Having early been exposed to hogs on a family farm and later as a journalist writing about livestock, I have had fixation on pigs — most precisely, the depiction of pigs in various formats. In August 2009 on this blog I posted an article entitled “Swigging the Pig,” a look at pig-shaped whiskey bottles. Subsequently I have collected a variety of swine images, some comic, others not so, and believe it time to visit this pig pen.
The first object is a ceramic sow who is eagerly drinking from a jug of whiskey. This figurine graced my office for decades, part of the collection of hillbilly items that surrounded my work space. Looking at it never ceased to amuse me, so delighted did the pig seem with its gulp of liquor. As a result of a recent downsizing, however, this image now resides in the collection of the Ralph Foster Museum on the campus of the College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Missouri.
No company in the U.S. is more closely identified with swine than the Cudahy Packing Company. Founded by immigrant Irish brothers, it was carried forward over the years by family members who expanded its operations from Milwaukee to other cities and became one of America’s largest pork packing houses. The Omaha packing house was founded in 1887 by Michael Cudahy. It issued this “mechanical” trade card of a hog, shown above and below, urging viewers to pull its nose. Then are revealed sausages, a ham, bacon and a container of lard.
The French are less sensitive about the process by which such products are achieved and on a trade card from Auvergne, a region in central France, it provided an image of a happy pig slicing its own belly to obtain sausages. The message tells us that we can eat this meat with pleasure and not get tired. While the image has elicited considerable comment on the Internet, found to be from funny to disgusting, observers disagree on what “Cochon Prodique” means — the most logical explanation being that a pig provides a extremely generous amount of meat.
The pigs in the next ad provide a contrast between a hog that has been fed “Merry War Lye” and fattened up for the slaughter and a sadly emaciated one who likely will have its life spared for the time being. The fat one has been fed Merry War Lye, apparently a powdered miracle product that could be used around the farm yard for a myriad of purposes. Not only could you feed lye to your hogs but it also had uses for poultry, cattle, making soap, using on fruit trees, as fertilizer, in the barn, the silo and around the dairy.
Lots of advertisers seem to like to dress up their swine. From a Sacramento grocery comes this image of a pig complete with red striped britches, frock coat, top hat, cravat, and vest with watch fob, who is smoking a cigarette on a holder. The tag line is an enigma: “I’m a Dandy, But I’m No Dude.” Actually, a small pig raised for pet purposes is called a “Dandie Extreme,” with prices starting at $2,500 and additional fees amounting in the hundred. The porker here is touting his hams — unaware of the fate that lies ahead.
An advertising pocket mirror from the Allbright-Nell Company, seemingly based in Illinois, was unabashed in its depiction of what happens to even the best of swine. The company manufactured a mechanism and straps that held the animals in slaughter houses and butcher shops. In one of his novels, William Faulkner provided a graphic description of such hanging hogs. He says they appear to be “running into eternity.”
Another frequent use of the pig images is to show it in unlikely activities, as here, riding a roller skate. This is a framed exhortation, the kind sometimes seen on the walls of organizations that claim to be able to “change your life.” In this case, “Never Be Afraid to Try Something New.” For example, try launching your $2,500 dandie piglet on a single roller skate. Just plain fun.
Pig images also can have practical uses, like this bottle opener from Finck’s Overalls.” The company’s tagline “Wears Like a Pig’s Nose” was a phrase known throughout the country. Headquartered in Detroit, Finck made quality denim garments for farm workers and laborers — both occupational groups who might need an opener for their beer bottles. After the brand was purchased from the Finck family by a competitor it was discontinued in 1960.
The animal in its various forms also the subject of puns. Note the chaotic scene shown here on a trade card in which a thief attempting to abduct piglet is being challenged by the adult hogs in the pen. The thief is said to be in a “Pig-A-Rious Position.” My efforts to find something about Henry Max and his restaurant and refreshment saloon have gone unrewarded. Located in the Shamut District of Boston, Montgomery Place today shows no semblance of a saloon.
The final pig image needs no further explanation. As the reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel charged with covering the livestock competitions at the Wisconsin State Fair, I wrote with such poetic eloquence that I became known as “The Swinburne of the Swine Barns.” Here, however, words escape me. Except one observation: A hog as ugly as this one would never have been voted any kind of ribbon.