Undying Love: Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Photographs of Dogs and Their Humans.

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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 going through attics, basements, abandoned buildings, crawl spaces, funeral homes, and even a janitor’s cabin in a cemetery with his parents to acquire items for his mother’s two antique shops in New Jersey.

It was on these antique trips that Cavo’s family acquired many of their dogs. your pug, Winston, whose deck services were no longer needed and should be put down, came home with an 18th century Chippendale dresser.

They found her mustache darling when buying antiques on a property where the owner had died. They heard whimpering from the basement, and the executor explained that nobody wanted to leave the dog behind. Cavo’s mother didn’t hesitate to pick up the frightened, malnourished dog and take her home.

Her rescues also included cats, pigeons, a goose that can no longer fly, a small alpine goat, and a parrot named Caesar. “No pet left behind,” Cavo said in the introduction to his book Love Immortal: Antique Photographs and Stories of Dogs and Their Humans.”

When Cavo cataloged his collection of old photographs a few years ago, he wasn’t surprised that he had collected so many portraits of people with their dogs. He was fascinated by the relationships between them in the photographs, especially as the value of a dog in the 19th and early 20th centuries was often based on its usefulness to the owner.

When Cavo showed the pictures to others, they were intrigued and often expressed surprise at how old the photos were. They especially enjoyed the photos with children. All of this inspired Cavo to publish these photographs in Love Immortal.

Cavo, a certified art and antiques appraiser, has been collecting vintage photographs for over 50 years. Growing up, he would roam the neighborhoods of New York in his red wagon in search of antiques to sell, only to spend that money buying more photographs. Cavo recalls the moment he fell in love with her on one of his family’s antique trips to Pennsylvania to visit the “Ann, the Duck Lady” shop.

“One day in 1963, among the stacks of horsehair-upholstered Victorian chairs, marble-topped furniture, pier mirrors, and primitive furniture, I found a wooden box stenciled in black on the outside: ‘By G. Cramer Dry Plate Co., St. Louis, MON.’

“I placed the box in a hazy patch of sunlight entering the barn through a dirty, cracked window full of fluttering 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 the women wore large dresses. By the time I finished rummaging through the box and examining each image, I was hooked, a photoholic; I had to have She. I wanted them all, but as a kid I only had enough money to buy a few. I carefully selected and paid for my photos, then went out to the courtyard to examine them in full sunlight.

“My excitement at discovering these paintings and my keen interest in them did not escape the notice of my parents. They soon joined me when I was extracting each photo and conveyed to them what I had learned from Ann about them – that we were looking into the faces of people who had lived more than a hundred years ago. When we got home in the evening, my parents surprised me with the wooden box and its mysterious contents. I spread the photos out on our dining room table and began examining each one with a magnifying glass, calling my parents and siblings whenever I found something interesting. Finally, my older sister, who was the self-proclaimed spokesperson for the six of us, seemed to sum up my siblings’ disinterest with the question, “Why do you collect dead bodies, why can’t you collect baseball cards like a normal kid?” ‘ ”

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

In the heartwarming photographs, Cavo weaves true stories of heroic dogs and dogs that were lost and then found. Romey, the Newfoundland dog pictured below, was rescuing his owners from raging Pennsylvania floodwaters when they were thrown off the floating roof of their home.

Cavo reminds us of the amazing qualities of dogs that have made them such an important part of our history. These photographs not only give us an insight into the special relationship these people had with their dogs, but also into life with them at that time. Dogs worked hard for her, sometimes rescuing her, but more importantly, they provided her with companionship and unconditional love.

In Sight is the Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narratives. This platform showcases compelling and diverse images from staff and freelance photographers, news outlets and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please fill out this form.

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