Tag Archives: cats

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

Tiger Summers. A Dignified Cat Visits the Photographer’s Studio, ca. 1870

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“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.

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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.

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Filed under anthropomorphism, carte des visite, cats, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets

Fleas and Other Itches — ‘Tis Still the Season (Part Two)

On 10 May 2014, I published a post about the problem of fleas on household pets and the various ways people tried to treat this problem in the late 1800s.  I discussed the flea comb (used on people as well as pet animals) and introduced the early flea soaps, which were based on carbolic acid’s vermin-killing and disinfecting qualities.  I also promised to write more on the topic.  It’s taken me some time, but the flea season is continuing very late here in Delaware and on the Delmarva Peninsula — and I am inspired by the flea treatments I’m still having to use on Teddy and Stump.  So let’s continue the story.

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In 1912, this comic postcard was in circulation, but it reflected a real problem:  controlling fleas on dogs, cats and people, too.  Until the flea collar with its time-release insecticide was developed in the 1960s, pet owners still had to remove fleas by hand or go after them with soaps or chemicals that killed them on contact.  The Q-W Laboratories, founded by the French immigrant kennel-owner Henri Vibert around 1920, offered an array of remedies for dogs.  This advertising from the Q-W Handbook for Dog Lovers, published in the 1920s, offered dog soap, flea powder (which was also good for cockroaches and bedbugs) and Q-W Flea Oil and Coat Grower.

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Spread from Q-W Handbook for Dog Lovers (Q-W Laboratories, Bound Brook, New Jersey, n.d.) was offered as a free handout by stores carrying the company’s products in the 1920s.  Drug stores were important outlets for proprietary veterinary medicines; this particular copy of the book bears the stamp “McCUE & BUSS DRUG CO. 14 S. Main ST Janesville, Wisconsin.”

 

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Q-W Dog Soap, Q-W Laboratories, Plainfield, New Jersey, 1930s. The unused soap is still in this package.

This Q-W dog soap from the 1930s contained  Beta Naphthol. Naphthol (or napthol) soaps were in common use for household laundry until the development of modern powdered detergents; I still use Fels Naptha to dry out poison ivy blisters!  This was considered a good alternative to the old standby carbolic acid (which was also poisonous to people and pets unless well-diluted in the soap).  Here is an earlier trade card for a carbolic-acid soap, which was also recommended for disinfecting kennels.

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Trade card for Little’s Soluble Phenyle and Soap, no date (probably 1890s).

Another type of soap promoted to kill fleas and relieve mange was used creosol, which still appears in “tar soaps” used for severe dandruff.  Q-W Laboratories also offered one of these, and even added sulphur to the mix.

While flea-killing soaps were in wide use well into the 1960s, pet owners who were unwilling or unable to struggle with their dogs in the bath turned increasingly to powders. Cage bird owners had been using one insecticide,”Persian powder,” for decades.  Also known as pyrethrin, derived from a particular chrysanthemum plant, it became an ingredient of flea powders for dogs in the early 1900s.  It was poisonous to cats, however. If they licked enough of the powder off their fur and skin, it had neurotoxic effects.

By the 1920s, flea powders, along with “dry bath” products,  included another ingredient, rotenone, that could be used on both cats and dogs.  Rotenone is also plant-derived and is still used by gardeners today as an alternative to synthetic pesticides.  Mechling’s Flea Powder, seen below, was produced by a company in Camden, New Jersey, that seems to have specialized in agricultural chemicals.  Flea powder was a small sideline — it wasn’t that hard to mix rotenone and inert powders together and package them for sale at a high markup —  and this product probably had a regional market.

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Mechling’s Flea Powder, Camden, New Jersey, after 1922.  Mechling Bros. Chemical Company was incorporated that year and sometime in the 1930s became part of General Chemical Company, one of the five who organized Allied Chemical Corporation.

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Lowe’s Flea Powder. Edward Lowe C0mpany, 1960s.

When Edward Lowe, the man who created a national market for cat-box filler with his trademarked “Kitty Litter,” expanded his product line to include other products for cats in the early 1960s, he included this flea powder, which relied on rotenone but did contain a small amount of pyrethrins.  What’s important about this powder is that it seems to be one of the first marketed “especially for cats.”

Flea powders had other problems, too. I recall my mother struggling to powder the family cat.  Powder flew everywhere.  I’ll introduce other options for treating fleas on pets in a future post.

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Filed under dogs, fleas, material culture, pet supplies and equipment, pets, veterinary medicine

The Secret Life of Pets — in Victorian America

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“Friends.”  Stereoview, Carlton Harlow Graves.  Universal Photo Art Company, Philadelphia and Naperville, I, between 1895 and 1910

I recently saw (and enjoyed) the summer hit movie “The Secret Life of Pets,” and it got me thinking about how people gave “voices” to companion animals in the nineteenth century.  I’m not thinking about fairy tales or fables here, or even full-blown anthropomorphism, where a dog or cat becomes a little person in a fur suit, living the life of a human being.  I was interested in finding images or texts where animals “talked” or wrote about their lives from their points of view.

There are a number of famous autobiographies from the 1800s told in the voice of an animal. In the late nineteenth century, the most famous of these was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877), a story told in the first-person voice of a horse.  Black Beauty’s misadventures, and the cruelty with which people treated him (although the story does have a happy ending), made this book a crucial text for the animal welfare movement on both sides of the Atlantic. There were other important animal autobiographies, especially Beautiful Joe: the Autobiography of a Dog (1893), which helped to stigmatize dog fighting. I still can’t read either of these books without weeping.

