Cats on a ladder, real photo postcard. Postmarked 8 October 1907.
Verso of real photo postcard above.
While I prepare some longer posts after some time off, here’s a terrific real photo postcard of a mother cat and four kittens posed on a stepladder. Two things are unusual in this image: the entire family appears to be white, and there are four kittens. It was often the case that, in the days before surgical spaying became available, all the kittens but one or two were drowned at birth. Perhaps the little fellows all survived because of their unusual color.
Presumably the photographer is “Glen,” who sent the postcard with the comment “thought I’d send you some cats.” However, this pose probably required more than one person: a cat arranger and a photographer ready with the camera before the subjects jumped down and ran off.
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.
Real photo or snapshot postcards are wonderful when they leave traces of long-ago fun. The simplicity of the camera and specially-sized roll film, along with the easy printing process on photographically sensitized postcards, gave people an opportunity to be creative with images in ways that we can recognize and to which we can relate. Here’s a card from the tiny town of Luana, Iowa. According to its Wikipedia entry (sometimes Wikipedia is incredibly useful; please support it), the northeastern Iowa town had 181 residents in 1920. So thirteen years earlier, when Glen sent this postcard to Lottie Splies, he probably could have walked it over to her house — but where’s the fun in that? I’m amazed that Glen got the mama cat and all four kittens to stay on the ladder until he could capture the image.
A ladder full of cats. Real photo postcard by Glen (last name unknown), Luana, Iowa, 1907.
Back of the postcard, postmarked Luana, Iowa, October 1907. Addressed to Miss Lottie Splies.