Rough on Rats

Pam’s Pictorama Post:  Might seem hard to believe, but I have been hunting the purchase of this card diligently for several years. It is more popular than it is especially rare, and on the occasions it came up for auction it sold high. I decided to wait it out and see if I could acquire it for a reasonable price. Last week I must have caught most of the rest of the cat advertising collectors napping and scored it at long last. The image will not be new to any of you who have poked around in the area of Victorian advertising cards, however I don’t think anyone can blame me for feeling that it is a high water mark of sorts for its type.

Ephraim S. Wells, a Jersey City resident, invented said rat poison in 1872, and his wife jokingly called it Rough on Rats and the name stuck. (This story may be apocryphal, but we at Pictorama never underestimate the influence of clever wives on the endeavors of their husbands.)  The E. S. Wells story is a good one. He started with a patent medicine business out of a storefront. It did poorly and in those early years he was generally always barely one step away from financial ruin. The rat poison in question was developed and used first, with great success, in his own rat-ridden shop. He took advantage of the new federal trademark law and cleverly patented the Rough on Rats name – as well as multiple variations. He eventually abandoned the retail business and put serious money on the line for advertising the mail order business.  (Please note that for this background I have made use of a great online source by Loren Gatch and for those of you who want the whole story I suggest having at look at E. S. Wells was Rough on Rats.)

Wells had a good eye for copy and imagery and he made a fortune. The general theme of the advertising played along the lines of cats plunged into unemployment by the brilliant rat ridding product, and also of rats trying to educate their offspring in offensive maneuvers to avoid it. There was evidently even a song Wells produced, which included the dubious lyrics, R-A-T-S, Rats, Rats, Rough on Rats/Hang your dog and drown your cats! Please know that we at Pictorama cannot endorse such tunes. I am sorry, however, that I was unable to locate the sheet music illustration which is probably a pip.

On my card we see these shocked pusses, posed in front of the now useless rat traps hung up on the walls, above the caption Our occupation gone “Rough on Rats Did it. I am greatly enamored of these multicolored cats (a blue one front and center) who are giving this container of rat poison a wide-eyed and mostly open-mouthed, toothy frowns. Tails are neatly curled around cat feet in what is mostly a repetitive cat design formula. They are a great and colorful group.

Here are my other two favorite examples from the more rat-centric versions of the advertising. I especially like the line at the bottom of the top version, This is what killed your poor father. Shun it! Avoid anything containing it throughout your future useful careers. We older heads object to its especial roughness

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Rough on Rats Lecture, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Rough on Rats card, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The back of my card, shown below, features some of the other products offered by Mr. Wells which include, perhaps a bit terrifying Mother Swan’s Worm Syrup which states if worms not expelled by it you may depend they do not exist. Never does harm. Always does good…It is sweet and nice. Taking into consideration that it was ultimately confirmed that Rough on Rats was nothing more than largely unadulterated arsenic, the thought of his patent medicines may take on a darker perspective. Nonetheless, Wells died a wealthy man in 1913 and the company continued with popularity through the 1940’s; it was subsequently sold in 1950, and later went out of business.

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Back of Rough on Rats card, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

In conclusion, having explored the darker side, I offer you a Van Buren cartoon I stumbled across as I did my research. It provided me with a splendid giggle this morning and I hope you will enjoy it as my parting offering as well. It can be found on Youtube here as Rough on Rats.

 

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Itsy Bitsy Photos

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: To start with we at Pictorama must acknowledge a significant debt to the modern miracle of Photoshop as well as Mr. Deitch who was at the controls. These photos suffered miserably from ham handed amateur printing – and perhaps equally unskilled shooting of the original photos as well. This trio of photos are pallid and over-exposed in their original forms, and have undoubtedly faded additionally with age as well. Nonetheless I saw the potential when they went on sale. While it is sad to have photos in my collection that cannot really be enjoyed on their own, it is nice for them to have another life here at Pictorama. They appear to have come out of albums and none of them have any information along with them. Clearly they meant enough to the people in them to have kept them all these years, overexposure not withstanding.

