Immortal Love: 19th and early 20th century photographs of dogs and their people.

Winter fun in Massachusetts, circa 1910.
Winter fun in Massachusetts, circa 1910. (Copyright 2022 by Anthony Cavo. Reprinted with permission from Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.)

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Antiques and dogs have always been a part of Anthony Cavo’s life. His mother, a nurse, fell in love with antiques in the 1960s and became an antiques dealer and auctioneer. Cavo has fond memories of searching through attics, basements, abandoned buildings, crawl spaces, funeral homes, and even a caretaker’s house in a cemetery with his parents to acquire items for both. his mother’s antique shops in New Jersey.

It was on these antique excursions that Cavo’s family acquired many of their dogs. their pug, Winston, whose breeding services were no longer needed and which was destined for slaughter, returned with them with an 18th century Chippendale chest of drawers.

They found their schnauzer, Schatzi, while buying antiques at an estate where the owner had died. They heard moans from the basement and the executor explained that no one wanted the dog left behind. Cavo’s mother didn’t hesitate to pick up the frightened and malnourished dog and bring him home.

Their rescues also included cats, doves, a flightless goose, a miniature alpine goat, and a parrot named Caesar. “No pet left behind,” Cavo said in the introduction to her book “Love Immortal: Vintage Photographs and Stories of Dogs and Their People.”.”

So when Cavo was cataloging his collection of old photographs several years ago, he was not surprised to find that he had collected so many portraits of people with their dogs. He was fascinated by the relationships between them in photographs, especially since the value of a dog in the 19th and early 20th century was often based on its usefulness to the owner.

When Cavo showed the images to others, they were intrigued and often expressed wonder at the age of the photographs. They were especially happy to see the pictures with children. All this inspired Cavo to publish these photographs in “Love Immortal”.

Cavo, a licensed art and antique appraiser, has been collecting old photographs for over 50 years. Growing up, he drove through New York City neighborhoods in his red wagon looking for antiques he could sell, only to spend that money buying more photographs. Cavo remembers when he fell in love with them during one of his family’s antique trips to Pennsylvania to visit the “Ann, the Duck Lady” shop.

“One day in 1963, among the piles of horsehair-upholstered Victorian chairs, marble-topped furniture, pillared mirrors and primitive furniture, I found a wooden box, its exterior stencilled in black: “From G . Cramer Dry Plate Co., St. Louis, Missouri.’

“I moved the box to a hazy area of ​​sunlight that entered the barn through a dirty, cracked window full of floating cobwebs and opened it to find hundreds of people dressed like the people in my school history books. Some of the men looked like Abraham Lincoln, and all of the women wore large dresses. By the time I finished rummaging through the box and examining each picture, I was hooked, a photo addict; I must have their. I wanted them all, but as a child I only had the money to buy a few. I carefully selected and paid for my photos, then went out into the barnyard to examine them in full sunlight.

“My excitement at discovering these images and my keen interest in them did not escape my parents. They soon joined me as I mined each photo and passed on to them what I had learned about them from Ann – that we were looking at the faces of people who lived over a hundred years ago. That evening, when we arrived home, my parents surprised me with the wooden box and its mysterious contents. I spread the pictures out on our dining room table and started poring over them, calling my parents and siblings whenever I found something interesting. Finally, my older sister, who is a self-proclaimed spokesperson for us six children, seemed to sum up my siblings’ disinterest by asking, “Why do you collect dead people, why don’t you collect baseball cards like a normal child? ‘ ”

The more than 200 photographs in Cavo’s book, taken between the 1840s and 1940s, come from all over the world. They include daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, carte de visite (small postcards) and sepia and black and white images. In his book, Cavo discusses the different types of photography methods that were being used at the time and the challenges that photographers faced when trying to capture these images.

Among the heartwarming photographs, Cavo weaves true stories of heroic dogs and dogs lost and found. Romey, the Newfoundland pictured below, saved his owners from raging floods in Pennsylvania when they were thrown from the floating roof of their home.

Cavo reminds us of the amazing traits dogs possess that have made them such an important part of our history. These photographs give us insight into not only the special relationships these people might have had with their dogs, but also what life might have been like with them at the time. The dogs worked hard for them, sometimes rescued them but, more importantly, provided them with companionship and unconditional love.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog dedicated to visual storytelling. This platform features captivating and diverse images from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you would like to submit a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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