Tag Archives: pugs

Noble Pugs of San Francisco Visit Famous Photographer I.W. Taber’s Studio

One day, probably in the 1880s, the owner or owners of these three noble beasts gathered them up for an outing to downtown San Francisco.  At the corner of Montgomery and Market Streets, the three dogs and their people may have entered an elevator that carried them to the famous photography studios of Isaiah West Taber (1830-1912), a photographer noted for his portraits of famous Californians and his large series of stereo views of his adopted state.

Three Pugs

Three noble pugs, owner unknown.  Cabinet card,  W. Taber & Co; Photographic Parlors, San Francisco, probably 1880s.  The image is an albumen print and has toned to this brown color over time.  On the body of the pug on the left, here is a scrape through the emulsion layer.


Taber Photographic Parlors, 8 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, 1884 (?). Detail of advertisement, source unknown.  Courtesy California State Library.

The pugs probably passed through, or even waited in, a parlor like the one depicted in the image below — or perhaps even this one. Successful city photographers in this period often created elaborately decorated parlors — versions of parlors in the houses of well-to-do people — to attract clients.  In research I did for a book on Victorian parlors, I discovered that these rooms were not only a marketing tool, they also allowed waiting customers to imagine themselves as refined, cultivated people. I don’t think that the noble pugs cared about anything in the parlor depicted below;  still, they may have enjoyed the warmth of the wall-to-wall carpet on their little pug toes!


Advertising cabinet photograph for Taber “Photographic Parlors,” ca. 1880.  Courtesy California State Library.

The studio where the noble pugs posed probably contained a number of different theatrical-style props — backdrops of architecture or natural scenery, drape-y curtains, posing chairs and carpets.  But the unknown photographer (I.W. Taber had a staff) who captured this image chose a setting of papier-mache rocks with an evident seam where two pieces were joined together.  Excelsior!  The detail below, which I have edited a bit to improve contrast, demonstrates that the pugs were not concerned about holding still for the camera.



Three Pugs 1

Verso of the original photograph.  The array of portrait work undertaken by I. W. Taber & Co.  was wide-ranging.

I’ve published quite a few studio portraits of dogs in this blog, and there will be more in future posts, but this is one of my very favorites.  As I go through my own smallish collection of nineteenth-century pet portraiture, I find that pugs are over-represented.  I’m not sure whether this is because they were especially treasured companion dogs, hence more likely to be taken to the studio for a portrait, or whether it is because they were a relatively new introduction to the array of dog breeds found in the United States in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  I’ll write about the fad for pugs in a future post.

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Filed under animal-human interaction, cabinet card, dog photography, dogs, pet antiques, pet photography, pet portraiture, pets, pugs

Pretty “Fido” the Ladies Pet: Pugs and Studio Portraiture

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“Pretty ‘Fido’ the Ladies Pet,” advertising trade card, signed “W” on the stone, probably 1880s.

This cross-eyed pug appears on a “stock” chromolithograph advertising trade card.  This seems to have been a popular card;  numbers of them survive in collections.  Mine is not printed on the back, so the business that gave it away is unknown. The front images on trade cards orten didn’t have much to do with the businesses giving them out. I found one example online that was distributed  by a company that sold trusses!

While this is specifically targeted to pugs, the genealogy of this kind of image lies in the satirical representations of tiny “lady’s dogs” (spaniels, little poodles, and others of uncertain breed) in eighteenth-century comic prints.  The pug became a target for trade-card satire when the breed enjoyed a burst of popularity in the U.S. beginning in the 1870s.  It was admitted to the stud book of the American Kennel Club in 1885, the year after it was founded.

The trade card satire is intended to represent a studio photograph.  The subject is dolled up with a ribbon collar and looks into the “camera.”  The number of studio photographs of pugs surviving from the last quarter of the nineteenth century suggest how much their owners prized them, and why.


Portrait of an unidentified gentleman pug. Cabinet card, ca. 1890. Edgecomb photography studio, Stoneham, Massachusetts.

Take this pug, for example.  Leaning against the back of a photographer’s “posing chair,” the well-fed subject (male or female, it’s impossible to tell) looks serious, even worried.  I’ve always thought that this photo, which I purchased many years ago, is of a little human trapped in a dog suit!


Unidentified girl and her pug.  Photograph by Prezeau & Tougas, San Francisco, California, dated 1904. Prezeau & Tougas seem to have been photographic itinerants who worked in New England after 1906.

Not all pugs were portly members of the bourgeoisie, however.  This San Francisco pug, a young male, looks like an energetic fellow;  his mistress has to hold his collar to keep him in the chair for a photo that seems to have been taken in the family’s back garden.

In both these portraits, I’m struck by how different the pugs’ faces look compared to pugs today.  While the trade card satirizes the short muzzle of its subject, the pugs in these photos actually have much longer snouts than the ones I see today.  This is one more tiny piece of evidence about how much dog breeders have been able to reshape the appearance of purebred dogs since the “fancy” for them arrived in Victorian America.



A very busy semester and a bout of the flu have meant that I’ve been unable to post as often as usual, but with the break of the holidays approaching, I will share some new artifacts in my collection of the material culture of pet keeping.  Stay tuned!

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