Tag Archives: animals

Comic Cats on Victorian Trade Cards

Nineteenth-century advertising trade cards are wonderful on so many levels, but my particular favorites are the comic ones.  Predating the appearance of comics in newspapers by decades (the “Yellow Kid” strip first appeared in 1895), the quality of trade card artists’ drawings can be as good as any of the more famous early comic artists.  Some comic trade cards even tell a story in series.  On July 6, 2014, I published a post on the story of a disastrous feline courtship told through six cards; you can take a look at this in the archives for the this blog.  Some comic trade cards are offensive today — they traffic in all sorts of stereotyping — but others are benign, as in the case of the comic cats I share with you here,

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Advertising trade card for Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil, around 1890. Chromlithograph, publisher unknown. The corners have been trimmed; they may have been glued to a scrapbook page.

The Excelsior Botanical Company, which began to sell Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil (yes, that’s “Eclectric”) in the 1880s, published a series of comic trade cards featuring anthropomorphic animals that was made specifically for the company.  Eclectric Oil, which was sold until at least the 1940s, was recommended for everything from insect bites to earaches. The artist for these is unknown, but the card in my collection, “Grandma’s little Wootsy Tootsy” features a cat scrubbing her “grandchild” in a basin with a sponge. A proper linen towel with a red band hangs nearby. I love her glasses, neck ribbon (she is a proper house cat with a clean white bib and tummy ) and determined expression.  And you get all this detail in 3 1/2 inches of paper….

“All Promenade” features the Cat and the Fiddle, who is now performing for two sets of dancing kittens in an alley.  They all wear big smiles.  I love the pink and blue dresses worn by the girl kittens.  This card was copyrighted by Philadelphia printer George M. Hayes, who was probably the artist, too.  He copyrighted a number of trade card designs in the early 1880s.  They were sold as blanks; the “Presented by” caption was added by E. & H. Dilworth.

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“All Promenade.”  Advertising trade card for E & H. Dilworth Hardware, Beloit, KS.  Published by  George M. Hayes, Philadelphia, 1882.  Hayes was probably also the artist.

The practice of attributing human characteristics to animals, called anthropomorphism, is an ancient practice; think of Aesop’s Fables, for example. It has had many uses, some quite serious — imparting moral lessons to children, stigmatizing marginalized “others” and critiquing the powerful are just three of these.  However, sometimes anthropomorphism was intended simply to delight both children and adults.

These cats delight me, and I hope that they delight you, too!

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Filed under advertising trade card, alley cat, animal humor, anthropomorphism, cats, material culture, pets

A mysterious pet photograph, 1890

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Albumen print, photographer unknown, American, dated 1890 on reverse.

Here is a photographic mystery for you.   This is a photograph taken by a hobbyist in the era of dry-plate amateurs.  It is mounted on an unmarked cardboard card;  professionals generally included their names and locations on cabinet-card mounts.  It has no identification except for a brief inscription in pencil on the back (below).  I’m not sure of the first word, but I think that it says “Drie and Gyp Scofield 1890.”  “Gyp” is probably short for Gypsy, which was a common name for dogs in particular.

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Drie and Gyp have been posed outdoors with a table covered by a small oriental rug, but what is so mysterious and unusual is the tabletop display easel resting o the shelf below the table’s top.  It displays a framed photo portrait of a young woman.  I can see the round mat circling the portrait and her hair, but the details are faded. Someone with photo editing skills might be able to get more out of this image than I am able to.  Albumen prints from the 1880s and 1890s are notorious for fading like this;  the technical reasons for this need not bother us here, except that we can mourn the lost detail.

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Is this a mourning picture?  Are these the pets of the woman in the picture?  This picture represents a relationship, but we cannot know what exactly it means.

What do you think?

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Filed under cats, dogs, pet portraiture, pets

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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Filed under advertising trade card, animal-human interaction, cats, dogs, pet humor, pets