Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is my second installment of framed photos that have wandered into the Pictorama collection recently. This little treat was a Christmas gift from Kim’s brother Seth who always sends especially thoughtful holiday gifts.
Much like yesterday’s post (which you can find here for those not following in real time), this hotsy totsy item is a wonderful object as he has assembled it, frame and decorative paper behind it spot on. It now has a special perch near my desk. While he has numerous talents, Seth has a great eye and came up with an equally special Christmas gift of a photo a few years back and I featured that one in a post you can read here, Merry Christmas from Seth. (Shown above.)
These mandolin playing women stand on either side of this Christmas tree, which is done up in holiday decorating charm of an earlier era – the lead based garlands and tinsel which sparkled a bit brighter I think, but must have been banned at some point. (I found someone selling new old stock of it this holiday season and you can see it has more heft as well.) The Butlers were a garland and not a tinsel family probably because of the numerous cats we had, although my mom may have been mess adverse as well.
I remember my cat Otto eating some tinsel the first year I had her and had placed a tiny artificial tree in my apartment. (She gobbled it before I could do anything – hell bent on it – she was a nutty cat.) Luckily it didn’t kill her or make her sick – no tinsel after that. Meanwhile, I do remember that my grandmother had ancient tree garlands that were heavier and brighter than what are sold now. They seemed old-fashioned even back in the 1960’s and early ’70’s, but I remember the hard, crinkly feel of them.
The women and the tree are set up in front of a mural of a pillars, sky and sweeping drapery. They are clad in somewhat sensible low-heeled shoes atop a patterned carpet. The mural and even the carpet makes me tempted to guess that this locale is a ballroom or other commercial venue rather than a home. Both are dressed nicely, albeit somewhat subdued – the woman on the right has a necklace on, the other a pin at the neck of her dress.
I itch to hear them play those mandolins. I admit I had not given much thought to mandolin playing until I started working at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I was introduced to the wonders of the mandolin at several concerts, but Marty Stuart really made me take notice. I notice the guitars at the ready in this photo, and somehow I just get the sense that we could hear these women in a great swing band.
Although the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra does not have a guitar player as a persistent member of the band, we are often fortunate to often have James Chirillo join us, and he was on the Big Band Holiday tour I joined on the road back in 2017. (You can read about that trip early in my career at Jazz at Lincoln Center here.) James was recently a guest for a Zoom member evening and it was nice to see him and talk with him again. Like all of us he is chomping at the bit to be back in our hall and playing live music again. (Someday I think people will wonder what the heck this Zoom was that we all talk about during the pandemic. Zoom, which I spend most of my days and some of my evenings on, tends to make me feel like I’m in a sort of bubble where I am almost with people, but alas, are not really. Ironically it is like the television phones of the future we all imaged and thought would be so wonderful. I just read speculation about such things in a 1922 volume of The Radio Girls series. More to come on that.)
This has set me off, thinking about the past and wondering about the future as I consume my second cup of coffee so I will leave it here for now, but with another final tip ‘o the hat to my brother in-law who can pick a mighty fine photo – with thanks!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today is the first of at least three framed photos that have come to me recently, two were gifts, but today’s was purchased. I hope to post about them all.
As someone who collects photos I of course give some thought to frames. Shown below is the utility black postcard frame that virtually all of my photos on display are assigned to. In this way they are fairly uniform and I maximize wall space.
The wall over Kim’s desk is the exception however and those photos are in an array of frames purchased, found or otherwise cobbled together, which creates a nice effect too. (I pledge a future post devoted to the wall, perhaps in sections. It is a major source of entertainment for the Zoom evenings I put myself in front of it. Even Wynton has claimed to spend time parsing it during these endless months.)
But my wall of Felix photos (which I previously posted about here in a pre-apartment renovation post) has them all housed in their matching black plastic frames which allow the photo to be the visual star. I have a pile of unused frames at the always at the ready and (needless to say) a pile of wall worthy photo postcards awaiting installation.
You would think that pandemic life would induce me to spruce up my surroundings, but beyond the necessary renovations back in the summer, I seem to devote myself largely to work and being drawn into the daily unfolding drama of the national news. My mental health would undoubtedly be better if I spent more time on framing photo postcards. (I have, however, just purchased a new desk chair as my back has continued to remind me that the one I use was never meant to be a 12 or more hour a day perch. The new one at least has arms so let’s see if Mr. Back responds to that.)
Still, sometimes it is the frame or all about the frame. Frankly, I find interesting frames a bit intimidating and I can think of at least two that are sitting in this apartment, languishing until I figure out how best to fill them. I mean, you want to do the frame justice with the right photo, but also the photo needs the right home too. And if it is a spot for several photos it is additionally perplexing. Perhaps there is some sort of life lesson lurking there. Clearly, I overthink.
Today’s framed photo comes via a new indulgence which is an antique store in Dallas, Texas called Curiosities. I have written about a purchase from them before (that post about a unique Felix match holder can be found here) and over time purchasing from them has almost become like a trip to their shop a few times a month. I found them on Instagram (@curiositiesantique or their website, GetCuriosities) and much to my entertainment they turn up a continuous array of somewhat irresistible bits and pieces – toy cats (a future post there indeed), but also just interesting stuff.
I can’t help but feel if I lived closer to the store that I would probably buy twice as much – but of course that would mean I had a house and could fill it, rather than our tiny and increasingly crowded apartment. A phone chat to seal the deal with Sandi or one of her colleagues is always a nice interlude in the day too.
Obviously though things do make it over the transom all the time and the most recent purchase, which is so hot out of the box that Kim will be seeing it now for the first time, was this photo in a handmade frame. Now, while I confess I was hoping to purchase this and replace the photo with one from my collection, it is not possible – this framed photo was constructed specially for this photo and it would be wrong if indeed it were possible, to replace the picture.
The tramp art style wood worked frame is punctuated by stuffed bits of old silk around the sides and corners – now so old and faded that they appear more solid than cushy as I believe was the original intention. We’ll also assume that the colors were more vibrant, if not actually vivid. Still, a certain grandeur remains. The photo is inset into a gold stripe trim self-frame of glass. From the outfits on the girl and boy shown, it dates from the dawn of the 20th century. A careful look reveals that they stand on an elaborately tiled floor and I can almost make out a table and a wall mural behind them, making me wonder if this wasn’t taken in a restaurant – although that seems odd.
