“Our Pussies singing. Our Pussies Ringing. Our Pussies dancing. Our Sammy singing a Serious solo Song.”
“Pussyland” is one part of a series of children’s books sold in Australia as “Childland.” Published in 1906, there is a copy of “Pussyland” for sale online for about a hundred dollars. I am keeping the location secret in case I suddenly inherit a fortune from a distant relative.
People in 1906 liked to see cats looking like cats. Not for them the cute-tification of the small tiger, the backyard terror, the deadly pouncer upon mice and birds. The “Hello Kitty” line is among the most stylized and least catlike. We like ‘em cute and cartoony, but the Edwardians wanted their cats beasty and a little wild. The serious bell ringers, the maw-stretching singers, “Sammy” in his tux fur, and the little girl kittens spreading wide their skirts to trip the light fantastic claw have much more charm to my eye. Oh, I wish I could see the other 16 pages of this book with illustrations in both black and white and color. What are the other pussies doing? Driving cars? Cooking fish for dinner? I want to know!
How did “pussy” acquire its modern meaning, its link to something other than cats? My guess is that both have fur and people like to pet them — and that’s all I’m saying, folks!
Whence came “Pussyland?” Edward William Cole, who published and sold this little book at his “E. W. Book Arcade,” ran a business known as “the palace of the intellect.”
But it was much more fun than that.
Customers could ignore the books and choose to eat and drink, listen to bands playing, look at themselves in wall-to-wall mirrors and watch the antics of live monkeys. There was a confectionary department where changing displays had oddities such as the toy hen that “laid” a tin of candy. Costumed jugglers entertained, exotic displays and installations pleased the eye – and this reputedly biggest bookstore on earth even had corners for readers to read books. It was the early Borders chain in hyper mode – the social center of Melbourne – and known far beyond Australia’s shores.
It was only a matter of time before Cole began to publish his own material, and “Pussyland” with its seriously purposeful cats and kittens is a most charming example. Sing, ring, dance, and solo on dear pussies – oh, please, won’t someone republish this little treasure?