Monday, October 21, 2013

Vintage LOL Cats and Other Funny Felines

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Take a picture or video of a cat and slap a funny caption on it and you have Internet gold.   Keyboard Cat, Grumpy Cat, and other so-called LOL Cats have taken the web by storm over the past few years (my personal favorite is Henri, Le Chat Noir, the “French” tuxedo cat in deep existential despair.)  With endless LOL cats to brighten our lives now, how sad it must have been to have lived in a pre-Internet world without cats and their people asking such vital questions as “I can haz cheezburger?”

But alas, we’re not as clever and innovative as we think.  We have merely used our technology to play on a great, eternal, and universal truth: people have always liked funny cat pictures.

As evidence, I would like to bring your attention to the late nineteenth century.  Much like now, this was a cat image golden age.  Due to wider acceptance of the concept of pampered pets, cats with funny sayings adorned trade cards, magazines, and other printed materials.  Below is a series of trade cards from the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (or A&P as we know them now).  They detail love and violence cat-style.

Funny feline appearances were not limited to cartoons and made-up cats.  The era had its own celebrity cats who received the caption treatment.  Below are images of Mark Twain’s cats Blatherskate, Sourmash, Apollinaris, and Zoroaster with the captions that they were given in an 1899 issue of St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks:

"Mark Twain's Cats, Before the Dog Interfered"

"The Dog Taps on the Window"
Since this is a very visual topic, I will leave you with a few more of my favorite local cat-themed trade cards.  So next time you’re enjoying a video of a cat in a shark costume chasing a duck while riding a Roomba, remember the historic origins of our crazy Internet obsessions.


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