Girl and boy are in matching suits of sailor inspired design. These appear to be wealthy offspring, their clothes and shiny shoes stylish and well appointed. The girl wears a tiny necklace and the outfits are trimmed with bright brass buttons. They do not look to be especially robust, either of them, but I wouldn’t go all the way to saying anything more than that. The boy looks squarely at the camera while the girl has a slightly dreamier expression, looking off to the side.
The back of the frame is interesting because you can see the construction. A careful look shows it was made from some sort of light wood boxes or crates, bits of advertising cling to it. As side view shows how the layers, which are actually fairly thin, were carved and put together to create the dimensional effect. The maker of this was no slouch!
So I will go in search of a spot in the apartment for this where it will not be ravaged by the sun, but can still be seen (a perpetual challenge in this apartment, although we are grateful for the natural light from the northeast and the view of the East River), perhaps by some aging tintypes in the small hallway between bedroom and bathroom. We shall see. And maybe I can commit to getting a few more of my Felix-y photos framed up and on the wall, to be enjoyed each time I sit at Kim’s computer or go into the kitchen.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Followers of Pictorama know that one of my new supplier of interesting stuff resides in St. Louis (as always, a shout out to IG friend @MissMollysantiques), giving my recent acquisitions a decidedly mid-western flair – such as last week’s Krak-R-Jak tin box post. (In case you aren’t keeping up in real time, that one can be found here.) That item is also from St. Louis and honors a hometown company.
As an aside, one branch of my family, my mom’s father, hails from St. Louis. They were among the folks who took a covered wagon west and that was where they put down stakes. A generation or so later, my grandfather was traveling the country with the dog races when he met my grandmother at the Jersey shore. I have written several times about her part of the family, a large brood of then recent Italian immigrants who were making their way with restaurants, deli’s and bars. (One of those posts based on a family photo can be found here.) Poppy (as I called him) didn’t go into the family business, but instead worked for the Bendix company while my grandmother continued to help her family’s bar and restaurant. There was travel back and forth to the mid-west to see his family and I have seen a great snippet of film where he and my grandmother are riding a motorcycle out there on their honeymoon to see, and for her meet, his family.
I am developing a real soft spot for it these days, but I have never been to St. Louis – that branch of the family used to come to us rather than us going out there in my childhood and they have all relocated or died now. There is a family story I always liked however about how my father was there on an assignment for ABC News (probably in the 1970’s) and ran into my greatuncle making a call in a phone booth – yep, a phone booth – in a diner or the like and they had a meal together – a city that is a small town story. If the world hadn’t fallen off course with the pandemic and I had continued my travel schedule with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra I probably would have found myself out there by now, and perhaps still will. St. Louis has a great jazz history and remains a good town for jazz.
I cannot find tracks on whether the Mound City Paint & Color Company exists in any form today, however their name comes down to us via their advertising efforts which seem to reside in the now living memory of what is collectible today. Their Horse Shoe house brand of paint was promoted with a variety of useful items that would remind you that it was their paint you wanted to use when the time for painting arrived. My 1905 calendar card falls into this category, purchased because I was enticed by this Evelyn Nesbit look alike and this nice looking tuxedo kitty, boasting a huge white bow. (Kim and I discussed the various options of if this was actually ripped off of one of the myriad of Evelyn Nesbit photos that would have been available, or just a model who had gotten herself up in the style of her – which must have also been hugely popular in the day.)
It would appear that this was one in a quarterly drop of The Season’s Beauties calendar cards. (You are urged to keep up with the full set on the back of the card – Look out for NUMBER FOUR. No duplicates. Preserve the collection. One lost breaks the set.) This one is referred to as The Pippin and places girl and cat in an apple (presumably a pippin) for good measure. It therefore makes sense that this card covered the months of September, October and November, prime apple producing months. Presumably there a special holiday edition of these cards. Sadly, I could find no trace of the rest of the series however, although this nice watch fob below (sold at a Worthpoint auction) is a somewhat rarefied collectible. The folding yardstick is the most available, but least interesting to see. They must have been produced in huge abundance, and given their ongoing useful nature have remained available.
The advertising on the back of my card seems to be devoted to their brush on enamel product and you are urged to use it on refrigerator shelves (I was a tad surprised to even see the term refrigerator, rather than icebox, although Google assures me the term was already in use at the end of the 1800’s), closet shelves – further down it gets to sinks and bathtubs. It came in WHITE ONLY and had special directions on every can. It then goes into a litany extolling why you should buy this brand instead of a mystery one – the promise that you knew all and exactly what it contained, no mysterious extenders.
I close with a few of their stickers which are available on eBay and a final tip of the hat to the longevity of the advertising for the Mound City Paint and Color Company, St. Louis. Like many companies of the era, their advertising turned out to be their corporate immortality.
I don’t know why, but the idea of a spicy version of Manhattan clam chowder started to nag at my brain recently. I enjoy the occasional cup of the stuff when out – either the red Manhattan style or even (although less frequently) the creamier New England version. I can’t say I go out of my way to get it, more like it is an acceptable option when navigating a menu at a diner with a desire to add a bit on, or alternatively maybe not indulge too much.
In general though, I find it lacking and I have never made it myself, nor thought much about it. But for some reason I recently began to think about how you could make a more substantial and spicier one, a zootier version if you will. I think it started because I had several cans of clams which I had purchased for the occasional fish pasta I make (usually with some shrimp, leftover fish bits and maybe some of the canned clams), but I am currently on a diet so pasta isn’t happening right now.
Ah yes, speaking of that diet, readers know I have opined a bit in previous posts about the comfort of cooking. I explored re-creating some family recipes during what I tend to think of as Pandemic Part 1: the First Six Months (those recipes can be found here and here), and some new comfort food (a lovely cheesy bread can be found here) which also made the first months of quarantine – TheWeight Gaining Months.
After a long period of thinking that dieting during a pandemic didn’t make sense, I have reversed course and I am now in Phase 2: the Dieting Months. However, I do not intend to abandon the comfort I take in cooking so I am now applying my skill to devising soups and stews. During these cold winter months they are wonderful and it is satisfying. I derive as much joy out of constructing them that I would from baking, and happily fill the apartment with the aroma of the newest concoction. I generally get several meals for the two of us out of each attempt which lightens the weekday burden of meal planning a bit.