Meanwhile, I am just mad for the Felix the Cat costume! It is just the sort I have always hoped to find on eBay and snatch up for myself. It is hard to see, but this little girl has her pageboy cut hair tucked smartly into the cat-eared cap – those ears are the best part of the costume for me! However, worth noting that there are girl and boy Felix-es dancing on the front, smaller supporting white cats in each corner, and the capper of a long tail draped behind her. It is a splendid costume and she is very pleased with herself, as she should be. No less notable are the spiffy, shiny, Mary Janes both are sporting here with their costumes. Our Miss Moffett is no less pleased with herself and this dress, which I hope ultimately saw additional wearings because it is so beautiful. It is so cleverly designed and beautifully made, and the big fat spider tied with a ribbon bow to her arm is a perfect finishing touch. (Full disclosure, there is another photo of just her, an 8″x10″ sold with the group, but it is blurry and it didn’t seem worth including.) I like the almost haughty expression on Miss Moffet’s face too – she is embodying her role fully.

Our little Mother Goose below appears a bit younger, but no less costume proud. Nor should she be with her delightfully frilly dress and this nice stuffed white goose. She has a sweet, shy smile in her photo, peering out under the brim of her peaked hat. If only the photographer had been as skilled as the talented soul who made these costumes. It must have been very frustrating to only have these poor faded remembrances of them and this magical Halloween celebration!

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Last in this group and appearing to have been taken by someone else entirely, although perhaps even a different day, are these youngsters dressed up like the graces. As Kim said, this photo appears to be moments before a better one was taken in which they organized themselves a bit better in their poses. Still, there is plenty of charm in this candid photo of these girls, costumed up and enjoying themselves in this long-ago, overgrown backyard, all of which probably lived on in memory for each of them as a very fine time indeed.

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Margate Holiday

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Continuing on from last Sunday’s British invasion with a photo from the resort of Bognor, our UK holiday larks continue today with this souvenir postcard which appears to hail from Margate. There is no indication of date on the back, and the only writing is in pencil in one corner On 1/2 stilts, but printed at one end is Sunbeam Photo Ltd., 82 Sweyn Road, Margate, For all orders by Post. When searched Google Earth photos shows the back of a brick building facing another road at approximately as 82 Sweyn Road is today – in the other direction one can see the ocean and beach at the end of a block of brick row houses.

If our bubble-headed friend in the striped pants is on half stilts, he must be pretty short to start with. And yet there is something about his legs that makes the stilt argument a logical one – oh, but walking on sand on stilts? Yikes. While he certainly isn’t a jaunty, giant stuffed Felix the Cat doll, he is a jolly fellow and I can see why these ladies are smiling and enjoying their photo op with him.

I guess I could stretch a point and say that his is a cat head, but I think we won’t try to put too fine a point on it. From the clothes of the women I would date this at the early 1940’s. Behind them a dandy looking ice cream shack and a man, set up in a beach chair, who appears to be leaning into the photo act as well.

For those of us in the New York area, summer seems to have come to a quick end into fall. It is often like that here – suddenly there are events everywhere, exhibition openings and concerts. Folks have returned from vacation and it is the adult version of buckle down back-to-school. Still, even the weather took a cool turn quickly this year, and although we are almost assured of an Indian summer we find ourselves eyeing the wool in our closet already. For me, this card grabbed me back for one last look over the shoulder at summer and vacation, cotton print dresses and kicking up our heels with a bubble-headed fellow on this long-ago beach.

Mousetown

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Photos of off-model, hand-rendered Mickey and Minnies could make up an entire sub-genre of collecting. I have one other notable acquisition in my collection which I featured awhile back in Lost and Found Photo. While that barn-side painting was the whole show, this grinning Mickey and Minnie are using their come hither (and reasonably accurate) appeal to lend credence and atmosphere to this intriguing mini-mouse circus attraction. No traveling circus this – it appears to be a fairly solid, permanent sideshow feature somewhere.

On the back, written in red pen is, Ken Roden Decorator and Conjurer in Bognor for 50 years. In addition there are some handwritten notes in pencil which seem more contemporary, Bognor R5lE and in a different hand R12154. Bognor was a bit of a mystery at first until I found a seaside resort with a (rather splendid looking) continuously running sideshow several decades old in a town called Bognor Regis in England. It appears to be across and on the mainland from the more famous resort area the Isle of Wight. (The sort of seaside digs that would have featured the opportunity to pose for a photo with Felix? I like to think so!) A place called Butlin’s there claims to have a continuous sideshow that is 80 years old which takes us back to the late thirties and it could even be that sideshow I believe. I purchased this photo postcard from a US dealer, but there is additional evidence below that this is likely from Britain. Frankly I was surprised it turned out to be British – there’s something very American about it in my mind. Sadly, numerous searches for Ken Roden did not turn up a period reference to a person – it appears to be a common name. Decorator and conjurer is a fascinating combination as well. I wonder, he would decorate my house like Mousetown? Not an entirely unpleasant thought, but I may be in the minority on that one.

