Lots of children kept rabbits as pets in the 1800s and early 1900s. The child’s plate below, which dates from the 1830s, shows a girl caring for her “favourite rabbits.” (I have been searching for the source of the verse on this plate; any leads will be much appreciated and fully credited!)
Children’s plate. Creamware with transfer and enamel designs, 1825-1850. Maker unknown.
I’m not completely sure why, but rabbits were regarded as perfect pets for children, perhaps because they could be kept outdoors in hutches; were gentle (although my rabbit-owning friends will tell you that they can and do bite); were relatively tolerant of over-enthusiastic handling; and multiplied quickly, offering replacements for casualties. They could also be eaten, although many Americans seem to have been losing their taste for roasted or stewed rabbit by the time this card was sent in 1916. While I can’t identify them for certain, Buster’s bunnies are probably “Rex” rabbits, a larger breed kept as both pets and meat animals.
Play with pet rabbits could become quite elaborate. My book Pets in America offers a detailed account of the “Bunny States of America,” a pretend-play world of pet rabbits, chickens and other animals enjoyed by the children who lived at the house Cherry Hill in Albany, New York about a decade before Buster wrote this postcard to his friend John.
While I can’t say this for certain, I think that Buster was also the amateur photographer here, with access to a simple box camera and, I presume, the ability to print his negatives on postcard blanks. Since he was studying geometry, he was probably a young teenager in 1916. I also like the set-up for this photo shoot. The “Friends” at the top were photographed on a tapestry carpet dragged outdoors for the purpose. Commercial postcards that featured photography of pet animals sometimes included set-ups like this, where several animals were depicted together. The handsome rabbit in the image below seems to be sunning him or herself on a worn tablecloth.
“Lombard’s Musical Cats,” photographer unknown; poem probably by Harlan P. Lombard. Auburn Post Card Manufacturing Company, Auburn, IN, between 1913 and 1929. Postally unused.
On this very hot Saturday (a day when all wise pets are taking naps someplace cool), allow me to introduce you to Lombard’s Musical Cats. I looked for information about this postcard on and off for months, and this pair, a mother and son team according to the poem, and their owner remained as mysterious as when I purr-chased the card. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself….)
I can tell you something about the Auburn Post Card Manufacturing Company, the publishers of this card. The company began as the Whitten-Dennison Post Card Company in Maine, but L. G. Whitten, one of the founders, moved it to Auburn, Indiana, and renamed it in 1913. The company made cards for businesses, cities, and tourist destinations. They were also known for their “comic” postcards on subjects like courtship and holiday cards. This, however, seems to be unique in their output. It is clearly a commission from someone who felt that he could make use of the minimum 500-card order required by APCMC.
And now I think I know the identity of the man behind “Lombard’s Musical Cats.”
Harlan P. Lombard (c. 1862 – 1942) was a composer of spectacularly obscure popular songs in the 1910s and 1920s. He lived in North Eastham, Massachusetts, according to copyright records. The 1920 U.S. Census listed him as a widower and a “music composer.” His works survive in a few pieces of sheet music in public collections. “If You’re a True America, You’re All Right” was self-published in 1917; a copy can be seen in the digital catalog of the Library of Congress. The caption above the song title is “‘Harmony Harl’s’ Patriotic March,” suggesting that he was a recognized local character with a presence as a performer known as Harmony Harl.
So let’s raise a glass of iced tea to the memory of Harmony Harl, Baby, and Thomas Boy!