Meanwhile, pandemic life has made me consider (and establish) what I euphemistically call my pantry. For the record, my pantry is one tall, narrow kitchen cabinet and a banker’s box in the entryway closet recently pressed into service. Until I remodeled our kitchen it was entirely non-existent and a few cans and whatnot were tucked in among the dishes, pots and pans, overflowing onto the limited countertop. It expanded (to the closet annex) during the initial phase of NYC lockdown when grocery shopping was most difficult. It now contains some extra pasta, beans, vegetable broth and the like. (The tale of the kitchen renovation can largely be found here and here – not a chapter I am personally willing to revisit at the moment.)
Growing up in suburban New Jersey we had an amazing pantry that was a large, sort of five foot cabinet of shelves which folded up on itself, once and then again. (Amazing!) I was fairly entertained by the engineering of it as a child (the long piano hinges to bear the weight of each heavy section of shelf), and I am now in awe of the amount it held. Still, were I to move to the suburbs I would likely opt for a walk-in space, a small room of shelves, where I could see everything and bulk buy to my heart’s content. (I come from a long line of if not quite hoarders, folks who like to buy in large quantity and to be well stocked on essentials. My mother has been buying paper towels and toilet paper in bulk for decades and never thought twice about purchasing industrial sized tin cans of olive oil which I remember having trouble hefting.) I also aspire to having a kitchen sink large enough to bathe a small child or good size dog.
It is not to be my fate and instead our tiny apartment (equipped with its bar sink, sigh), requires a certain vigilance around rotating through and using up food, buying just enough to feel well stocked, but not crowding us and the cats out of the house. (I confess that the aforementioned diet and my increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is skewing all this and you can barely open our refrigerator after a Fresh Direct delivery on Sunday morning and oranges constantly roll out when you open it as they are tucked into nooks.)
Anyway, all this to say my so-called pantry had this couple of cans of clams awaiting bouillabaisse (I made that for the holidays and the recipe and story can be found here, at the bottom of my Boxing Day post), but that was more ambitious than I was feeling. The fish pasta was too carb heavy for the zippy new diet so I went to work on this. This spicy chowder has the charm of being largely made from what can be kept in the house, an advantage in these days of not wanting to run to the store.
I read a few recipes online and constructed mine from there. It goes without saying that this is a very flexible recipe which encourages its own specifics around the general idea and framework. Most of the ones I read called for bacon, but we are a pescatarian/no meat household so I went in a different direction. However, I would think you would chop it and add it to cook in the beginning with the garlic, onion and carrots. As I say above – use it to use up whatever leftovers are languishing in the fridge, bits of veg and fish.
In the before time I was a bit of a snob about using frozen or canned vegetables, but these days, especially for soup they are handy and work just fine. Of course if you are making this in the summer you’d use fresh corn and maybe even throw the cob in for good measure and to thicken the soup, perhaps even instead of the potato, but no complaints about this pantry version.
The sort of mainstay ingredients are as follows:
Large can of clams, drained
Bottle of clam juice
Large bottle of Clamato juice (my favorite cheat for fish stock!)
Large can of diced tomatoes
One large or two small bell peppers; I used red
Garlic (lots! I think I used three or four large cloves)
New or creamer potatoes – help to thicken although I kept them to a minimum – four of the minature creamer ones, another recent discovery and I keep a bag of them in the house for various uses.
Jalapeño peppers (Pandemic pantry discovery for me – I keep a jar of them in the fridge – try them on grilled cheese sometime!) I used about 1/4 cup.
Herbs – I had a bunch of flat leaf parsley and some fresh basil so I used that chopped. I also added two bay leaves and a bit of thyme. I used Maras red pepper (a whole post could be devoted to the discovery of this gentle, but strong red pepper as a seasoning!), but you could use red pepper flakes (I’d chop them a bit), chili pepper or whatever you prefer to make things spicy. I always like a bit of ground coriander. Salt to taste. I adjusted the seasoning throughout cooking in a more rigorous way than usual and I used a fine salt rather than the rough ground salt I prefer on many other things – no idea if that made a difference.
Tomato and anchovy paste (optional but I like to add it for depth)
Wine or vermouth, about a half a cup
So I was feeling a bit lazy and I used the Cuisinart to chop the onion, the garlic and the herbs. Not sure it was a good idea, but I decided to Cuisinart the red pepper as well. Of course this meant that it was very fine and it also brought out all the liquid which I had not anticipated and really I ended up deglazing the pan when I added it. It’s soup so in the end it doesn’t really matter, but the result was a finer, less chunky soup. I think fine either way although my usual go to is to hand chop.
Anyway, I softened the garlic, onions, celery and carrots first, along with the tomato and anchovy paste (first go of salt and the Maras pepper at this point, but I added more later), then added the potatoes (sliced pretty small), then bell peppers and then you can deglaze the pot with the wine or vermouth; I keep vermouth for cooking as a wine alternative. This assumes you are using frozen or canned corn and green beans – if fresh you would want to add them before deglazing.
Add the Clamato, the diced tomato, clams, clam juice, Jalapeño peppers (rough chopped), corn, beans, etc. and the herbs. Bring to a hard boil for a bit. Adjust seasoning. Simmer for no less than an hour, but the longer the better. Keep checking the seasoning throughout – I wanted it very spicy but didn’t want to kill us so it was a fine line. This is another recipe that is definitely better after a day in the fridge. I am going to make a variation on it today with shrimp and leftover flounder, with perhaps a few cheese tortellini to keep things interesting.
If I wasn’t on a diet I would serve this with corn bread or muffins – or even some crusty buttered baguette. Nevertheless, it was so great I can’t wait to make it again.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: It likely won’t surprise Pictorama readers to know that I am the sort of person who embraces an opportunity to outfit a new space or venture. While I have bad things I could say about the pandemic induced change to working at home, one bonus is I have had the chance to equip an entirely new desk. I devoted some previous post space to my desk at my office in Columbus Circle (one of those posts can be found here) back in the before time, but a new desk where I spend my days here in the apartment called for some judicious acquisition. Some bits found their way back from Columbus Circle on the one or two trips I made there (the lucky waving cats are with me and remain on the job with me; their post can be found here), but for the most part I picked up some bits and pieces to make it more functional and of course fun.
