Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rats To You: An Unusual Infested Collection

By Stephen J. Gertz

"VASILEV." A Tale Depicted in Personalities: A Procession of Rats.
With Russian verse below. Lithograph. Moscow: c. 1880-90.

Rats on parade recently at Bloomsbury Auctions when the collection of Mr. David Drummond was offered for sale last week to benefit the Dorking Museum.

Mr. Drummond, a zoologist, internationally renowned expert on rodents and pest control, and adviser to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, was into Rodentiana, providing further evidence that there is no limit to what we will collect; why not the history of rodent control and the depiction of rats in art? Forty items from his collection fell under the hammer.

Je Fume en Pleurants mes Peches.
c.1814. Napoleon weeps on St. Helena,
attended by rats.

Nappy ain't happy. He's exiled on St. Helena, all dressed up with no place to go and no one to keep him company except a rat-pack of courtiers.

ROWLANDSON. Thomas. The Apostate Jack R___,
The Political Rat Catcher. N.B. Rats Taken Alive!

London: W. Humphrey, 1784.

Catching political rats, local or national, is a job beyond any one man's ability to accomplish alone. Perhaps a rat catcher in lobbyist clothing has the best shot at luring the vile creatures into captivity and submission, a trail of greenbacks as bait.

Musical Bouquet. The Ratcatcher's Daughter.
A Serio-Comic Ballad Immortalised by Punch.
Arranged With Harmonised Chorus for the Pianoforte.
London: J. Allen, [1855].

Not long ago, in Vestminstier,
There liv'd a ratcatcher's daughter, -
But she didn't quite live in Vestminstier,
'Cause she liv'd t'other side of the vater; -
Her father caught rats, and she sold sprats,
All round and about that quarter;
And the gentlefolks all took off their hats,
To the putty little ratcatcher's daughter.
Doodle dee! doodle dum! di dum doodle da!

(The Ratcatcher's Daughter).

The Ratcatcher's Daughter came to a bad end. After finally meeting her true love she had a dream that she wouldn't see her wedding day, and, after falling into the Thames and drowning, she didn't. Doodle dee! Doodle dum! di dum doodle da! Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da life goes on, brah - but not, alas, for the ratcatcher's daughter.

Billy, The Celebrated Rat Killing Dog...
Killing 100 Rats In Five Minutes And A Half.
c. 1823.

Building a Better Mousetrap Dept.:

Rat-baiting was a blood sport involving the killing of rats in a pit by a dog; hence pit bull terriers. It was a popular sport until the beginning of the 20th century. Rat-baiting involved filling a pit with rats and then placing bets on how long it would take for the dog to kill them all.

A celebrated bull terrier named Billy, weighing approximately 12 kg (26 pounds), had a proud fighting history. 

The October 1822 issue of The Sporting Magazine reported on one of Billy's bouts of ratsticuffs.

"Thursday night, Oct. 24, at a quarter before eight o'clock, the lovers of rat-killing enjoyed a feast of delight in a prodigious raticide at the Cockpit, Westminster. The place was crowded. The famous dog Billy, of rat-killing notoriety, 26 lb. weight, was wagered, for twenty sovereigns, to kill one hundred rats in twelve minutes. The rats were turned out loose at once in a 12-feet square, and the floor whitened, so that the rats might be visible to all. The set-to began, and Billy exerted himself to the utmost. At four minutes and three quarters, as the hero's head was covered with gore, he was removed from the pit, and his chaps being washed, he lapped some water to cool his throat. Again he entered the arena, and in vain did the unfortunate victims labour to obtain security by climbing against the sides of the pit, or by crouching beneath the hero. By twos and threes they were caught, and soon their mangled corpses proved the valour of the victor."

BUTLER, Augustus. Tiny, The Wonder, Weighing only 5 1/2 lbs.
Lithograph printed in color.
J. Moore, 1848.

Tiny, The Wonder, "weighing only 5 1/2 lbs," and a raticidal maniac with paws, was no slouch in the rat-killing ring, either. In 1848 Tiny was matched against 200 rats. It was estimated that he'd kill them all in three hours. He accomplished his task in fifty-four minutes and fifty seconds, the dog a deadly dervish.

GEKKO, Ogata. The Rat Of Kuroishi.
Color woodblock print. c. 1888.

Caveat Cats: They grow 'em big in Japan and The Rat of Kuroishi doesn't give a rat's ass about your anti-rat rep and will go for your throat as if it was a wheel of cheddar.

ROWLANDSON, Thomas. Cries Of London No. 1.
Buy A Trap, A Rat Trap, Buy My Rat Trap.
Hand colored aquatint.
London: R. Ackermann, 1799.

Climb ev'ry mountain, ford ev'ry stream, buy a trap from this guy, or rats will reign supreme: A forefather of the Trapp Family Singers plies his wares? "R" a rat, a female rat, so long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodbye you miserable little rodent...

YOSHITOSHI. Raigo And Rats In The Temple.
Color woodblock print c. 1890-1900.

When the emperor Shirakawa betrayed Raigo, a Buddhist priest, and killed him, Raigo was reincarnated as a rat, infested the temple, and destroyed the emperor's collection of books and scrolls. I think we can all agree that gnawing the emperor's face off would have been sweeter revenge than masticating his manuscripts.

Public Enemy. Rats And Mice Will Eat Your Food
And Endanger Your Health. Get Rid Of Them!

You are bound by law to notify your local authority
if rats or mice are on your premises in numbers.
Penalty For Failure To Report - £5.
c. 1930s.

So that's how a loaf of bread is scored before baking. Who knew?

William Kotzwinkle's 1976 novel Dr. Rat - the story of a lab rat who, castrated at birth, goes insane, earns the title Mad Doctor, and provides a narrative exposé of the horrors of animal experimentation - is not found in Mr. Drummond's collection. After spending his career getting rid of rats he likely has no sympathy for the nasty little buggers, in contrast to the late Michael Jackson, who had a soft-spot for the vicious leader of a pack of killer rats:


Images courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Great collection. But you didn't add a "Rodentia" tag.


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