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.
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.
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?
“Tiger Summers,” carte des visite (cdv), no date (ca. 1870). William A. Judson, New Britain, Connecticut, photographer. Judson was active in New Britain between 1856 and 1880.
Meet Tiger Summers who, at the time of this formal portrait, weighed 18 pounds, 3 ounces. Or so the penciled notation on the front of this carte de visite informs us. The back, however, has a note that Tiger Summers weighed 19 pounds and 10 ounces. In either case, this is a cat of substance.
Tiger is posed in a child’s Windsor chair. This plays with the scale of the image. Without the notation of his weight, and therefore his implied size, Tiger could be the size of a human being — or a real tiger, for that matter.
Remember that this image was made at a time when a trip to the photographer’s studio was required. I like to imagine Tiger’s owners arriving at William Judson’s studio with their prize cat in a large travel basket. If I can find out about Tiger Summers or his owners, I’ll update this brief post.
An unidentified cat fancier with two of her prizewinning cats, undated (1960s). Photograph by Mil Fries, San Fernando, Caliifornia.
This fantastic photograph of a ’60s cat fancier and two of her prizewinning felines may have appeared in the Valley Times, the newspaper of the San Fernando Valley between 1946 and 1970. It has editing marks on the back suggesting it appeared in the paper. Milt Fries, whose stamp is on the back of the photo, mostly took photographs of local sports. I’d love to get identities on both the owner and the cats. I”m not sure whose birthday is being celebrated here! There is a handwritten message on the lower right that says “Happy Birthday Sammy.”
The walls and shelves are bedecked with ribbons and trophies from the Cat Fanciers Federation, which was founded in 1919. The CFF and the Cat Fancier’s Association, which was founded in 1906, still run two separate breed registries and cat show circuits. I can read part of the text on the ribbon on the far right. It was awarded in competition at the “Land of the Verdugos” cat show in Glendale, California. (The Verdugos are a small chain of mountains completely surrounded by Los Angeles development.)
I believe that the cats are Birmans, a breed that had only been introduced to the U.S. in 1959. Notable for their blue eyes and gentle temperament, the most famous Birman these days is Karl Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette, who has been featured in ad campaigns, travels with the fashion designer on his private plane and even has her own book. If these two handsome creatures are Birmans, they would have been quite rare in the 1960s — and worthy of a newspaper “human interest” feature.
“Fluffy Ruffles,” real photo postcard by “W.C.T.,” postmarked Boston, 1908.
In honor of National Cat Day, allow me to introduce you to “Fluffy Ruffles,” the poster cat for all the indignities we visit on our feline housemates, especially in our photographs and videos. Not only was the poor creature given that embarrassing name, but poor F.R. was stuffed in a basket for this portrait. And you can see how happy he (or she) is about it. Happy National Cat Day!
Back of postcard of “Fluffy Ruffles.”
My collection of pet-related photographs has been pretty much assembled on the cheap, and I have missed a lot of great things in auctions because my budget just wouldn’t stand it. However, when I saw this real photo postcard on an auction site, I decided to go for it — and I even managed to outbid someone who tried to “snipe” me at the end. Lee, the otherwise unidentified sender — and, I presume, photographer — of this postcard notes that “This is an actual Photo taken from life” in the right-hand margin.
“Oh! Oh! What a difference in the morning.” Real photo postcard signed “Lee.” Posted from Waterbury, CT, 13 October 1906.
The annoyed-looking feline subject of this photograph is tucked into a doll bed that has a full set of linens, including the knotted quilt that covers him (or her). I used to do things like this to one of the cats of my childhood, and I imagine that many unsung housecats in the past suffered similar indignities.
The caption is especially interesting because it references a long-forgotten but very popular theatrical song of the 1890s. “Oh! What a Difference in the Morning!” is a comic lament about hangovers, women whose evening beauty is gone with the dawn, and others who are deluded by the romance of night life. There are multiple copies available online, including in the digital music libraries of the Johns Hopkins University and the New York Public Library (http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-edd6-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99). It was popular in both English music halls and American popular theater; although I’m no music historian, my suspicion is that the American editions were knock-offs. The song has an apparent association with Laura Joyce Bell, an English singer and comedienne who made a very successful career here in the U.S., including performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with her husband Digby Bell. “Oh! What a Difference in the Morning!” inspired additional topical verses in American newspapers and magazines, and the title even shows up in advertisements for mattresses, suggesting that it was a widely-understood humorous reference.
Back of postcard. Addressed to William L. Wooding of Bethany, Connecticut. Postmarked Waterbury, CT and New Haven, CT, 13 October 1906.
The unknown sender of this photograph was sharing a joke that went far beyond the wonderful photograph he took.
“Toodles.” Real photo postcard, photographer unknown. U.S., circa 1920.
Unfortunately, this wonderful snapshot postcard has no identifying information on the back. The writing was added after the postcard was printed. Toodles does look like a cat with an attitude. We can’t see his eyes, but he does have crazy ears, and his body is coiled for attack!
“Nick,” carte des visite, 1871. Boston, Massachusetts, photographer unknown.
This carte des visite photograph of “Nick” is unsigned by the photographer, and the back of the card has no stamp or printing. It does have a wonderful pencil inscription, however, so I scanned it for this post. The card was presented to “Elise J. W.” in 1871. At the top is a second date, 1873; I don’t yet understand its meaning.
In any case, this is a lovely pose, and a rare example of a photo of a kitten from the cdv era. Their portraits became more common with the development of easy photography for amateurs, especially with the arrival of roll film in the 1880s and the popularity of real photo postcards in the early 20th century. The composition includes an empty wooden spool, probably used as a cat toy. From the kitten’s expression, I can imagine the photographer waving a hand or another toy above the camera.