The most significant item is this large-ish tin box for Krak-R-Jak Biscuits. I purchased this from my new Instagram source who resides in the middle west region of our country, known to me as Miss Molly (@missmollystlantiques) who has supplied me with an array of interesting photos (one of those posts can be seen here) and some Halloween items (one gem seen here), but she is also the purveyor of several interesting boxes that now hold my office supplies.
This large tin box, which I gather kept generations of biscuits and bread fresh, holds my collection of greeting cards which were transported early on from Columbus Circle. I have long been in the practice of purchasing nice cards (or especially funny ones) whenever I see them. In the before time when traveling for work I would often wander into a card store in a new town if I spotted one. As a result there is a card shop in San Francisco I have frequented for years and another in Boston. (There is also a lingerie store in Milwaukee and a nice junk shop in Santa Barabara, but those are other stories.)
Of course I have my sources in Manhattan, although frankly even pre-pandemic they were already rapidly closing down and getting sparse. I cling to the one near us just above 86th Street on Lexington, there are two others, further down Third Avenue, or at least there were. Therefore, if you have received a greeting card from me its origin may have been Manhattan or it may have been Chicago, or another destination along my annual work route.
I actually spotted this large tin in a post Miss Molly did for some other items and asked about it. While technically not on the block for sale, she was willing to sell it and now it not only holds my greeting cards, but also holds up the stand for my iPad which (for a variety of technical reasons) is usually what I do my Zoom meetings on. It brings the iPad to a relatively ideal height, although the bookshelves behind me distort and it looks like Kim and I reside in a very long, narrow library.
As it turns out, this is not a rare tin and if you desire one you can probably purchase it for about what I paid for mine by looking online. Pristine examples might get up there a bit, but one like mine which has some good sides and some less good ones won’t run you too much. One person has assigned this to the 1930’s which I could find neither confirmation nor contradiction.
Of course I immediately assumed that Krak-R-Jak was somehow a forerunner to the candy corn, Cracker Jack. I would mostly be wrong as it turns out, at least as far as I can tell. This spelling of Krak-R-Jak seems to take you only to the Union Biscuit Company of Saint Louis when searched online. The actual history of said Union Biscuit Company is not readily available, or I have failed in finding it. Although my tin tells you to always ask for Krak-R-Jak Biscuits my online research mostly turns up a perhaps more popular slogan, Keeping the biscuits fresh.
The etymology of Cracker Jack or crackerjack according to Merriam-Webster is easiest to share in its entirety and is as follows: The late 19th-century pairing of crack and jack to form crackerjack topped off a long history for those words. Cracker is an elongation of crack, an adjective meaning “expert” or “superior” that dates from the 18th century. Prior to that, crack was a noun meaning “something superior” and a verb meaning “to boast.” (The verb use evolved from the expression “to crack a boast,” which came from the sense of crack meaning “to make a loud sharp sound.”) Jack has been used for “man” since the mid-1500s, as in “jack-of-all-trades.” Crackerjack entered English first as a noun referring to “a person or thing of marked excellence,” then as an adjective. You may also know Cracker Jack as a snack of candied popcorn and peanuts. That trademarked name dates from the 1890s.
Therefore, while I think Krak-R-Jak plays on this same term, it is in this case evidently not linked to the eventual creation of the candy, which appears to have been introduced to the world at the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and later perfected and marketed by Fritz and Louis Rueckheim. This recipe for candy corn and peanuts was already in existence and merely perfected (they figured out how to keep it from sticking one big mass) and marketed by them. I wonder if companies like the Union Biscuit were forced out of using the term eventually, although their logo cold easily pre-date the Cracker Jack candy use. Meanwhile, they were just using what would become an archaic term for pointing out that they had excellent biscuits.
While I thought I would also meander onto a wonderful little velvet covered box from Clark’s Spool Cotton Thread, which now houses paper clips, and can be spotted in the above photo, I will save that for another day. The Pictorama desk is full of delights to be revealed.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today tin is in and I am featuring this lovely, but very simple toy that Kim gave me for Christmas this year. It came from an auction and caught my eye. Pictorama readers may know that this falls well outside my usual area of collecting – nary a cat or even an animal to be seen, not a wind-up. Yet there is a sort of universal charm about this toy. If there was something akin to a toy archetype in my mind this toy might qualify.
The handle of the wood chopper turns and that causes the log to be sawed and the mill wheel to turn. The wear on this is a testament to the belovedness of the toy. The paint is gone on part of the roof from it’s proximity to the turning wheel, and also on the edges of the house where you tend to grasp it. There is something very satisfying and soothing about turning the wheel and watching the pieces move. The charm of the origin detail in the paint with shading and the texture of the house exterior and log – I think it was a very brightly painted toy in its day. There is something a bit amiss about the proportions – of house to log and mill, even assuming the “log” is indeed a tree.
My knowledge of this kind of tin toy is really about zero, but I assign it to the category of penny toys. These tin toys were the brain child of German manufacturing starting around 1885 these toys were designed to be accessible for purchase by working class families. In Great Britain they sold for the price of a penny – hence the term which has stayed with them. Although the manufacture of them continued longer, they were most popular from 1885 until about 1914 – I assume without knowing that the World War probably slowed production and export and killed the popularity for export. According to a brief entry in Wikipedia, countries of destination were considered in the making and marketing of these toys – British omnibuses, trains for the United States for example and we know they weren’t doing business with Germany much from 1914 on and for awhile.
In my mind penny toys are one notch smaller and less sophisticated in motion than this one, but I think that is my own prejudice on the subject. In reading about them online the term definitely seems to cover toys of this size and relative complexity and beyond.
This toy is marked with a tag it retains, DC Made in Germany and this was the mark of a company in Nuremberg, Germany called Distler – Johann Distler KG to be precise. The company was founded by Mr. Distler in 1895 making these sorts of penny toys in the early years, with a catalogue of about 500 items. An article I found in the Sheffield Telegraph mentions the company as having gotten on board with early licensed Disney toy production and cleaned up on early Mickey Mouse toys starting in 1928. (This seems early to me as the first cartoon appears in 1928.)
