Chances are that you’ve seen a piece of art or some reference to dogs sitting around a table playing poker. These depictions are on tee shirts, mugs, prints and have even been seen in films and television shows, making appearances in the animated series The Simpsons as well as the television sitcom Roseanne.
But where did the dogs and poker meme come from anyway?
In 1894 an American artist, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (1844 – 1934), completed an oil painting of four whiskey drinking, cigarette and cigar smoking dogs sitting around a table playing poker, titled aptly enough, Dogs Playing Poker. Then, in 1903, the Brown and Bigelow company commissioned Coolidge to undertake a series of poker playing dog paintings which they reproduced as calendars, prints, and posters and sometimes used as part of promotional giveaways.
And although Coolidge’s paintings never really received critical acclaim, he did garner enough attention to sell some of the original works for between $2000 and $10,000, a fairly handsome price in those days. In spite of the thumbs down from the critics, the working class embraced Mr. Coolidge’s art and his poker playing dogs became a staple in households everywhere.
One of his most popular paintings, A Friend In Need, depicts two bulldogs playing against a group of four larger hounds. One of the bulldogs can be seen cheating by passing his friend a card under the table with his toes. This particular painting is often erroneously referred to as Dogs Playing Poker.
The original 1894 painting, Dogs Playing Poker, sold in 2015 for a whopping $658,000. Mr. Coolidge would have been astounded and no doubt quite pleased.