Tag Archives: anthropomorphism

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

“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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Filed under advertising trade card, cats, pet humor, pets