At Johann’s death, in 1923 (meaning he completely missed the Mickey Mouse boom) the company was taken over by his partners and then ultimately sold in 1935. The company and name is ultimately sold again to a Belgian company where in particular their line of race cars is produced until the late 1960’s. (Much of this quick history of the company comes to me via the Bertoia Auction site – which is where I purchased this toy, although the history was note in the listing for it.)
Images for toys associated with the company does not immediately turn up any like mine – it is car heavy, even in the earlier toys. Notably there is a Felix, circa 1925, I would certainly like to get my hands on, shown here. (An early indication on prices show is that I might have to mortgage the apartment however!) My wind-up Felix, shown below, does declare that he was Made in Germany, but does not give a manufacturer’s name. I don’t believe he’s ever gotten his own post and maybe I will set my cap for that in the New Year.
It goes without saying that these toys, originally designed to be affordable and accessible are now sold for many multiples of their original sale price, somehow making the appellation a bit ironic for collectors like me. Nevertheless, I welcome this first example of this type into the Pictorama collection.
Pam’s Pictorama Felix Post: As promised, today we have a very Felix day! These two sheets were a long time coming to Pictorama. First they sat on eBay for a long time while I was distracted by other things, and then I finally purchased them and then it took several weeks for them to arrive. I tend to hesitate before committing to very fragile paper items, but in the end I claimed them as mine. I am spying a spot at the top row above Kim’s desk, a bit hard to access, but not too much light. Could be just right. They are great. Here we have Felix at the zenith of his come hither appeal plying his trade to good use.
Both of these sheets of advertising are from Moving Picture World magazines and I will admit that I find the cutting up of these journals to sell for separate pieces distressing, although I understand some are likely worth more for their parts individually. These are fascinating journals in their entirety and I have purchased many a copy of the ancient periodical for Kim, mostly from the ‘teens, and I believe there is even a bound volume of them in the house, that I dimly remember picking up as a gift for Kim, out of an apartment somewhere in Chelsea. These pages have been carefully removed by the staple being taken out of one and a clean cut on the other. The one emblazoned, Felix the Cat Cartoons is from November 21, 1925 and the other is from July 7, 1927.
In the first Felix shows all his moods, like an actor auditioning for a part: thinking, musical, angry, worried and intellectual. He is shown horizontal on all fours (in what I think of as a catty pose) and even chasing a mouse at the bottom. Although he might be going through his paces for this ad, he was already at the height of his fame and auditions were hardly necessary. Here he proclaims, Put me on your screen and see what a bright little fellow I am. My tricks will put your audiences in the best of humor – and I’ll make ’em laugh nine times as many times as a cat has lives. I’m doing it now in five thousand theatres. Felix And below that the added encouragement, Felix means extra profit for the showman who exploits him.
Felix had recently made the jump to Educational Films (the spice of the program) which is mentioned here prominently at mid-page, as is a produced by credit for Bijou Films, Inc. EW Hammond is presenting up at the top (President of Bijou Films) and of course Pat Sullivan gets a huge credit with Cartoons by right next to a Felix running right at it. (That’s a lot of credits for one animated cat, even one as big as Felix. Not surprising, but sadly of course, no mention of Otto Messmer, Felix’s true progenitor.) Felix made 20 cartoons in ’25 by my count via Wikipedia’s filmography (about half before switching to Educational Films for distribution that year), and more than 20 the year before alone so production was in full tilt and there was plenty to watch.
One real gem from 1925 that I uncovered while doing some light research on that year was a nifty full length cartoon made for Mazda Lamps, The Cat and the Kit. It is 98% cartoon with only a smidge of commercial and is definitely worth the watch below. The story follows Felix on his wedding day and the drama around the headlights on his car (called lamps at the time and were much more like lamps than the headlights we have now) which keep going out. He is forced to buy inferior replacements and those don’t focus – requiring Felix to resort to snatching the moon out of the sky – only to be told by a policeman that there is no driving with moonshine in the car!
I can’t resist detouring over to Mazda Lamps for a moment, I’m sure Kim and I are not the only ones still shaking our heads over the beautiful Mazda Lamp display uncovered awhile back on the television show, American Pickers. One is shown below from a site called Design is Fine. History is Mine.
The second sheet, from ’27, shows a parade of Felix-es bringing us all the short features Educational Film Exchanges had to offer. As an avid fan of silent shorts I recognize some – Larry Semon and Lupino Lane. (Kim knows more of them and reminds me that John Arthur was Darla’s father of Little Rascals fame. Remember, Feed ’em and Weep, featuring Mr. Hood on his birthday trying to eat his celebratory meal?) Some are a loss to me such as Tuxedo Comedies or Mermaid – evidently series of comedies that folks, such as Snub Pollard and Lloyd Hamilton, would have come and gone through.
Felix’s own shorts are listed at the top and the large sign he holds up front, mounted on a striped pole, is for Educational Pictures. Meanwhile, I especially like the sign which is pointing toward 1927 and ’28 at the bottom. Pat Sullivan only gets a signature credit here (as if he had drawn it). I see 26 films listed in 1927 for Felix so he was certainly going full steam. I include one below in order to give equal time to 1927, Whys and Other Whys, which kicks off with a soused Felix leaving a nightclub. Watch these while you can – these links to Youtube don’t seem to last forever! (Although a quick search may turn up another source if these have disappeared.)
We are invited to Fall In! and Travel with the leaders of the short features parade. The art on this advertising sheet is hotsy-totsy – it is always a favorite moment of mine within the cartoons to see a virtually never-ending cycle parade of Felix. If studied carefully, two Felix-es on the sheet have been a tad mangled, you can note that the second largest (holding the Lupino Lane placard) and one about mid-page (with the Larry Semon ad) have had a bit of what looks like ham-handed revisions around the eyes. Not sure what anyone was thinking to improve upon Otto Messmer’s genius. (Just a note as well that some of these Felix’es only sport whiskers on one side of their face.)
The back of the ’25 sheet sports an article entitled, The Bar-G Mystery, New Western Patheserial Now in Production (Kim checking that one out in a book now), and ad for the Charlie Chaplin release of A Dog’s Life to be released on November 22, and a rather terrifying ad for Buster Brown with Buster and Tige looming large. Short pieces appear on the recovery of Walter Hiers from an injury sustained during filming which almost cost him his hand according to the article, and announcing Clyde Cook to appear in a new comedy. The verso of the ’27 sheet is an add for volumes on photography by the folks at Motion Picture Photography – one for professionals and the other for amateurs.
