returned to it to see if I could learn more about the makers and the circumstances that inspired them to offer these novelties for American dog owners.  I’m especially fond of several pairs of dog booties, so let’s take a closer look at these.

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Pedigree Dog Bootees.  U.S. Specialties Co., New York, New York.  Probably 1940s.

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the material of these little boots.  They aren’t made of a woven material, so I finally came to the conclusion that they are  cut from some kind of early plastic sheet, or a sheet impregnated with a plastic, that has become hard and brittle over time.  The bottoms are made of a different plastic that is shiny, black and imprinted with an “alligator scale” design.  It too has become stiff and brittle.  Even in their original condition, they probably didn’t conform completely to the dog’s foot, and they had to be laced on, which must have been inconvenient.  This pair didn’t see much, if any, use.  There is no documentation that they were made elsewhere, so I’m assuming that they were made in this country for U.S. Specialties Co., which distributed a wide array of pet supplies in the 1940s and 1950s.

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Original box for the Pedigree Dog Bootees.

So I looked around to see if I could find some kind of pattern or patent for these odd little boots, and I found a very similar design.  David Richman of New York, New York, received the patent in 1936 for a “dog boot or galosh” that was supposed to be made of an unspecified “flexible waterproof sheet material.”  Richman wrote, “It is thus possible to protect the animals from adverse weather conditions and to keep their feet clean so that they do not soil articles of furniture in the home when entering from the street.” Richman’s design has a single snap fastener at the top.

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Although David Richman’s dog booties look stiff and uncomfortable in the drawing, I have seen pictures of old leather booties used to protect the feet of sled dogs (sorry that I do not have a good one for this), and there are quite a few similarities in the design — except that the sled dog boots, because they are leather, with rawhide laces, seem to have been soft, conforming to the paw.  Richman’s justification for his patent design is interesting because it is very much directed to house dogs.  And the box for these booties suggests that the dogs who wore them were riding in cars and living indoors.  Further, in the 1940s, city dogs’ feet were exposed to a new material for making sidewalks and roads less slippery —  rock salt.  According to the National Geographic, Detroit was the first city to supply rock salt to its roads, in 1940.

The pair of dog boots below represent a couple of breakthroughs in the protection of little dog feet.  Many pairs of these, made by Hollywood Dog Togs, survive “out there” on sites like eBay.  This suggests that they were popular, but that some owners found them too troublesome to use.

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Hollywood Dog Togs, Inc., was incorporated in California in 1958 and existed until 1983.  It had been in operation by 1944, founded by Anne Ardmore and her husband Albert.  Mrs. Ardmore designed and sewed dog clothing. There is another interesting story here about the new enthusiasm for “fashionable” clothing for small pet dogs, and I will share it a separate post about the company Hollywood Dog Togs.

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Four little soft booties with their black elastic straps.

The boots are still soft and pliable, although the elastic straps have lost much of their stretch.  They were sized — mine are extra-small — and the box side below includes a nice picture of a happy pooch strapped into his boots.

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I was even able to locate some information about the material of these boots.  On 5 January 1958, the Miami Daily News-Record of Miami, Oklahoma, published a column called “Tire Talk from B.F. Goodrich” that discussed them specifically.

This unusual new product protects dog’s paws….The smart-looking boots slip on easily and comfort is insured by an adjustable ankle strap fastener….Marketed by Anne Ardmore’s Hollywood Dog Togs of Sherman Oaks, Calif., the  boots are molded from geon vinyl resins supplied by B.F. Goodrich Chemical Co.”

So both these little pairs of boots were part of the plastics revolution, although only the vinyl resin in the Hollywood Dog Togs boots has held up over time.

As people use more and more salt on their sidewalks and streets, dogs need foot protection more than ever. Does your dog wear winter boots?

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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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Filed under animal-human interaction, cat litter, cat products, catnip, cats, pet antiques, pet industry, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, small animal medicine, travel with pets

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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