Tag Archives: advertising trade cards

“Fatherless;” or, Dead Cats and Urban Trash

Here’s a sad tale of city cat life, published as a comic trade card. “Father” is deceased and has been unceremoniously dumped into the trash barrel, along with a broken broom and some other odds and ends, waiting for pickup by the urban scrap collector.  I know that the bodies of larger dead animals were “recycled” in a variety of ways, their hides salvaged for leather, their bodies used for fertilizer and their bones used for a variety of purposes, including brush handles.  But I don’t know what happened to dead cats!  I guess that, unless a city cat owner had a bit of land to bury pets, even a beloved pet cat wound up in the trash.  This fellow, however, may be a neighborhood alley cat.  I’m inclined to think that Mama cat is also living by her wits. For one thing, she has all five of her kittens; it was common for nineteenth-century cat owners to euthanize all but one kitten, typically by drowning the rest soon after they were born.  It’s interesting that the strategy for presenting these cats anthromorphizes them — but only up to a point.  Mama and her kittens are walking on their hind legs and weeping, but they are not wearing clothing or supported by other props that make them more “human.”

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Huckleberry Finn is introduced dragging around a dead cat, which he obtained from another boy.  He plans to use it for a charm to get rid of warts.  He is also an object of admiration for his ability to trade in the currency-less world of small boys.  If you have other examples of uses for dead cats, I’d be pleased to learn them.

Pets Blog 08 Nov 2015

“Fatherless.”  Advertising trade card for H. O’Neill & Co. dry  and fancy goods store, New York City, ca. 1880.  Lithograph by E. Wells Sackett & Bro., New York.

This is another one of those images of animals that calls on another area of popular culture for its humor.  In 1870, A. W. Havens published a tearjerker of a song titled “Fatherless”:  “Father is dead, gone from us now.  No one to care for us here.”  The humor here is uncomfortable to my sensibilities, however.  It’s important to remember that what people think is funny changes over time, and that humor often has a cruel edge.  Trade cards were often collected by children for scrapbooks, and I don’t think that we’d approve of a child having an image like this today. Children are shielded from this kind of offhand depiction of dead animals.

 

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A Victorian Aquarium

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Aquarium, maker unknown. America, 1890-1910. Cast and wrought iron frame, slate bottom, adhesive and paint.

I purchased this aquarium some years ago, entranced by its gilded “hairy paw” feet.  It’s a neoclassical aquarium! I dated it between 1890 and 1910, but it may be a bit newer.  A 1920s catalog of Cugley and Mullin, a Philadelphia pet store that also did a substantial mail-order business in the mid-Atlantic, offers an aquarium of similar design called the “Chief,” with a green frame and gold striping and feet.

This aquarium is small by our standards.  Excluding the feet, it is ten inches in height, nine inches in depth and thirteen and one half inches in length and held less than than five gallons of water.  While somewhat larger vessels were available, most home aquariums were small and and held only a few animals.  The ideal was to have a “balanced” aquarium  — that is, the plants and animals had to create equilibrium, with the plants producing enough oxygen to sustain the small pond fish or goldfish that were the denizens until the late 1920s, and the carbon dioxide produced by the animals supporting the plants.

Aquarium and flower stand Racine Hardware at Centennial 187 copy

Aquarium and flower stand, 1876. Made by the Racine Hardware Company, Racine, Wisconsin.

The concept of the balanced aquarium appeared in the late 1850s. (I discuss the idea in more detail in Pets in America.) Here is an image of a balanced aquarium and plant stand exhibited at the Centennial in 1876.  The artist who made this image took a certain amount of poetic license with the interior of the aquarium;  there are too many fish to survive, even with the abundance of water plants emerging from the top of the round glass fishbowl.

The requirements for “balance” set the limits of the home aquarium until the 1920s, when the small electric-powered pump first appeared on the scene.  Its invention coincided with the appearance in general pet shops of the first tropical fish — guppies, platys and a few other types.  These freshwater animals needed more oxygen than did goldfish, who were, and are, notable for their ability to survive in less-than-ideal conditions.

Aquariums like mine were parlor ornaments, as the trade card for Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills suggests.  Apart from the elaborate aquarium stand ornamented with chains, what’s interesting about this little picture is the equipment being used by the little girl:  the tin scoop with a long handle and small bucket.  These kinds of items — essential equipment for the home aquarist — don’t survive in collections today, as far as I know.

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Advertising trade card for Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills, lithograph, ca. 1880. Published by Cosach (?) & Clark, Buffalo, New York.

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In honor of National Cat Day

Henry's Household Companion

Trade card for Henry’s Household Companion soap. Chromolithograph, mid-1880s.

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A Satire on Pet Keeping

Pet keeping has been a subject for occasional satire for a long time.  In the future, I’ll offer a post on satires of “lady’s pets,” lap dogs in particular.  This small trade card offers a distinctively Victorian satirical take on pet keeping by equating the obnoxious small boy and the array of animals: everyone in the window is a “pet.”

In Pets in America, I discuss how this cultural equation developed, as the status of children and also of selected animals was raised thanks to sentimental culture’s particular domestic logic.  I do love the work of this anonymous illustrator. The small card (no larger than four inches by two inches) is laugh-out-loud funny. Feel free to cut and paste!

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“Our Neighbor’s Pets.” Advertising trade card, chromolithography, copyrighted by W.J. Morgan & Co, Cleveland, Ohio, 1882.

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