Leslie Przybylek, Senior Curator, #Pixburgh, Heinz History Center
There’s a marvelous photo in our collection that may in fact be the oldest dog photo that we have. It’s a portrait of Bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner. The dog is a Dalmatian that sits at his feet during a time period in the 1860s when the dog would have been a conscious addition to the photo.
They had to choose to take the dog into a photo studio to sit this part of the portrait. When you see the image, you can tell that the dog had a little bit more problem sitting still than its master. So why would you do that?
Well. if you think about it, a Dalmatian is a carriage dog. It was a coach dog. In effect, it was a gentleman’s dog. So the dog becomes a symbol of the prominence of its owner. In fact, Bishop Tucker Tanner was a very prominent man in Pittsburgh, a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an editor of the largest black-owned newspaper in the country. So the dog speaks to the importance to the man in the photo.