Category Archives: pets in the comics

Radio Orphan Annie’s Book About Dogs, 1936

My mother, who was a child during the Depression, recalls the radio program “Little Orphan Annie” with pleasure.  A serial directed to children, it featured the comic-strip  characters, who first appeared in 1924, although the plots of the show didn’t follow the stories, or include all the characters, of the print version.  The national broadcast was sponsored by the Wander Company, makers of Ovaltine, a powder that was added to milk to make it more nutritious — and delicious — to children.  (Ovaltine was first marketed as a food supplement for invalids.)

Beginning in 1925, the year after the comic strip first appeared, Annie acquired a sidekick, a mixed breed dog that she named Sandy.  Sandy was drawn so that he looked like he was least partly an Airedale terrier, a popular breed in the 1920s and 1930s.  He also had a very happy dog smile and the same round, empty eyes as his young mistress.  Unlike Buster Brown’s dog Tige, however, Sandy was no comedian, nor did he share his observations on life through thought balloons.  He was a hero, however, who saved Annie from various dangers.

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Front cover, Radio Orphan Annie’s Book of Dogs, showing Annie and her pal Sandy.  The Wander Company, Chicago, Illinois, 1936.

I had no idea that the radio show had spawned a booklet about training dogs.  When I saw this one in an online auction, I bid but assumed that collectors of Little Orphan Annie memorabilia would drive the price past my tiny collecting budget.  I was surprised when I won it.  And the booklet came with its original mailing envelope! The little girl who ordered the book carefully filled in her personal information on the back cover.

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Back cover of Radio Orphan Annie’s Book of Dogs.

 

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Inside front cover and first page.

Inside the front cover, Annie introduced Sandy, a “real All-American dog,” who “has about the best of every kind of dog in him.”

The booklet contained care and training advice by Michael von Motzeck, proprietor of the V. and M. Training Kennels of Chicago, Illinois (the city where the radio show originated).   Von Motzeck offered advice that was still relatively progressive at the time.  For example, he was a proponent of the folded newspaper as the only method for punishment and advised that patience, petting and praise were the true keys to training.

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Advice on dog care by Michael Von Motzeck.

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Instruction on teaching tricks.

The instructions for teaching dogs tricks showed boys interacting with their pets rather than adults.  Even though the booklet was a gift from Little Orphan Annie, girls were neglected as potential dog trainers. The advice on care and training was followed by information on 29 breeds punctuated with attractive small drawings, mostly of the characters in the radio show.  Below, in the page on Airedales, Annie and Sandy look on while Annie’s friend Joe Corntassel builds a dog house, presumably for Sandy.

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Advice on caring for dogs and a profile of the Airedale terrier.

Returning to von Motzeck, I discovered that he is another of these interesting characters who made some kind of living as a trainer, dog dealer, and kennel proprietor in the 1920s and 1930s.  (I wrote about another of these fellows, a Los Angeles go-getter named Richard Goodwin, in my 6 March 2017 post.)  Classified ads for von Motzeck’s V. &. M. training and boarding kennel appear in the Chicago Tribune in August of 1936.  He offered to train dogs for “obedience, protection and stagework” and listed “Dobermans, Airedales and Other Breeds”  for sale.  How the good people of the Wander Company found him is a mystery, but it is possible that someone attended von Motzeck’s demonstration of dog obedience at the Pedigree Shop of the Marshall Fields Department Store later that year.   It featured his champion Doberman-Pinscher “Major Von Motzeck.”

By 1939, Michael von Motzeck was featured in magazine advertisements for Red Heart Dog Food, offered by Chicago packing house John Morrell & Company.  (His dogs always ate Red Heart, of course.) That year he also appeared in a long article titled “How Smart is Your Dog?” in Popular Mechanics, the Bible of Depression-era do-it-yourselfers.  And finally, in 1945, von Motzeck’s dogs were featured in Life Magazine;  he had trained a dachshund named Sascha to be the seeing-eye for a blind collie from his kennel and was considering training more service dogs for disabled dogs!

 

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Filed under advice literature on pets, attitudes toward dogs, dog advertising, dog food, dog training, dogs, pet history, pets, pets in the comics

Bulldog humor: trade card commentary on watchdogs in city life

Advertising trade cards, the little slips of paper that businesses handed out to promote their products, are rich (and under-used) sources for studying animal-human relationships in the late nineteenth century.  Tens of thousands of Victorian trade cards survive because they were meant to be kept.  Many were pasted into scrapbooks, but “metamorphic” trade cards like this one were little comic books before the comic book was invented.  They probably survived because they got shut into drawers or boxes and forgotten.   The wear on the folds suggests that this particular example was unfolded multiple times, suggesting that it was viewed repeatedly.

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Comic trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco, Weissinger & Bate, Louisville, Kentucky.  Chromolithograph published by Culver, Page, Hoyne & Co., Chicago, between 1870 and 1883.  This is what is called a “metamorphic” trade card because it unfolds to tell a story, usually a comic tale. It is only about three inches in height.

The card  tells the story of an unfortunate thief who takes advantage of the dozing woman minding an outdoor booth selling “Hold Fast” chewing tobacco.  He’s poor, just a barefoot youth, and his works (“I’ll be after taking a plug of HOLD FAST”) suggest that the figure is supposed to be an Irish immigrant.  But he is foiled by a bulldog named “Tige,” short for Tiger.

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First foldout, comic trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco.

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Buster Brown and Tige “rebus” (puzzle) valentine postcard.  Chromolithograph, Raphael Tuck & Co, publishers. Mailed from Williamsport, PA, 11 February 1908.

