Illustration by Julia Rothman
I am utterly devoted to my cats (cats have that power over you). But unbeknownst to them, I harbor secret dog fantasies, which involve me driving a beat-up pickup truck with a buddy dog wearing a blue bandana at my side. Yes, we cat people can be dog people, too. The ancient Egyptians are well known for their cat obsession, but they also had an affectionate relationship with canines. Cleopatra was said to have given miniature greyhounds to Caesar. Some of the more touching historic examples of the bond between human and dog come from members of European royalty. Fear of disease and distrust meant that royal children lived relatively solitary lives. Often their only friends would have been those of the four-legged variety. When the middle classes grew throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, ways to pamper pets increased. In honor of pet families, this Past & Present is going to the dogs. — Amy Azzarito
Tonight is the book launch party for Past & Present at West Elm on Broadway and 62nd. If you’re in New York, Grace, Max and I would love to meet you! There will drinks and Smilebooth, and the projects from the book will be on display. RSVP here.
The first accessory ever put on a dog was most certainly a collar. After all, then as now, the collar was essential for training, identified ownership and also reflected social standing. Archaeologists recently unearthed King Cuo of Zhongshan (pre-dynastic, 323–309 BC China), who had been buried with his dog. His apparently much-beloved dog was still wearing his collar of gold, silver and turquoise. Roman dogs belonging to high-ranking members of society wore collars of beautifully wrought silver. Medieval hunting dogs wore more utilitarian collars with protective spikes. And Renaissance tapestries frequently depict dogs wearing elaborately jeweled collars. Louis XI of France (1423–1483) may have been a cheapskate, but he loosened the purse strings when it came to his favorite greyhound. The dog wore a collar made of scarlet velvet decorated with 20 pearls and 11 rubies. These royal collars weren’t just status symbols; they were propaganda. Anne of Brittany, the wife of Louis XI’s son, Charles VIII, had 24 pet dogs, and each wore a black velvet collar from which were suspended four ermine paws of pure white — a reference to the Brittany arms in which an ermine is depicted.
Image above: 1. French 19th-century silver plated collar, $650 | 2. French brass and leather collar with bulldog heads, sold for $780 inc. premium | 3. A gold collar consisting of three tapering bars, fused at the ends. A catch-plate, loosely attached by hooks at the end, which pass through perforations, allows the collar to be taken on and off the neck. The front segments of the bars carry incised geometric ornaments divided into panels and fringed with a dog’s tooth design. From the British Museum. | 4. Victorian engraved silvered metal and leather collar, sold for $3,000 | 5. & 6. Victorian dog collar, sold as a set of 3 for $1159
More past dog history and present dog goodies after the jump . . .
Image above: American 20th-century leather and gilt metal collar, sold at auction for $540 via Bonhams 1973
In the 18th century, the fashion changed from velvet collars to collars made of silver or even gold. Dog collars for royalty were made out of increasingly more precious materials — the height of ridiculousness was 18th-century France, where Marie Antoinette’s dogs wore collars studded with diamonds. After the French Revolution, aristocracy throughout Europe learned the value of being a little more understated. Empress Josephine’s pugs wore simple collars adorned with bells. And in England, Queen Victoria’s lapdogs wore simple velvet collars. In colonial America, every respectable dog would have worn a collar, but like their European historical counterparts, those who had the means used the dog collar as a way to advertise wealth and status. Collars made of brass would have been imported from England and were sometimes inscribed with the owner’s name. (Sadly, the collars often lasted longer than the dogs, so a single collar would have been used over the lives of several dogs.)
Image above: 1. Dog collar made of leather, silver and iron. From The British Museum | 2. Victorian dog collar, sold as a set of 3 for $1159 | 3. Engraved silvered metal and leather collar, British, 19th century. Sold for US $7,930 | 4. Early 17th-century collar for hunting dog. From The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Image above: Dog kennel by Jean Baptiste-Claude Sené made for Marie Antoinette, Metropolitan Museum of Art
At Versailles in the late 18th century, dogs were everywhere. Poodles at court were trained to hold up their owners’ trains so that their fashionable ladies wouldn’t trip on their dresses. When it came time to sleep, only hunting dogs were kenneled outside, and even then, favorites were allowed to roam free. Most dogs slept with their masters or occasionally on a cushion specially made for them. Louis XI of France (who had the fancy collar for his greyhound mentioned above) not only had a bed for little Mistodin, his greyhound, but also had special nightclothes made for the dog to prevent him from catching a cold. Empress Josephine’s pugs slept near her on cashmere shawls or on valuable carpets. Unsurprisingly, so many dogs in bedrooms didn’t create the best-smelling environment, so it was common for rose petals to be strewn about the bed in an attempt to mask the smell.
Image above: Daguerreotype portrait of a dog by Louis-Auguste Bisson, 1841–1849, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Egyptian nobility kept their dogs in mud-bricked kennels. The dogs were cared for by professional trainers. Dogs were also an accepted part of Chinese, Greek and Roman societies. Small dogs were popular companions, living most of their lives indoors. (Of course, sadly, then as now, for every pampered dog, there were many homeless ones.) Hunting grew in popularity as a sport for nobility during the Middle Ages, and noblemen often maintained extremely large dog kennels. However, as mentioned above, only the hunting dogs were kept outside. During the 1800s, when dog breeding increased in popularity, the classic pitched-roof dog house also came into vogue. In the U.S. prior to World War II, most dog houses would have been made with scraps of leftover materials. Following the war, factory-made dog houses became more common.
Books to Read
Four Centuries of Dog Collars at Leeds Castle — Leeds Castle has a special “dog collar museum.” This book depicts a collection of 63 collars presented to the museum by Gertrude Hunt in memory of her husband, John Hunt.
Pets in America: A History — From White House gerbils to Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s many cats, this book presents a history of the American obsession with pets.
Reigning Cats and Dogs: A History of Pets at Court Since the Renaissance — This is a charming book filled with anecdotal stories of noble cats and dogs throughout history.
The only downside to being a cat owner is that there just aren’t the same fashion options. I lost myself in the world of dog collars, dog beds and dog houses. (Someone, please send me a photo of your dog in that bow tie!)
Image above: 1. Autumn Mini Plaid Dog Bow Tie Collar, $43 | 2. Hemp Dog Collar — Wag Like an Egyptian, $18 | 3. War Dog Leather Dog Collar, $69 | 4. Nice Grill Cream & Black Collar, $24 | 5. Out of My Box Black and Vermillion Leash, $30 | 6. Navy Watch Wax Collar, $48
Image above: Urbanest Pet Bed, $190
Image above: 1. Flagged Collar, $14–$20 | 2. Chalkboard Treat Jars, $28 | 3. Can You Read This Dog Tag, $12 | 4. Pebble Leather Collar Cobalt, $70 | 5. Dog Biscuits, $9.50 | 6. Jasper Dog Bandana, $25 | 7. Ryley’s Rhinestone Lead, $45 | 8. Navigator Dog Collar, $25.95
Image above: New Age Pet All-weather Insulated Dog House, $276.79
Image above: Pet Beds, $120