Category Archives: bird cages

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.

Family Portrait with Dog

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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Filed under animal humor, animal-human interaction, bird cages, cats, dogs, material culture, pet antiques, pet history, pet humor, pet photography, pet supplies and equipment, pets

“Three things that every home should have as pets…” The Henry Field Company, 1934

Pets Blog 1 July 15_0008In 1934, the Henry Field Company of Shenandoah, Iowa, published two spring catalogs. One was its seed and plant catalog, representing the largest and oldest part of the business.  However, the company’s “Fish and Bird Department” got its own catalog. The cover photo showed  Barbra Jane and Bonnie June Elson, daughters of two Field employees, enjoying their pet canary and a tank of fish.  “In my opinion,” wrote Mr. Field, “there are three things every home should have as pets, a dog, bird and some fish.”  Cats were left out of this equation;  since Mr. Field was an old farmer, it’s likely that he still regarded cats as workers rather than companions.

Henry Arms Field was born in Page County, Iowa, in 1871 and established a small seed company that he incorporated in 1907.  Known as a marketing innovator, he built a radio station KFNF (“Keep Friendly Never Frown”) on top of his seedhouse in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1924. (Thanks to Mike Dunton of the Victory Seed Company for the information on Henry Arms Field in his  Seedsman Hall of Fame.)

I don’t know how long Field stayed in the mail-order pet business.  Let’s take a look at some pages from his catalog to see what the Fish and Bird Department offered its customers.   The first pages were devoted to Field’s Famous Bird Seeds. Proof of their quality and the good results they broughtPets Blog plus auction cat 5 July 15 could be heard on KFNF, where Field’s “canary songsters” performed on the air two times a day.  “We are rewarded in rich melodious songs here at the bird room from early morning until late at night.”Pets Blog plus auction cat 5 July 15_0007

The Field Company also shipped canaries by express to their rural customers, offering a fine selection of imported birds and their own trained “Crooners.”  You may not know that all birds, wild and tame, have to learn their songs, and canary breeders, especially German and English fanciers, used both “bird organs” and older birds that were exemplary singers to get the songs they wanted.  Probably the most famous singers were Andreasburg Rollers, originally from Germany, and Field offered these, too.  But what I like about the “Crooners” is that the name invokes the mellow singing style of Bing Crosby and others of his ilk.

Like any pet store, the company also sold special supplies, including a recording of singing canaries to help keep your own bird in good voice and several lovely bird bathtubs.  Note also the bird houses and a feeder for attracting wild birds to the back yard.  This hobby really took off in the 1920s, and I’ll write more about it another time.

Pets Blog plus auction cat 5 July 15_0002Finally, the Henry Field Company also offered set-ups — containers, plants, and ornaments —  for old-fashioned balanced aquaria, which I wrote about in previous post.  Goldfish, turtles and salamanders were a separate expense.  Thus the Henry Field Company provided two of the “three things that every home should have as pets.”  Customers had to come up with their own dogs.

The mail order pet business made use of this country’s extensive rail system, which reached very small communities, to ship uncounted numbers of fragile creatures by express to eager pet owners. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1895 also played a role, especially for the distribution of supplies and equipment.  I’ve collected a number of catalogs from these mail order businesses, and their heyday appears to have been the 1920s and 1930s.  Very few of them were also seed businesses, however. In this, Henry Field Company was in tune with the role that florists played as sellers of songbirds and goldfish  in the first half of the nineteenth century.

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Filed under advice literature on pets, aquarium, bird cages, canaries, goldfish, goldfish, mail order catalogs, pet supplies and equipment, pets

Watching the parrot….

Real photo postcards taken by pet owners in the early 1900s sometimes provide wonderful glimpses of cats, dogs, and birds engaged in everyday behaviors without paying attention to the human being pointing that stupid black box in their direction. We get a sense of relationships and routines of pet care.  Here’s a nice example.

This postcard depicts blog scans 27Apr15 a pair of feline siblings watching the family parrot, whose cage has been set out on what seems to be the back step to get some fresh air and sunshine.  The postcard came into my collection with a second image, a portrait of the cats waiting at the door, perhaps to be let in or to be given their supper since the parrot was too well protected to allow anything but a little recreational birdwatching.

blog scans 27Apr15_0001Unfortunately, these postcards are not marked with names, dates or locations.  From the marks on the back of the cards, they date from around 1920. Still, they provide a bit more information on the daily lives of pets in households a century ago.

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Filed under bird cages, cats, material culture, parrots, pet photography, pets, real photo postcard

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.

 

LathropsPetShop1906DETAIL

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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Filed under advertising trade card, aquarium, bird cages, goldfish, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pets, small animal medicine