Having blown the photo way up I can read the signs pretty much in their entirety. The one over the door reads, Bring Daddy In (?) above the, Real Live Mice and below that, Showing All the Time. Behind the really scary clown lurking in the doorway is a sign that says MOUSE TOWN top entertainment…charging for…LITTLE SHOW with BIG APPEAL. Obscured over to the left is part of a sign which seems to read Fun for All and one at the bottom which alludes to something allowed – might I suggest perhaps cats not allowed? The entrance fee for Mousetown is noted as 6D, as per the sign on the upper left and the one below the seated clown, which appears to offer some sort of discount for children I cannot make out. At first I thought this meant $6 (way too expensive!), but then realized it is the British notation for their equivalent of 6 cents.

And finally – the tiny little mouse stage which we can just about see behind the clown! We cannot quite make it out (even blowing the photo up) except there are tiny ladders and some sort of stage/obstacle course for said talented, trained and performing mice. I feel I must confess that I belong to a category of people who perversely and illogically think mice are fine if they are pets, but they generally make me want to scream and execute a cartoon climb onto a chair, calling for Cookie and Blackie, if found in nature – such as our apartment, or an eating establishment as happened recently. I can however, easily imagine paying up and happily having a look at Mousetown’s offerings. Undoubtedly, I would have been treated to a performance of Busby Berkeley-like precision and mouse perfection, racing through their paces and end with a chorus line and perhaps even eking out a squeaky tune?

Ding Dong Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Nothing like a toy post as a shot in the arm after a hard week of returning to work, summer already a fading memory! This splendid roly poly toy turned up in one of my searches and I was just nuts to get a hold of him. Much to my delighted surprise he still makes a jolly ringing noise when you move him back and forth. The cats and I were as charmed and entertained as small children when this arrived. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, roly poly toys are those that are weighted in the bottom in such a way that they pop back up when you push them down. I own a Felix roly poly I wrote about in my post Felix Roly Poly awhile back, and although he is splendid, he doesn’t make a wonderful chiming noise like this fellow.

He is so dapper! I love that he has that little walking stick, cravat and nice suit. The paint around his mouth has faded in such a way that he sports and big red grin. Cookie and Blackie especially like the sound he makes and come running to see what I am doing when they hear it. They aren’t sure how they want to play with (reads as destroy) this charming object, but they are very interested indeed.

As you can see from the label on his back, shown below, he is a pre-occupied Japan toy. Hard for me to pinpoint and I am open to suggestions. I feel like he could date anywhere from the ’20’s to the ’40’s from appearance. While I have had some luck with Google Image search on toys, all I got when I tried this photo was a bunch of (somewhat frightening) images of cats dressed up in Elizabethan style ruffs. Yikes!

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Long time Pictorama readers may remember my having professed some hesitation about collecting in the world of fragile celluloid (such as the aptly named post Fear of Celluloid), but this fellow actually seems fairly sturdy, despite his years and fragile material. Roly polys had largely gone out of fashion by the time I came on the scene in the mid 1960’s. However, I was entranced by a toy that worked on the same idea, a large blow-up clown (at least that is the one I remember), about as tall as I was, with sand weighting the bottom. You could push him over and he would pop right back up. I adored it. It seems a bit violent perhaps upon reflection. But still, when I look back on it, his refusal to stay down was probably a good message for me as a little kid.

Dress up Hijinx

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is hard for me to resist an interesting Halloween card. This one hails, at least most recently, from Pennsylvania. It is unused and therefore not dated, the seller places it at 1907-1912 which seems like a fair estimate. These folks put some real effort into their dress up play. For me at least the prize for best costume is tied between the polar bear critter being ridden by someone who looks like Miss Muffet, and that extraordinary black bird creature to the right. He is terrifying in just the right costume way. They do look as if they could be putting on a play rather than dressing for Halloween, although the storyline is far from self-evident. The season looks right for late October, but we can’t know for sure. (One wonders if eight copies were made of this photo postcard, one for each person – and if so, could others possibly turn up? Such things have happened to me before. See my post Cat Chair Photo Sleuth.)