But I was looking for something different: “diaries” that talked about the everyday life of dogs and cats, often with humor.  Here’s one for your perusal.

“Folly Frivolous. A Dog’s Diary,” is a story in Louise Stockton’s 1881 collection  The Christmas Thorn, and Other Stories which is available through Google Books. Folly gets into various forms of trouble and is often “whipped” and confined to the coal-shed.  He reports, “I have a little place out here where I keep all the bones I get, and one or two other little things that nobody knows about.” The ultimate insult is when he is forced to learn the trick of sitting up: “I have to beg for my ball…and beg for this, and beg for that, until life has got to be pretty much a burden.”  Folly has a strong sense of his own interests, and he knows how to manipulate the lady of the house by dropping one ear and looking “solemn.”  He seems a lot like the dogs and cats of “The Secret Life of Pets.”

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The first page of “From the Diary of a Cat,” with the unnamed protagonist dreaming of a feast of white mice.

Here’s another example, a more complex little work of fiction titled “From the Diary of a Cat.”  The full text is available through this link to a pdf:  HarpersMagazine-1904-08-0011290 copy

Published in the August 1904 issue of Harper’s Magazine, this story by Edwina Stanton Babcock is told in the voice of an alley cat who has figured out how to survive in the city.  Some of his adventures are funny, including his successful foray into a butcher shop looking for meat.  The cat experiences hunger and discomfort along with adventure, but he never feels sorry for himself even though he dimly recalls that he “must have been owned.”  He speculates whether he actually has nine lives.  At the close of the diary, he finds that he is unable to stay in the lap of a little girl who would keep him because he feels “the spell of the streets — a spell that draws me away from mere ease and plenty to the thrill and mystery of a roving life.”

Babcock (1875-1965) was a poet and fiction writer who was popular during her life but seems to be neglected today.  The historical context for this “diary” is worth noting, too.   At this time, abandoned and feral cats were receiving more attention from animal welfare groups — and also from city animal control officers, who killed hundreds of thousands of cats between 1890 and 1910.

I’ll work on finding other “secret lives” to share. But these two cases suggest that animal-loving Americans in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries wondered about the inner lives of their companions — and came up with funny “takes” on animals’ views of the world  —  just as we do today.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under alley cat, animal-human interaction, anthropomorphism, diaries, dogs, feral cats, pet humor, pets, pets in literature

“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.

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“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

A Cat Fancier of the San Fernando Valley, 1960s

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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.

 

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Filed under cat shows, cats, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets

Look at All My Toys!

I just purchased this snapshot of an unidentified Pomeranian and his stunning array of toys.  Fortunately, the image has a date. The film was developed and printed in December 1967. From the looks of this little fellow, he was well-loved, and the snapshot was clearly  meant to be funny.

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Unidentified Pomeranian with his squeaky and chew toys. Snapshot, photographer unknown, developed December 1967.

The 1950s and 1960s were decades when the array of products sold by the neighborhood pet store, along with the pet departments of local five-and-tens and the pet food aisles of large supermarkets, included a much-expanded array of toys, including squeaky toys of painted rubber or plastic  and chew toys made of nylon, hard rubber or rawhide.

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Detail of snapshot, showing the array of toys purchased for this dog.

Take a look at this incredible assemblage.  The squeaky toys are shaped like an opened pack of Winston cigarettes, hamburgers and hot dogs, a woman’s foot with painted toenails, a chicken head, a raw steak, an ice cream bar with a bite out of it and an array of cartoonish animal figures wearing clothing.  In the full photo, just behind the Pom’s head on the left side of the photo, there is a rubber toy shaped like a baby’s pacifier.  Along with rawhide bones in various stages of unraveling, hard rubber toys for chewing include a ball, a bone and a dumbbell.

After I looked at the snapshot for a while, I realized that I actually owned one of the toys in the picture!  Here it is, a dog in a Santa suit — in its original package, no less.

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“Squeaker” dog toy in original packaging, Stevens Company, United States, ca. 1967.  This toy appears in the right-hand side of the detail, above.

Of course, dogs don’t really care about the shape of their toys.  My childhood dog’s favorite toy was a pair of old socks that had been tied together, good for tugging and shredding and easily replaced in a house with growing children.  But since the 1950s, the people who own dogs have gotten a kick out of dog toys that are shaped like the everyday objects — often ones that dogs aren’t supposed to have — or that are visual puns.  Dog toys are as much fun for us as they are for our dogs.   A small dog carrying around an open pack of Winston cigarettes must have seemed pretty funny in a 1960s household where people smoked.  And the large pacifier was a self-conscious pun on the status of the dog as the household’s fur-covered baby.  I would love to know who thought up the shapes for these dog toys.

Further, there are parallels between the toys that babies have played from the mid-20th century to the present, and the toys that family dogs have enjoyed in the same era.  Rubber squeaky toys were common baby toys in the 1950s and 1960s.  Although I need to do more research on this, I believe that the same companies made both rubber baby toys and squeaky toys for dogs.  Nowadays, flexible rubber squeaky toys for babies have been largely replaced by other objects, including a much wider array of plush toys.  And now dogs often get plush-covered toys, too, in shapes that are funny to pet owners. My dog Stump  drags around a purple platypus that I bought for him because I thought it was cute.

I’ll write more about the origins of pet toys in future posts.

 

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Filed under animal-human interaction, anthropomorphism, Christmas gifts for pets, dog toys, dogs, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, snapshot