Tommy José Stathes (@tomatitojose) has just released the latest in a series of brilliant Cartoon Roots DVD’s featuring some new restorations of rare early Felix cartoons! It can be purchased on Amazon here. I am on the edge of my seat waiting for mine to arrive. His earlier DVD’s are also being re-released and can be purchased here. A bit of a review of one of those earlier DVD’s can be found in a prior Pictorama post here. And on that note I believe I have kicked off the year of ’21 as a Felix friendly one – enjoy!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am starting this post about six weeks into my jogging experiment. I have never run. Until my mid-forties I had never worked out in a gym either, but I became addicted to weight lifting and my time at the gym is one of the things I miss most in these pandemic times, although I lift at home now with an ever-growing pile of hand weights. (A previous post on my quarantine time work out, can be found here.) However, I have never enjoyed, only endured, cardio – stuffing a good audio book in my ears and taking my medicine, working my way up to 20-30 minutes of increasingly difficult cardio on an elliptical machine over time like medicine. It seems to me that although when left to its own devices, my breathing is just fine, but once I start to fuss with it – be it to meditate or exert – it becomes resentful and turns recalcitrant.
While I continued to lift weights and work out with my trainer (shout out to Harris Cowan @livestrongernyc) via Facetime and Zoom throughout the pandemic, the first quarantine foray of walking to my office in Columbus Circle from 86th Street and York Avenue made it very clear that I had lost both my wind and my strength – albeit a long walk, one I used to do it without thinking.
Walking has always been my strong suit and life in New York City usually provides for enough unscheduled walking in our daily lives that I have never had to think about it, but now long workdays in our studio apartment often resulted in my not leaving my desk (sometimes it has seemed my chair!) for 12 hour stints. No trips across Columbus Circle to the hall or even a few blocks down for a lunch hour errand or to pick up food. Evidently stretching and lifting (and the occasional trip up sixteen flights of stairs) quite simply were not cutting it. Regretfully and doubtfully, I began a program of walking, just as it started to turn cold of course.
I have nothing against walking, in fact I have always been fond of it and have also enjoyed hiking when it was available to me, but it wasn’t really raising my heart rate which was one of the primary goals and sufficient distance to make a difference was just taking too much time, my work out time being constricted by my work hours. It wasn’t long before I realized that there was no reasonable solution, but to pick up the pace and see if I could jog a bit.
However, another issue that has long prevented me from impact exercise is that I have a form of arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, that impacts both my large and my small joints. (Lady Gaga is the most famous person I know of who has this disease, diagnosed about the same age as I was, early 20’s. There was also The Singing Detective who was fictional and the doppelganger of his creator Dennis Potter who alarmingly actually died from it.)
Since my diagnosis, now decades ago, I have taken an increasingly large number of pills which generally keep things going mostly unimpeded, but I have always been a bit ginger and thoughtful about introducing new exercise. A Pilates class taken without supervision or hopping on a new machine at the gym without proper guidance has landed me in stew of inflamed and swollen joints for days. My hands will sometimes even rebel and swell against weights lifted improperly or gripped too enthusiastically. I sometimes wonder how it compares to the soreness of anyone trying something new, but of course as we are trapped in our own bodies it is hard to guess or know. I have been warned that running will speed the need for joints that want replacing or repair.
Nevertheless, I am nothing if not stubborn and one morning in late October I started the process of jogging. I had read up about it and done some HIIT (high intensity interval training) to know that I could start by alternating between running and walking. At first I ran about a block for another two or three walked. Surprisingly my wind picked up first, within the first weeks, and my body memory for that kicked in better than I would have expected. Unfortunately my legs, my hips, knees and feet (okay, everything below my waist) have balked mightily at the experiment.
Simultaneously and for better or worse, I figured I might as well resume some of my former workout our one room is too intimate for and so I added into these sessions with bands around my legs, deep squats, and lunges – I hop up from park benches and step up onto deserted pallets along the river’s edge or stone steps at the entrance to the park, turning it into an hour or more for the full regime. Before you start to think this is really admirable let me assure you that getting myself away from my toasty warm morning desk routine dosed with copious coffee and instead out into the park in the cold has been a sheer test of will. I deeply suspect that I am writing this so I will be ashamed to stop once I have told you all about it.
I also have no doubt that (and assuming anyone cares, although I am pretty sure these days they don’t) I look like an absolute fool – an overweight middle aged woman, in brightly printed leggings (I’ve always had a weakness for bright workout clothes) showing every inch I need to lose before we resume our post-pandemic lives, and a top layer piled on for warm. However, that is of course the beauty of the now time rather than the before time – everyone in that park is there for their own kind of escape. People reading, smoking, on their phones, staring off into space – a few young couples canoodling, but not so often early in the morning. I often think there are probably all sorts of life’s dramas unfolding, secretly around me there each day.
And of course, there are other people working out. There is a group that boxes and I must say that looks like great fun and is sort of tempting to try one day. (Yes, my aforementioned arthritic hands balk at the idea.) A variety of trainers have taken to the park, with its benches, fences and even some handy scaffolding along the waterfront to train individuals. Groups gather in the basketball court for a work out to blaring music. As I say, these days everyone is there to do their own thing and no one is giving me a second look – except dogs fascinated by my workout with the band (not sure why but they want to investigate) and the occasional trainer sizing me up to see if they can add me to their roster. Luckily for me I am not deeply troubled by embarrassing myself in public in this particular way anyway.
Like going to a gym, familiar faces and characters emerge to populate the ongoing drama of the park. In addition to the boxers and the trainers there is the elderly woman volunteer who picks up garbage each day and makes sure the storm drains are clear of garbage and leaves, the other nascent runners, an elderly woman in a down jacket who I always think is looking at me like I’m nuts. (Masks mean that normal cordial attempts to smile at someone is impossible so unless one wants to shout a hearty greeting – which I’ve started doing to the volunteer – we all largely pass without acknowledgment.)