Perhaps my interest in such cards has to do with the idea that I somehow always dreamed I would have the opportunity to participate in this kind of dress up. As a child I had certain ideas about what I thought adulthood would hold for me that I now realize were a bit strange – largely the product of reading a certain kind of early novel and many old movies. For example, I assumed that I would move to a city where I would eat in nightclubs that had live dance bands and served dinner to people in evening clothes. (Oddly, with my new job and Dizzy’s jazz club, I am belatedly achieving that in a sense, although no dancing and evening gowns would be an exaggeration.) I thought I would drink water glass size mixed drinks that seem to be generically referred to as cocktails (certainly don’t do that), and that I would go to dress-up parties with everyone in wonderful costumes.

Now, I didn’t necessarily think all these things would happen at the same time. I did think the costume parties would be when I was younger and the dinner dancing in gowns would come later. As it happens, I can only remember one interesting costume affair I attended as an adult. It was an opening for a Robert Crumb exhibit at a huge gallery and about half of us were in costume. I was wearing a turn-of-the-century velvet coat, a long black dress and a witches hat. It was an interesting evening – lots of people, food and drink. My date and I went in different directions immediately and I flirted with all sorts of people – must have been the witch costume at work. I seem to remember being disappointed that I didn’t see Kim there – we were just friends at the time, but I always looked for him at gatherings such as this. I guess part of me knew before the we caught up with us. And that, on the other hand, is the sort of the splendid thing you can’t possibly imagine when you are a kid thinking about what it will be like to be grown up.

 

Beach Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo turned up recently in a search and seems an appropriate one for the last waning days of this summer. The photo suffers from over exposure, but there was still something about it that grabbed my attention. When it arrived in the mail I was shocked to find that it is a quite small snapshot, about 2×3 inches. The woman in the water seems unusually tall – Kim joked that she looks like a mannequin and he is right. There’s something odd about the perspective that I can’t quite put in its proper place.

I don’t know about your cats, but I can’t imagine a world where mine want to go to the beach – let alone out onto a stone jetty like the one here, with water on three sides. I can only say it would be a formula for being scratched in the most notable way as the cat shot out of my arms like a bullet. However, this nice striped fellow is looking very at home indeed in the arms of his mom.  While swim fashions have changed, these folks are stylish and the woman has her hair done up in a scarf-held style of the day. I am interested in her swim shoes, if that’s what they are – the men in question don’t seem to feel the need to be shod in a similar way, but one does walk on all sorts of things in the water. It takes a moment to realize that there are two people at the end of the jetty, behind the man and woman most visible – just a leg, head and arm can just about be seen.

Where I grew up there were ocean jetties like this, but considerably broader, two to three times wider and long – this looks more like beaches I have seen further north in Connecticut or Massachusetts. In addition to the jetties on the Jersey shore, there are also broad, high seawalls (at least that what we called them) which contained the ocean from the strip of land and busy road during perennial flooding. This seems like a quaint idea now, as during a hurricane like Sandy the ocean managed to not only flood well over the seawalls, but cover them entirely, eventually meeting up with the river on the other side of the peninsula. As a child these walls seemed incredibly high and on the rare occasions that the ocean flooded high enough that you could see it breaking over the tops of the seawall to the child version of me it meant serious flooding indeed.

In the end, all this is to say there were an abundance of stone walls on the beaches, between the jetties and the seawall. My mother used to point out that a lot of stray cats lived amongst all the rocks – I guess there was enough for them to eat, vicious water rats being their likely mainstay. Evidently mom, cat lover extraordinaire, had tried to pet one of these veteran ratters once and was rewarded with some memorable scratches. She told the story to my sister and I as a cautionary tale, as we were both beach goers and cat lovers as tiny tots, likely to make the same mistake. As she pointed out, if they were dining on water rats they had to be a tough lot. I believe in subsequent years volunteers rounded up most of these strays and neutered and released them to reduce the stray population. Given the recent proclivity for extreme flooding in the area I hope this is true. However, I can’t think about them though without imagining a sweet, young, naive Betty Butler trying to pick up a wild cat of a jetty kitten.