Tableta Okal

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This very odd bit came up on eBay recently and it was decidedly more interesting than good. There seems to be something of an influx of Spanish related Felix items being sold be an American seller or sellers and I have dabbled a bit, but mostly watched from the sidelines. I did purchase and write about Periquito, the Spanish Felix of Chocolate Cards awhile back, and recently a different line of chocolate cards has also appeared which may eventually lure me in. There’s also a brand of very appealing and rarified off-model Felix decorated tin toys which is extremely high end. Unlikely I will add any of those to my collection, although I never say never. I have wondered if the item featured in The Strangeness of French Betty and Felix (and shown below) while purchased in Paris and wooden, not tine, wasn’t actually of this origin, but it is without maker’s mark so I cannot say for sure.

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As many of you Spanish speakers probably already realize, this card actually advertises a children’s laxative. Ick! It has employed the double whammy of invoking Mickey Mouse’s shape along with (a version of shall we say?) of Felix playing an accordion. Since children, Spanish or otherwise, don’t tend to buy their own laxative I wonder a bit at the practice.  We will assume if asked Disney and Sullivan wouldn’t have approved of it. I have devoted many posts to the various ways that Felix was pressed into service by ambitious advertisers of generations past. Meanwhile, this item is also a clear descendent of the Victorian trade cards I have written about, although clearly not so lovingly lithographed as those in Bogue’s Soap.

Gratefully I do not remember a parallel item in my childhood. I do remember bubble bath in child friendly character containers, which is clearly far more benign. By the time my brother, almost seven years younger than me, arrived on the scene advertising tie ins had graduated to child themed cereals – Count Chocula being an example and vitamins in the shape of, if I remember correctly, The Flintstones. Of course we live in a different world of advertising (well, of almost everything I sometimes think) and we now have everything from Gummy Bear Hair Vitamins and melatonin (thank you Eileen for pointing those out recently) to Choco Chimps Organic cereal, which I guess has taken the place of the aforementioned Count Chocula? Caveat emptor I say! But let the collecting continue.

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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.

 

Tommy Dodd

Pam’s Pictorama: The trade card bonanza continues with this card, which does not appear to actually advertise anything. The back is blank and looks like it spent some time glued onto an album page. This fellow, sporting his medal and with his somewhat human expression, would be a tad creepy if he showed up looking just like this at your house one day – and I like cats as you know. His origins are a bit obscure, although I guess a picture does form, so read on.

First, there is a tweet from the San Francisco public library of this card with the following post about the image on this card:  Tommy Dodd sends his #caturday greetings! This adorable cat won first prize at the International Cat Show, and then was featured on a trade card for a shoe store specializing in children’s shoes, on Stockton Street. In the San Francisco History Center’s trade card collection. Mine shows no evidence of San Francisco or children’s shoes, however these cards were clearly purchased by companies which printed their own message on the back or bottom. Still, um, somehow I doubt this was a real cat who one a prize at an international cat show – just a guess.

Researching the slang phrase Tommy Dodd turned up many meanings, some related and some clearly not. I list them here for your consideration in no particular order: odd or peculiar; a cemetery may be known as Tommy Dodd’s garden; thank Tommy Dodd for this or that; a phrase related to coin tossing (mid 19th century) as in tossing odds; penis; sodomite; a style of hat; a glass of beer or a walking stick. (The last three were from Australia.)

The coin tossing allusion is the one most frequently sited and referred to. It appears that there were numerous beer hall songs devoted to Tommy Dodd and below is the chorus to one I was able to find, as well as a link to the lyrics of the full song:

I’m always safe when I begin. Tommy Dodd, Tommy Dodd I Glasses round, cigars as well. Tommy Dodd. Tommy Dodd I Now, my boys, let’s all go in, Tommy Dodd, Tommy Doddl Head or tail, I’m safe to win, Hurrah for Tommy Dodd! (Lyrics for Tommy Dodd)

As is the case with many of these cards, there was a series that would have been collected – a nascent form of comics? I also turned up another in the series, as well as some companion dog cards shown below:

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Other cards from the same series.

 

Arctic Baking Powder

Pam’s Pictorama: An unexpected bonus of the unpacking earlier today, this card fell out of something and was rediscovered. I remember buying it, but absolutely no idea what it fell out of and why it had been put there. Written in a kid’s hand on the back is Otto Lannaff or maybe Lamnaff? And he outlined the cat’s head which can be seen through the card.

The story of Arctic Baking Powder, if there is one, seems largely lost in the mists of time. While I thought I was onto something when I found information about a man named William Ziegler, who made his fortune in baking powder and then funded an Arctic expedition, he did not in turn name his company Arctic. I was able to piece together the fact that Arctic Baking Powder had a number of entertaining cat cards and this was one in a series. (I also found an advertising card done for them that was earlier than these and it was a snore.) Below is another I found online that was sold on eBay previously which I find equally notable and charming.

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The policeman cat, showing this nicely dressed rat clad in a short jacket and politely holding his hat an Arctic Baking Powder sign is very jolly indeed and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. What is he telling the rat? “This is good stuff Mr. Rat!” Meanwhile, police kitty is so much more serious than my ribald fellow – mine dancing and winking, a naughty fellow. I like his fang-y grin, cane in hand. Very natty outfit with bow tie and that fat striped tail. It is very hard to see, but in the upper left corner of my card it reads, I had a darling racket last night. I can’t say I know for sure what it means, but clearly – oolala Mr. Cat! Must be a kissing cousin to the kind of racket you are asked by your neighbors to stop making late at night. These could be the same artist, but I am on the fence about that.

So, baking powder. I, for one, used to confuse it with baking soda all the time and had to puzzle through which to buy to keep the cat’s litter box or refrigerator from smelling. There’s something old fashioned seeming about baking powder – although I would imagine it is used in baking as much now as ever. (I was once very fond of baking powder biscuits – a bit heavier than regular ones, but yummy and quick to make.) Baking soda comes in a box and, probably for the reason of some potential chemical interaction, baking powder comes in tin cans. (To digress a moment – I loved when bandaids came in tin boxes. I saved one before they all disappeared – sensed that they were on their way out although they lasted a long time. Always kept spare money in them. Why is there so little tin now?) So, bottom line, I don’t know what this hotsy-totsy kitty was doing with baking powder, but I want some. He must have sold a whole lot of baking powder in his day.