As to the running, we should call it jogging really, it has been a slog. I reached a pinnacle of pain about two weeks ago and thought I would have to stop. However, I reduced the number of days I do the outdoor workout (now generally 3) rotating with the other days to do my indoor regime of lifting and apartment friendly exercise, or off to rest muscles. With the advice of my trainer (yay Harris!) I added more stretching on the front end (roller on the most offended leg muscles and joints before I leave the house), have pushed the non-running portion of my workout to the beginning to give myself a maximum warm up and have reduced some of that as well – step ups are on hold for awhile, and my post-workout stretching is more fulsome. It is not perfect, but it seems to be working well enough to keep me in the game.
I now jog with only short a few short periods of walking. I look on with frank envy at people of all ages and both sexes who appear to do this so much better than me, appearing effortless as they pass me by. However, I am determined to continue to just push that bit further each time – setting a new goal by at least mere yards beyond where I thought I could go. I tell myself that I should not criticize my body for what it is not doing well, but to be grateful for what it is able to accomplish. Patience and kindness works better and will be part of the ongoing lesson. No, I have not reached the fabled endorphin producing stage – I’ll let you know about that. Meanwhile, I have switched from listening to books to music that encourages swifter movement, as does the morning chill. I am always warm when I finish.
One unexpected pleasure has been seeing the East River in all its moods. As Pictorama readers know, I grew up on the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey and while the East River is technically visible from our apartment, I have been largely removed from the nuanced shifts in it. Now I am always surprised by the strength of the current and some days small, curled waves are even lapping at the bulkhead along the path. On stormy or very windy days it threatens to overtake the esplanade, gurgling up from storm drains below, which I know from experience it does, ultimately flooding the adjoining FDR drive. It brings my childhood watching of the water and the way it was a part of daily life back to me though. The river is home to a surprising amount of boat traffic, largely tugs, freighters and ferries this time of the year – some creating a ferocious wake in their path.
I try to remember, as I grumble and leave the toasty warm apartment, that I am generally happy to be outside once I get there and always feel better for having done the workout than not; that and a daily dollop of determination get me out the door more often than not. Busy workdays might mean only a part of the workout gets accomplished, but better some than none I remind myself and I try not to engage in work email or texts while on my breaks between sets.
I have recently adopted an oversized sweatshirt from my alma mater (Connecticut College – go Camels) the first I have ever owned. Seemed to me though that the college might as well get my money as anyone else and if I am to have some logo emblazoned on me, further adding to the ridiculousness of my appearance, why not at least one legitimately own. I commend the sweatshirt for being roomy and warm and exactly what was wanted, logo not withstanding.
The sun rising over the park and the water, the various guises of the clouds and water, have an allure – even when they turn dark and threatening. I would say I am at least well on my way to walking to Columbus Circle unimpeded when the time comes. I can honestly say I do not know how far my ambition and grit will take me. I guess it is a New Year’s resolution come early and we’ll see if I can stick with it through the coldest, and then ultimately the hottest, days of the New Year ahead.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toys today again with this terrific turkey. This item made a rare route to Pictorama a few weeks ago by way of Kim posting an image of it on Facebook which was so glorious I went in search of the toy. A quick search turned one up in good condition on Etsy and he landed here a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, a tiny bolt on one side of his tail went missing, either in transit or the seller neglected to mention it. Kim has done a short term repair with a tiny bit of wire from a twist tie off a loaf of whole wheat bread. Click below for our best effort on filming him – we got his tail to stay together sufficiently to get him moving on film, but I don’t think he has a ton of runs in him. Watch the video through, the full rise and spread action of his tail is what makes it great!
He is the earlier model of at least two that I found online (see further below),with greater definition and better action than the later one. There is something wonderfully Art Deco about the colors and design of his tail feathers that I especially like as well and what attracted me in the first place; his color is pretty glorious. Mr. Turkey is marked Made in the US Zone Germany on his tummy, which puts his manufacture in the mid-40’s to early 50’s. A Google search turns up an auction listing which mentions it was produced by Blomer and Schüler (or Bloomer and Schüler), a company founded for making parts in 1919, but which started making its own toys in 1930. It had an early hit with a Jumbo Elephant wind-up toy which is described as running. I have a weakness for elephant toys so I may need to investigate this more closely. Toys do lead to toys and a good wind-up toy is just the jolliest thing I can think of. (There is also a very hotsy totsy peacock too, but I must say, his mechanism looks even more fragile than Mr. Turkey’s.)
The turkey’s action really does recall a come hither Tom Turkey trotting, showing off his glorious tail feathers to attract a girlfriend which makes me think he was designed by someone who knew turkeys. When living in England many years ago, I was surprised to discover that not only is turkey not indigenous to Britain, nor indeed Europe, but that they don’t have much of a taste for it and do not import it widely. (My Thanksgiving dinner that year was a Chinese recipe for orange chicken as a result. In retrospect, and knowing more about cooking now than I did then, just as well. I had the tiniest oven imaginable which would have taken three days to cook the smallest turkey.)
I will add that my surprise grew when I discovered that pumpkin isn’t eaten there, and they aren’t big on corn on the cob either. (Corn is grown there but is fed to farm animals. As a result, I don’t think they produce corn flour either.) Although admittedly my first hand information on the subject is now decades out of date. All this to say, I believe it was the American influence which designed this turkey as I do not believe at the time Germans were widely familiar with the mating habits of turkeys or eating them either, although the internet says they have caught up with a taste for turkey in recent decades.
Although I do not eat fowl these days, nor have I for many decades, I was in charge of the family turkey on Thanksgiving for many years after my brief stint of professional cooking – my mother happily ceding this responsibility to me, my father never much of a turkey carving dad either. However, I cannot think about cooking a turkey without remembering a French chef I knew going on in honest bewilderment on the subject – not only at the American fondness for them, but the cultural necessity for serving it whole and carving it at the table. He pointed out, the thickness of a turkey’s legs demand significantly more cooking time than the thinner breast and wing meat and to think that there is a way of getting the legs done without drying out the breast was, in his opinion, a fool’s errand. He would have had you cook the bird whole, let it rest, carve the legs and put them back in the oven to finish cooking. I venture that cooking the bird stuffed, while slowing the whole venture considerably, helps ameliorate this issue, but his point was well taken and an easy solve if you aren’t married to carving a full bird at the Thanksgiving table. (The attenuated cooking time needed for the bird cooked stuffed also set him going – in all fairness, he was not only French but a restaurant chef which is another bird altogether. Clearly he wasn’t familiar with Norman Rockwell paintings on the subject!)