This is the same name given in 1902 to comic character Buster Brown’s pit bull-type dog, seen in the postcard above. Buster Brown’s bulldog Tige looks a little scary with his round eyes, wide mouth and array of teeth, but he was a a friendly boy’s pet — and he could talk, at least to Buster and the reader.  The Hold  Fast trade card’s “Tige” is a homely brute who means business. “By faith the dog was awake,” cries the thief while the woman yells “Sick him Tige.”

In the fully open card, the policeman, seen in the distance in the second view, has the thief by the ear while Tige has his leg — and the woman has Tige by the tail (an unintended visual pun, I think) and cries “Hold fast.”  “Hold-Fast” was both an order and a traditional name for bulldogs, reflecting their instinct to bite down and hold on to a bull’s nose or another fighting dog to the death.  (Don’t ask me how I know this — I will have to root around in old note cards for hours.  I know a note about bulldog naming is in a folder somewhere.)  This may suggest something about the attributes of Hold Fast chewing tobacco, which was first sold in 1878.

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Second foldout, comic trade card for Hold Fast tobacco.

The back center panel for the unfolded card offers another interpretation of “Hold Fast,” a tug-of-war between a child and the family dog over a doll, while the cat looks on from a chair back.  This dog is a terrier, another popular dog type in Victorian America.  Terriers were regarded as good family pets, but they were also esteemed as rodent-killers.

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Back panel, trade card for Hold Fast chewing tobacco.

Watch dogs like the Hold Fast seller’s Tige were common denizens of city life, and both families and businesses relied on them as four-legged security systems. Bulldogs, the ancestors of the pit bull and other bully breeds today, were the most popular types for this purpose because of their reputation for being protective and fearless.  They are often depicted as chained to a doghouse in a fenced back yard or alley.  Further, the idea that they would attack and bite trespassers was wholly acceptable, and even the source of humor.  Notice that this bulldog is wearing a spiked collar and has dragged the doghouse behind him.

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“The Dog I Left Behind Me.” Comic trade card, lithograph, printer unknown, probably 1870s. This card was sold widely as a blank, and businesses added their names to the bottom.  The caption refers to a popular folk song, “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”

Humor about bully-breed watchdogs sometimes took strange turns. Some humorous cards survive showing innocently naughty boys dealing with savage-looking watchdogs as big as they are.  The card on the left, below, is one of these.  The dog’s eyes are deeply unsettling!

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Comic trade card, lithographs, around 1880.  Grauer & Almstedt, St. Louis.  In 1883, the company advertised that it sold chromolithographed trade cards in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch classified ads.

Americans liked bulldogs  — they certainly kept a lot of them, in a variety of shapes and sizes — but they were also afraid of them.  This was not without reason in the case of urban watch dogs.  In the case of the Hold Fast card, the bulldog was the secret weapon in a comic story about crime among the poor.  Yet the other images suggest other ways that people found humor in the discomfort that a large bully-type watchdog could create. This is a trade card that I reproduced in another post, on pet photography, but it encapsulates the tension nicely — and the drawing is still funny today.

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“Photographing the Prize Bull Dog.” Trade card for Pan Cake Flour. Lithograph, probably 1870s. Artist and printer unknown.

 

 

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, animal-human interaction, bulldog, Buster Brown, dog training, doghouses, dogs, pet humor, pets, pets in the comics

Buster Brown and His Dog Tige Wish You Happy Holidays!

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“A Merry Xmas.”  Giveaway postcard from the American Journal-Examiner, 1906.

Holiday greetings from the most famous cartoon dog of the early 1900s, Tige.  Tige, a bull terrier who could speak to his owner and to other animals (but not to adults), belonged to the cartoon character Buster Brown, the little boy in the Lord Fauntleroy suit with the blonde pageboy haircut.  Buster and Tige are accompanied here by Buster’s friend Mary Jane.

Created in 1902 by pioneering comic strip artist Richard F. Outcault (1863-1923), Buster Brown was the celebrity face of a popular line of children’s shoes. Buster Brown and Tige also hawked many other products; a quick web search suggests just how popular the character was.  (I remember Buster Brown shoes in the late 1950s, although Buster and Tige didn’t register with me.)  In fact, Buster Brown is still a brand name for children’s clothing, although the characters have disappeared from the labels.

Buster also appeared in the early Sunday comic pages, and some of the strips are really beautiful and are still quite funny today.  This particular card, printed on cheap paper, is not one of Buster and Tige’s finer manifestations.  It appeared in the American Journal-Examiner, a New York periodical that published many such postcards, along with joke books and early comics.  I think that this postcard was part of a comic-page giveaway.  This particular example was never mailed, and it is a small miracle that it even survived.

Buster was a sweet-faced jokester and naughty boy, but from what I can tell, it was Tige who really sold the strip. All sorts of bull terriers were popular pets in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Unfortunately, dog fighting was a popular, albeit outlawed, betting sport at the same time that Buster and Tige appeared, and bulldogs like Tige were the dogs of choice for the pit.

It is hard to find collections of Buster Brown strips today, but here is a link to Buster Brown’s Autobiography, published in 1907.  It offers Buster’s story of meeting Tige at his grandmother’s farm and tells how Tige became his dog.  The pictures throughout are wonderful.

Buster, Tige, Mary Jane and I wish you a happy holiday season!

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, anthropomorphism, bulldog, Buster Brown, Christmas, material culture, pet humor, pets, pets in the comics, post cards