Tag Archives: goldfish

Lion Coffee and “How to Care for Domestic Pets”: The Goldfish

It’s a busy time of year, and I’m very behind in my blog posts — but here’s something for the fish lovers out there (including my friend Jacqui, fish enthusiast extraordinaire).  The Lion Coffee Company apparently put out a series of trade cards on ‘How to Care for Domestic Pets.”  Here’s the first I have been able to acquire, advice on keeping goldfish.  I’m guessing that it dates from around 1900.  The card itself  has seen better day — it was clearly handled a lot and has pencil scribbles on the back. I’d like to thing that a child handled it and enjoyed looking at the pictures.

Goldfish Lion Coffee card front

Trade card for Lion Coffee, no date (c. 1900).  Chromolithograph, printer unknown.  Probably United States.

This history of Lion Coffee comes from the website of the current roasters of Lion Coffee, who purchased the rights to the brand after it had been dormant for years.

Lion Coffee started in 1864 as a small company that offered pre-roasted beans at a time when many housewives purchased the green beans and had to do the roasting at home.   By the 1870s, the company sold its beans in one-pound bags with the lion’s head trademark that is still in use. In 1882, Alvin Woolson of the Woolson Spice Company purchased the company.  He was an aggressive anda creative marketer who made use of all the avenues available at the time, including the a premium program that offered prizes for wrappers.  The company also blanketed the U.S. with advertising trade cards, including paper dolls and other toys, which were probably given out at the point of sale.  Type in “Lion Coffee” on eBay, and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of items, including some wonderful paper toys.

The images on this card are interesting because they are of “fancy” goldfish rather than the common carrasius auratus found in most fish globes or aquaria.  And the advice is of interest since it includes such home doctoring advice as giving an expiring fish “a tiny drop of brandy down its throat.”  I’m wondering what the source is for this text, since it feels like it was copied from an advice book on pets.  Goldfish Lion Coffee card back

At the time this card was published, people who wanted to keep fish only had a few options, including trying to keep small pond minnows in what was called a “balanced aquarium” of still water since small electric pumps did not yet exist.  Goldfish are so tolerant of poor water conditions that they were the most popular choice, however, and they were widely available in the shops of florists and the pet stores that that were beginning to thrive in larger towns and cities.  There was also a thriving mail-order trade in goldfish, about which more on another occasion.

 

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Filed under advertising trade card, advice literature on pets, animal-human interaction, aquarium, goldfish, pet history, pets

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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