Given my early defection away from eating (and therefore cooking) red meat and fowl, I have never attempted to cook a turkey in a Manhattan apartment. Our ovens run small though, as do our kitchens, and I can tell you that New York is evidently littered with beautiful turkey roasting pans purchased each year without measuring the apartment oven in question. From the stories I hear from first time turkey chefs, they often find themselves with pans and even birds that do not fit our abbreviated oven sizes. I encourage first time city cooks to use a doubled up disposable pan on that first go, but to go easy on the turkey size too. We are so used to our ovens that we’ve forgotten how comparatively enormous a regular one is. I glory in how many things I can fit in my mom’s oven by comparison.
As we finally slam the door on 2020 with my turkey post, we at Pictorama and Deitch Studio are wishing all the best in the coming New Year. I look forward to seeing you all on the other side, at the dawn of ’21!
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I’m not sure I remember a Pictorama post falling on Boxing Day, but here we find ourselves on a sunny if cold New York City day post-Christmas as we do our best to shove 2020 behind us. Kim and I were recently speaking of Boxing Day and I looked up its history. It started in the 1830’s in Britain and it was a day to be charitable – boxes were taken to the poor and were given to servants who got the day off as well. It spread to the British colonies and remains a holiday there whereas, as we know, traditionally the day after Christmas in this country is usually about shopping. Of course nothing is really usual about this year, and I cannot imagine stores teeming with post-Christmas folks under the current Covid circumstances.
Our own Christmas was celebrated with just us and the felines here on 86th Street, a Zoom call to New Jersey with my mom, cousin and friend Suzanne in the afternoon sadly substituting for an annual visit. In order to cheer us up I made a rather amazing bouillabaisse if I do say so myself – a sort of quick and cheaty one that has its origins with my grandmother, but I have manipulated a bit over time. (I managed six of the seven fishes – seven if you count the anchovy paste!) I served it with homemade corn muffins and a red pepper compound butter. Before I brag on myself too much I will admit that I forgot to consider dessert entirely and ran out to the store and acquired a frozen Dutch apple pie. Frankly it did the job just fine and I confess, diet be damned, I am looking forward to eating some for breakfast today. Yum.
Christmas was a cold, stormy day here with a wind whipping around – I discovered just how bad when I made that run to the store. Jazz at Lincoln Center unexpectedly announced that they were giving us all two weeks off over the holiday and I am easing into a blissful state of extra sleep and pajama wearing – house cleaning will follow I hope, as I have ignored the state of it long enough and one should go into the New Year with a clear mind and house I suspect. All this to say, I have not yet enjoyed the aforementioned improved weather but look forward to some outdoor exercise in a bit – New Year’s resolutions are lurking just around the corner to be sure.
However, the aspect of Christmas which was traditional and in no way disappointing were the toys Santa, aka Kim, brought me! Two absolutely wonderful toys, the first featured today by way of Bertoia auctions shown above. (Of course I still enjoy receiving toys on Christmas – not a surprise to Pictorama readers I am sure.)
This extraordinary wind-up toy was identified as a French Krazy Kat with no additional information. He is entirely unmarked, stands at about 8 inches, with a metal body covered in a heavy felt suit. His head and hands are composition and you can see that he probably fell on his face a lot from the chipping on his nose – his one ear is also a bit nibbled down. Despite that he is in pretty extraordinary condition, and of course it should be noted that I believe he is a Felix not a Krazy Kat. It should also be noted that his wind-up key is permanently affixed to him, not removable.
I have never seen a toy like him and would appreciate any information folks might have about his origins. His mechanism spring is a bit shot or over-wound and I have only achieved a few bits of a hopping, splayed leg gait out of him (he fell on his face immediatley) which is too bad because I have seen enough to know it must have been comical. He is smaller and more delicate than the more typical wind-up mohair Felix, one that seems to always lose one foot. My example shown above. I assume that because of his composition parts this fellow didn’t last and few of these seem to be knocking around. I wrote about the one above and another more or less one-of-a-kind wind-up Felix toys, shown below, in a post that can be found here. While I had never seen that one before I was certainly familiar with the wind-up function he was built on.
So, we start to close out 2020 with a house full of leftovers and a moment to catch our collective breath. For those of you who still have some cooking ambition in you, or need a New Year’s meal, I lay out the basics of my fish stew below. Enjoy!
Fish Stew or Quick Bouillabaisse Recipe:
Saute onions, garlic and chopped carrots with salt and pepper until they begin to brown, add additional veggies. I like a little potato to thicken, green beans and a bit of corn. (If you are using corn on the cob you can wait and drop the full ear into the soup to cook and cut the corn off after – that will add taste and additionally thicken soup. I used frozen corn this time.) Add in a bit of anchovy paste and a smidge of tomato paste.
Add in fresh fish of choice, about a pound of each – I used a bit of halibut (skinned) although any thicker white meat fish will do, and cut it into bite-size chunks, I added shrimp, and scallops and let cook. I like to add a lobster tail or some crab legs and it does well to add them in here too if they aren’t frozen which my lobster tail was this time. (Snow crab legs are great, but messy to eat later – this was a faux lobster tail belonging broadly to the lobster family with sharp sprine-y bits – ouch!, but I was able to take it out after it had cooked and add the fish meat back into the stew so no eating time mess.)
Deglaze the pot with a cup or so of wine or vermouth. The cheating part starts here (and I am pretty sure this is my addition to this recipe) with some canned fish options. I start with a can of clams, with their liquid included, and this time added a tin of smoked oysters. (I prefer mussels but oysters was all the market had to offer and they were just fine. This is a very forgiving recipe.)
Here’s the big cheat – add a bottle of clam juice AND a large container of Clamato juice (I have often wondered what other use Clamato juice has in life – do people drink it? Make cocktails with it?) Also add a large can of chopped tomatoes at this stage. This creates a substitute fish broth base. I added fresh chopped basil and wide leaf parsley. I like basil in it in particular, but again this is another place where you can be creative. I also added a bit of oregano and at this stage adjust your seasoning overall – I tend to have been adding a bit of salt and pepper with each addition of fish. Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 40 minutes.
If pressed, you can happily eat this immediately, but the real trick is to cool it down and refrigerate it over night. A glorious change takes place and it is even more amazing! Great dish for company made the day before and then only needs to be heated before serving.